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Food Safety, Food-borne Illness, College Students, and Young People 1

Food Safety, Food-borne Illness, College Students, and Young People

Jerry Aneke

HSCI 616

California State University, San Bernardino

May 16, 2018


Food Safety, Food-borne Illness, College Students, and Young People 2

Introduction:

Food sanitation involves the efforts that mankind has taken to make sure that food is safe

to eat through proper food preparation, preservation, and storage. Food sanitation has been a

major part of mankind for many years. Unfortunately, mankind is known to make mistakes.

Food-borne illnesses take place when there are errors in food sanitation, such as food

contamination, letting food expire or stay out too long, improper heating or storage of food.

Although we are much more aware of food-borne pathogens than we were 50 years ago, there

are still many occurrences of food-borne illnesses throughout society (Byrd-Bredbenner, et.al,

2007). Some factors that have caused a change or increase in food-borne diseases include

massive population growth geared towards an aging population, globalization of food markets,

advances in transportation allowing people to be more mobile and travel more, increased

consumption or raw, slightly cooked, or exotic foods, climate change, increased dependence on

meat products, mankind’s continuing expansion into natural habitats, and farmers’ shift to

producing cheaper food (Newell et. al., 2010). The more often people eat, the more they expose

themselves to food-borne illnesses (Byrd-Bredbenner, et.al, 2007). Americans eat at least four

times a day, usually at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack between one of those meals (Byrd-

Bredbenner, et.al, 2007). As more mothers become employed and have less time to cook at

home, households have become more reliant on processed foods and fast foods, which has

reduced the likelihood of children and young adults learning about safe food preparation and

storage at home (Byrd-Bredbenner, et.al, 2007). To make matters worse, life skills, home

economics, and nutrition classes have become exceedingly less common at schools and

universities, usually only being offered as electives rather than prerequisites or general education

classes (Byrd-Bredbenner, et.al, 2007). Both of these occurrences have led to a generation of

college students and young adults that are relatively illiterate when it comes to food safety,
Food Safety, Food-borne Illness, College Students, and Young People 3

making them one of the populations that are most at risk for being affected with food-borne

illnesses.

Food Safety:

Common food safety practices include avoiding cross-contamination while cooking or

storing food, heating food properly while cooking, and keeping food refrigerated. In order to

avoid cross-contamination while preparing food, cutting boards and utensils should be washed

with soap and hot water after coming in contact with raw food (USDA, 2011). It is also critical

that people wash their hands with soap and warm water before and after preparing food,

especially after handling raw meat, poultry, or eggs (USDA, 2011). When purchasing food, it is

important to store raw meat and poultry in bags and away from other foods (USDA, 2011).

The temperature range at which most bacteria thrive on food is 40-140 degrees

Fahrenheit, so it is important that perishable foods be stored at temperatures below 40 degrees

Fahrenheit and heated above 140 degrees Fahrenheit (USDA, 2011). When serving food, the

United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends that

people “keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold” (USDA, 2011). It is important to follow the

directions of food safety labels on food products, especially those of raw meat and poultry

products, which usually contain information about the product passing inspection, safe storage

and preparation of the product, avoiding contamination with use of the product, and handling

leftovers of the product (Morrone & Rathbun, 2003). Darker meats such as beef, pork, and lamb

should be heated to 145 degrees Fahrenheit before serving, while ground beef should be heated

to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and poultry should be heated to 165 degrees (USDA, 2011). If food is

going to be unrefrigerated for a long time, it is important that hot, cooked foods remain heated in

a heat source at a temperature higher than 140 degrees Fahrenheit and that cold foods remain

refrigerated, in coolers, or on ice at a temperature lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit (USDA,


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2011). If perishable foods remain unrefrigerated between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit for more

than two hours, or one hour in an area that is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, they are no longer

safe to eat (USDA, 2011).

