Food Safety Knowledge and Practices of Young Adults

By Green, Eric J.; Knechtges, Paul L. | Journal of Environmental Health, June 2015 | Go to article overview

Food Safety Knowledge and Practices of Young Adults


Green, Eric J., Knechtges, Paul L., Journal of Environmental Health


Introduction

Despite significant accomplishments in food safety over the past two decades, foodbome illnesses continue to be a major concern in the U.S. In 2011, updated analyses suggested the U.S. averages 48 million foodborne illnesses each year, including 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths (Scallan et al., 2011; Scallan, Griffin, Angulo, Tauxe, & Hoekstra, 2011). Furthermore, the sum of direct health-related costs associated with foodborne illnesses was estimated at $51 billion per year; this figure jumps to $77.7 billion when factoring in a functional disability measure of monetized quality-adjusted life years (Scharff, 2012). Implicit among these statistics are several demographic groups that may be considered more or less at risk of foodborne illnesses. One such group is college students, who may put themselves at increased risk by consuming unsafe foods or not following accepted food safety practices.

The principal aim of our study was to assess the food safety knowledge and practices of undergraduate students enrolled in a required health course at a major university. A web-based questionnaire was used to characterize these attributes of the students. The questionnaire was derived using a subset of questions from an updated, validated, and reliable instrument developed by ByrdBredbenner and co-authors (2007a). Data obtained from the research could be helpful to health educators and environmental/ public health professionals in preventing or mitigating unsafe food consumption habits of young adults.

A limited number of studies have been published on food safety knowledge and behavior of college students and young adults. Among them was a food safety knowledge test administered to 460 students at a major American university (McArthur, Holbert, & Forsythe, 2007). Another study involved a self-reported survey (online) about the risky food consumption behaviors and food safety knowledge of 4,343 young adults, who were recruited from universities and colleges across the U.S. (Byrd-Bredbenner et al., 2007a, 2007b, 2008). The results of these two studies were quite different. In the former case, the students' mean score on the test was 39%, whereas in the latter case the percentage of food safety knowledge questions that were answered correctly by the participants was 60%.

Using the survey instruments developed by Byrd-Bredbenner and her colleagues, the self-reported food-handling practices and beliefs of young adults were compared with their actual food-handling behaviors (Abbot, Byrd-Bredbenner, Shaffner, Bruhn, & Blalock, 2009). Of the 1,228 individuals who completed the online screener survey at a large American university, only 153 young adults actually participated in the two-part study. While the students correctly answered two-thirds of the food safety knowledge items in the survey, their observed compliance scores ranged from a low of 29% to a high of 67% for food safety practice categories.

Based on moderate evidence from survey assessments and direct observational food safety practice studies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion concluded that college students represent a demographic group at a high risk for foodborne illness because of common unsafe food handling and consumption behaviors (USDA, 2010). From 2006 to 2010, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation conducted a web-based survey of approximately 1,000 participants across the U.S. Among their conclusions and recommendations, the IFIC recommended that food safety educators target programs that include "foods stored and prepared in dorm rooms or other minimally equipped spaces (Cody, Gravani, Smith-Edge, Dooher, & White, 2012)."

Similar studies about food safety knowledge and practices involved international college students. One study in Greece found the scores were surprisingly low, with only 38% of food handling practice questions being answered correctly and just 37% of food safety knowledge questions being answered correctly (Lazou, Georgiadis, Pentieva, McKevitt, & Iossifidou, 2012). …

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