College Students and Awareness of Food Safety

By McArthur, Laura H.; Holbert, Donald et al. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, January 2007 | Go to article overview

College Students and Awareness of Food Safety


McArthur, Laura H., Holbert, Donald, Forsythe, William A., III, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Microbial foodborne illnesses are a public health problem in the United States. Americans are patronizing restaurants three or more times a week and college students are frequently employed in food service; therefore, this study assessed compliance with and awareness of food safety recommendations among 460 college students. Compliance was suboptimal, with 72% following purchasing, 68% storage, and 75% preparation recommendations often/always. The mean score on the food safety knowledge test was 39% (SD 16%, range 0 to 87%). A majority (60%) of students was interested in learning more about food safety, and classroom presentations were the preferred method for receiving this information. Findings suggest a need for food safety education focusing on personal sanitation when preparing food, and on following time and temperature recommendations when storing and preparing perishable foods.

Microbial foodborne illnesses are a challenge for clinicians, an economic burden, and a public health problem in the United States (Mead et al., 1999). In 2000, the Economic Research Service of the USDA estimated the cost from five bacterial foodborne pathogens as $6.9 billion (Economic Research Service, 2004). This estimate includes medical costs, productivity losses from missed work, and an estimate of the value of premature death taking into account the age distribution of those who become ill. The importance of reducing the occurrence of foodborne illness is evidenced at the policy level by the inclusion of food safety among the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (U. S. Department Health and Human Services, 2005) and Healthy People 2010 objectives (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000).

Compliance with food safety recommendations is particularly important for groups regarded as at risk for foodborne illness (i.e., infants and young children, persons with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, older adults) (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2001). Several authors (Morris & Penhollow, 2005; Morrone & Rathbun, 2003) have proposed that college students be regarded as a high-risk group for foodborne illnesses although they are not included as an at risk group by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Despite these concerns, few studies have assessed college students' food handling practices and awareness of food safety recommendations (Morris & Penhollow, 2005; Morrone & Rathbun, 2003; Unklesbay, Sneed, & Toma, 1998). Yet continuous monitoring of this population is a worthwhile effort, given that college students are frequently employed by food service establishments (U.S. Department of Labor, 2000) and Americans are eating out three or more times a week (Kant & Graubard, 2004). The importance of such vigilance is underscored by data from the Centers for Dis ease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicating that almost three fourths of the estimated 76 million annual cases of foodborne illnesses in the U. S. are believed to result from mishandling food by foodservice workers (CDC, 1999). Hence, risky food-handling practices among college students could jeopardize the health of consumers who eat out. Additionally, many college students will assume parental roles that include food-related responsibilities and it is important they understand, adopt, and model safe food-handling practices. Therefore, the objectives of this study were to assess compliance with food safety recommendations among college students, measure their food safety knowledge, and identify their sources of food safety information, and the food safety education activities that would interest them.

METHODS

A nonprobability sample of students was recruited at high-traffic areas on the campus of East Carolina University. Recruitment was accomplished by a female and a male undergraduate under the supervision of two nutrition professors. Participation was restricted to off-campus residents to increase the likelihood the students would have food-handling responsibilities. …

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