It is important that leftovers of served food are refrigerated within 1-2 hours of being

served in order to avoid being spoiled (USDA, 2011). However, although it is important for food

to be refrigerated when not in use to avoid spoilage, even food that is refrigerated or frozen

indefinitely will eventually spoil. Leftovers should be used within 3-4 days, while frozen foods

and leftovers should be used within 1-2 months because even when refrigerated or frozen,

bacteria continue to grow, just at a much slower rate than at room temperature (USDA, 2011).

Young People’s Attitudes and Opinions about Food Safety:

There was a survey performed by Unklesbay, Sneed, and Toma, members of the

Nutrition or Community Services Departments at University of Missouri, Columbia, Kent State

University, and CSU Long Beach, concerning college students’ attitudes towards, behavior, and

knowledge about food safety (Unkelsbay, Sneed, and Toma, 1998). This survey used a sample

size of 824 students pooled from University of Missouri, Columbia, Kent State University, and

CSU Long Beach of varying majors and class levels (Unkelsbay, Sneed, and Toma, 1998).

According to this survey, most of these students agreed that food safety is important to them and

that they need to take responsibility for their own food safety, but that food providers and the

government should make sure that food is safe to eat in the first place, and that schools and

health agencies should do more to promote food safety (Unkelsbay, Sneed, and Toma, 1998).

The survey also looked at common food safety behaviors and most students agreed that they

usually discard expired food, serve food soon after it has finished cooking, place leftovers in the

refrigerator soon after a meal has finished, properly heat leftovers before serving them, and

follow food label instructions concerning the storage and preparation of frozen or packaged food,
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but that they don’t usually wash raw fruits and vegetables before eating them, observe the

temperature of their refrigerator or freezer, choose restaurants known for cleanliness (Unkelsbay,

Sneed, and Toma, 1998). The survey then tested the students about their knowledge of food

safety. Although the students agreed that E. coli could be fatal and that children and the elderly

are more susceptible to food-borne illnesses than teenagers, they also agreed that consuming raw

seafood rarely causes any illnesses, washing raw vegetables only in water will remove all

pesticide residue, it is safe to leave cooked meat or poultry at room temperature, and that keeping

food refrigerated completely prevents the growth of disease-causing microbes (Unkelsbay,

Sneed, and Toma, 1998).

Based on the results of the survey, although college students have positive views about

food safety and some engage in proper food safety behavior, their knowledge about food safety

is lacking. However, the survey also revealed that college students in nutrition, food science, and

health programs had better views about food safety, engaged in more proper food safety, and had

more knowledge about food safety than students in other programs (Unkelsbay, Sneed, and

Toma, 1998). Because interventions through food safety education can increase food safety

knowledge and behaviors, it is important that college students take advantage of the food safety

courses and seminars available to them while they are still in school, so they could make more

informed choices about their food safety and minimize their risks of acquiring food-borne

illnesses (Booth, Hernandez, Baker, Grajales & Pribis, 2013).

Who is Affected?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, college students are at risk for

being affected with food-borne illnesses because they are stressed, looking for fast, cheap ways

to acquire food, and aren’t always informed about food safety (USDA, 2011). College students

are under a lot of pressure to succeed academically while living a balanced life. This usually
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leads to students seeking out cheap or free food, which often ends up being junk food that is left

out too long at potlucks, meetings, and parties. Also because college students and young people

are constantly mobile, needing to commute to classes, work, and meetings, they often neglect

proper food storage (Byrd-Bredbenner, et.al, 2007). Sometimes, they might buy some fast food

or bring homemade food with them on their daily commutes, but leave the food unrefrigerated

for hours in the car, at work, or at their apartment or dorm because they get preoccupied with all

of the different tasks that they need to do (Byrd-Bredbenner, et.al, 2007). Because most college

students have to pay large amounts of money in tuition and rent, have the looming prospects of

debt from loans, only have a low-paying job or internship to get them by, and a lot of academic,

social, work, or family responsibilities, they will mainly pick their foods out of convenience

(Booth, Hernandez, Baker, Grajales & Pribis, 2013). This busy lifestyle can cause most college

students to neglect food safety in favor of having more time to handle their different

responsibilities (Booth, Hernandez, Baker, Grajales & Pribis, 2013).

