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Study gives high school students a failing grade in food safety

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Waterloo, Ontario — High school students have a low level of understanding about safe food handling and preparation, according to a recent study from the University of Waterloo.

During food and nutrition classes, researchers monitored more than 100 students for 32 food safety behaviors, including handwashing, use of meat thermometers and cross-contamination prevention procedures. Observations were conducted before the teens participated in a food-handling training program, and then two weeks and three months after.

The researchers found that the students followed fewer than half (49.1 percent) of the recommended practices. After completing the program, the students’ behavior scores increased significantly after two weeks and remained unchanged after three months, but many continued to engage in risky food handling and prep behaviors.

“High school students represent the next generation of food handlers, but they are not well studied,” lead researcher Ken Diplock said in a June 26 press release. “They are just starting to prepare food on their own and for others, and they’re also beginning to work in the food industry. It's important to get to students before they develop bad habits.”

For example, only 5 percent of the students used meat thermometers before participating in the program. That total rose to 36 percent and 33 percent, respectively, during the next two observations.

“Despite the significant increase in correct behaviors, students continued to use risky practices post-intervention, suggesting that the risk of foodborne disease remained,” the study abstract states. Diplock added that the learned behaviors will not stick unless the values “are reinforced in other areas such as home life and society.”

The study was published online May 10 in the Journal of Food Protection.

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