Teaching Food Safety Skills to Students with Disabilities

By Madaus, Joseph W.; Pivarnik, Lori et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, March/April 2010 | Go to article overview

Teaching Food Safety Skills to Students with Disabilities


Madaus, Joseph W., Pivarnik, Lori, Patnoad, Martha, Scarpati, Stan, Richard, Nicole, Hirsch, Diane Wright, Carbone, Elena, Cable, Robert K., Teaching Exceptional Children


Do you include food preparation as part of your curriculum for students with disabilities? Or do you ever provide students with opportunities to cook? Providing such opportunities is fairly common in many secondary and transition-level special education programs. A recent study of special education, vocational and technical, and family and consumer science teachers who worked with young adults with disabilities in three northeastern states indicated that 86% of the respondents prepared and served food with students with disabilities (Pivarnik et al., 2008). The majority of these experiences (56%) took place in a self-contained special education classroom. Likewise, a review of transition-related objectives in the individualized education programs (IEP) of students with cognitive or other developmental disabilities indicated that "meal planning and preparation" was the most common objective related to independent living skills across three districts in the Midwest (Millar, 2009).

Food preparation can provide an avenue to teach many academic and functional skills, including food purchasing (reading menus, budgeting, food purchasing, and shopping) and food preparation (math skills such as measuring, reading skills, and sequencing skills). Cooking instruction can also lead to the development of skills in choice making, self-determination, and independent living. For many young adults with disabilities, food preparation skills also have the potential for social opportunities, and may also be an important economic consideration for those on fixed or supported incomes (Mechling, 2008).

Food preparation is also a conduit to employment for many students with disabilities (Graves, Collins, Schuster, & Kleinen, 2005; Mechling, 2008; Mechling & Stephens, 2009). In fact, according to the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS-2), the most common work-study jobs for secondary students with disabilities were in food service-related positions (Cameto, Marder, Wagner, & Cardoso, 2003). Likewise, once out of school, food service is the most common type of employment for youth with disabilities, with 17% working in this industry (Newman, Wagner, Cameto, & Knokey, 2009).

The importance and frequency of cooking and snack preparation as an independent living skill is reflected in the amount of literature related to methods of teaching these skills. This includes research related to task analysis, constant time delay, and selfprompting using video (Dogoe & Banda, 2009; Graves et al., 2005; Mechling, 2008; Mechling & Stephens, 2009). Mechling, Gast, and Gustafson (2009) also used video modeling techniques to teach students with intellectual disabilities to effectively extinguish cooking-related fires.

Instruction in Food Safety

Clearly, instruction in food preparation is common, but there is less emphasis in the literature related to teaching students food safety skills, including cleaning and personal hygiene, crosscontamination, storage, and clean up. In a study by Graves et al. (2005) related to teaching food preparation skills, the tasks "wash hands" and "clean up" were included but not explained. The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) has developed a widely used curriculum directed at this target audience entitled Life-Centered Career Education training curriculum or LCCE (CEC, 2004). This curriculum was designed to address different competencies including daily living skills. This section of the curriculum includes topics ranging from personal finances, household management, family responsibilities, and leisure activities to food preparation. The food preparation competency includes instructions on kitchen safety, cleaning food preparation areas, storing and preparing food, demonstrating good eating habits, and planning well-balanced meals. Although the food safety components exist, instruction relating to food safety principles is minor and focuses on when food products are spoiled and which ones are considered perishable. …

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