Although college students are at risk for being affected with food-borne illnesses because

of their lack of knowledge about food safety, the populations that are most at risk for showing

severe symptoms to food-borne illnesses are those who have weakened immune systems due to

HIV/AIDS or chemotherapy, pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly, homeless people,

incarcerated people or those in other institutionalized care, and people of low socioeconomic

status (Byrd-Bredbenner, et.al, 2007). Although college students and young adults are more

likely to be affected with food based illnesses than these other vulnerable populations because

they usually engage in more risky food handling, their reactions to food-illnesses are much less

severe than those of these vulnerable populations, such as people with weakened immune

systems, pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly, the homeless, and people of low

socioeconomic status (Byrd-Bredbenner, Maurer, Wheatley, Cottone, & Clancy, 2006).


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Therefore, it is important for college students and young adults to be more informed about food

safety and proper food handling techniques because they will eventually care for or become these

vulnerable populations (Byrd-Bredbenner, Maurer, Wheatley, Cottone, & Clancy, 2006). Most

young adult women will become pregnant and most young adults will care for their infants and

children. Most young adults will eventually need to care for their aging parents and will

eventually reach old age themselves. Some young adults will even pursue careers in which they

serve infants, children, the homeless, the elderly, people with low socioeconomic status, or

people with weakened immune systems, so it is important that all young adults learn more about

food safety and proper food handling techniques.

Most Common Food-borne Illnesses:

There are more than 200 pathogenic microbes that could cause food-borne illnesses

(Hillers, Medeiros, Kendall, Chen, & Dimascola). According to the CDC, the most common

pathogens that caused food-borne illnesses and outbreaks in 2015 were salmonella, norovirus,

clostridium perfringens, campylobacter, ciguatoxin, and scombroid toxin/histamine

Most Common Food-borne Pathogens Causing


Outbreaks in 2015
1200 1048
1000
800
Number

615
600
400 263 225 217
200 4 9 62 8 2 6 5 8 38 2071 1025
0 Number of Outbreaks
Number of Associated Illnesses

Pathogen

(CDC, 2017). Most food-borne illnesses have minor symptoms, such as diarrhea, that last for a
Food Safety, Food-borne Illness, College Students, and Young People 8

few days at most. For instance, the symptoms caused from common food-borne illnesses and

pathogens such as salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, hepatitis, E. coli, and Vibrio cholera

include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever, and upset stomach (Fein, Lin and Levy, 1995).

Treatment for Food-borne Illnesses:

The main treatments for food-borne illnesses are antimicrobials (Newell et. al., 2010).

Antimicrobials are medical drugs that are used to kill pathogenic microbes. Antibiotics are used

to kill bacteria, antivirals are used to kill viruses, and antifungals are used to kill fungi.

Antimicrobials are helpful in treating the symptoms of food-borne illnesses; however, problems

such as antimicrobial resistance in pathogenic microbes could arise, so antimicrobials should

only be used as directed (Newell et. al., 2010). Most symptoms from food-borne illnesses aren’t

severe, but if symptoms last more than a few days or are very severe, one should contact their

doctor so they could receive a proper diagnosis for treatment.

How to Prevent Food-borne Illnesses:

The best ways to prevent food-borne illnesses are to follow proper food safety practices,

handle food properly, and have good hygiene. While serving food, if people keep hot foods

above 140 degrees Fahrenheit and cold foods below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, food-borne illnesses

would be less likely to occur (USDA, 2011). Washing one’s hands before and after handling

food is a great way to prevent the transfer of pathogens from raw meats to other foods. Washing

one’s hands regularly, especially before and after eating or handling food is a great way to

prevent diseases in general. Consuming refrigerated leftovers within 4 days, frozen leftovers

within 1-2 months, and packaged food before the expiration date minimizes the risks of

foodborne illnesses by reducing the consumption of spoiled food (USDA, 2011).

Summary:
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Food sanitation is mankind’s efforts to keep food safe to consume through proper

treatment, handling, preservation, and storage. Food-borne illnesses occur when errors in food

sanitation take place. Food safety is the combined efforts of government agencies, health

advocacy groups, and educational institutions to promote the proper handling, preservation, and

storage of food in order to minimize the risks of food-borne illnesses. Common food safety

practices include proper hand washing before and after handling food, keeping raw meat and egg

products away from other foods, cleaning utensils after handling raw food products, following

the food safety label instructions on foods, making sure that foods are completely cooked before

serving them, keeping hot foods properly heated and cold foods properly cooled while being

served, and refrigerating leftovers within 1-2 hours of being left at room temperature. However,

the rates of food-borne illnesses have been on the rise due to increased globalization, advances in

transportation, food education courses becoming less common, an increasing reliance on cheap,

convenient fast food, and people’s increasingly hectic lifestyles, which have led to less people

cooking at home, meaning that less people are learning about food safety at home. College

students are a population that is very susceptible to food-borne illnesses because they are more

likely to engage in more risky food handling and consumption behaviors in order to have more

time to handle their numerous responsibilities such as academics, work, family, and social

obligations. Common pathogens that cause food-borne illnesses include E. coli, salmonella,

campylobacter, and norovirus. The most common symptoms of food-borne illnesses include

diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and upset stomach. These symptoms aren’t serious, but if they last

more than a few days or become more serious, one should contact their doctor and take

antimicrobials as directed. The populations that exhibit the more severe symptoms of food-borne

illnesses are those with developing or weakened immune systems, such as infants, children,

pregnant women, the elderly, people with HIV/AIDS or who are undergoing chemotherapy, the
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homeless, and people with low socioeconomic status. Therefore, it is critical that college students

become more informed about food safety, not only to keep themselves safe from food-borne

illnesses, but also because one day, they will nurture, serve, or even become these vulnerable

populations of people.
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References:

Booth, R., Hernandez, M., Baker, E. L., Grajales, T., & Pribis, P. (2013). Food Safety Attitudes

in College Students: A Structural Equation Modeling Analysis of a Conceptual Model.

Nutrients, 5: 328-339.

Byrd-Bredbenner, C., et al. (2007). Food Safety Self Reported Behaviors and Cognitions of

Young Adults: Results of a National Study. Journal of Food Protection, 70(8): 1917-

1926.

Byrd-Bredbenner, C., Maurer, J., Wheatley, V., Cottone, E., & Clancy, M. (2007). Food Safety

Hazards Lurk in the Kitchens of Young Adults. Journal of Food Protection, 70(4): 991-

996.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). 2015 Top 5 Food-Germ Pairs. Retrieved

from https://www.cdc.gov/fdoss/annual-reports/top-5-food-germ-2015.html

Fein, S. B., Lin, C. T. J., & Levy, A. S. (1995). Foodborne Illness: Perceptions, Experience, and

Preventive Behaviors in the United States. Journal of Food Protection, 58(12): 1405-

1411.

Hillers, V. N., Medeiros, L., Kendall, P., Chen, G., & Dimascola, S. (2003). Consumer

Food-Handling Behaviors Associated with Prevention of 13 Foodborne Illnesses.

Journal of Food Protection, 66(10): 1893-1899.

Morrone, M., & Rathbun, A. (2003). Health Education and Food Safety Behavior in the

University Setting. Journal of Environmental Health, 65(7): 9-15.

Newell, D. G., et al. (2010). Food-borne diseases — the challenges of 20 years ago still persist

while new ones continue to emerge. International Journal of Food Microbiology, 139:

S3–S15.

United States Department of Agriculture. (2011). Food Safety Tips for College Students.
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Retrieved from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-

education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/food-safety-tips-for-

college-students/

Unklesbay, N., Sneed, J., & Toma, R. (1998). College Students’ Attitudes, Practices, and

Knowledge of Food Safety. Journal of Food Protection, 61(9): 1175-1180.