Evaluation of College Student Food Safety Knowledge and Expectations of Food Service Inspections in North Carolina.

Author:McNeilly, Nathan


Annually in the U.S. there are approximately 9.4 million illnesses associated with consuming food contaminated with bacterial and viral agents, with 55,961 of these illnesses resulting in hospitalizations and 1,351 resulting in deaths (Scallan et al., 2011). Most foodborne illnesses can be prevented, but foodborne illnesses continue to be a significant problem in the U.S. (Crim et al., 2014).

Approximately one half of the foodborne disease outbreaks reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) occurred in a single setting and resulted from consuming food from a restaurant or deli (CDC, 2011). Preventing the spread of foodborne illnesses is the primary function of the public health system's role in regulating food service establishments (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2015).

The public, however, has an unrealistic expectation of food service regulations and enforcement by public health authorities (Jones & Grimm, 2008). Food service inspections provide only a brief snapshot of regulatory compliance and maintaining food safety is the ultimate responsibility of the food service establishment (Jones & Grimm, 2008).

A lack of food safety knowledge places consumers at risk for foodborne illnesses, due to unsafe food handling behaviors (Manes, Liu, & Dworkin, 2013). Research also suggests college students are at a greater risk of foodborne illness because of their food handling practices (Morrone & Rathburn, 2003). There is a limited amount of research, however, addressing college student expectations specific to North Carolina's food safety regulations, and the hope is for research to add to the existing literature.

Our research study established a correlation between the lack of food safety knowledge and expectations of food service regulations. Information obtained in the study provides valuable information of college student expectations of food service inspections. Prior research on the topic indicates the general public has unrealistic expectations and misconceptions about the scope of authority of food service regulations and enforcement (Jones & Grimm, 2008).

Our study had similar findings and justifies the need for educating college students regarding food safety and limitations of food service inspection systems. Educating college students will allow for individuals to make better-informed decisions in the interest of their health and wellness.

Information in this study also provides justification for local health departments to direct efforts in educating the general public in terms of basic food safety and limitations of food service inspections. Cooperative extension agencies serve as a resource to communities regarding topics such as food safety for the general public; however, information gathered from this study also strengthens the need for partnership between local health departments and cooperative extension agencies.


The research used a quantitative study design. We used the survey questionnaire constructed by Jones and Grimm (2008) with minimal changes. We selected study subjects based on a snowball survey technique. The snowball technique was used to recruit potential study participants and enlist their help to recruit more potential study participants. The primary purpose of using this technique was to increase the number of study participants meeting the inclusion criteria. The 26-question survey instrument was administered using Qualtrics. An e-mail containing a hyperlink to the survey was distributed to potential study participants. Those individuals were asked to forward the e-mail containing the hyperlink to other Western Carolina University students who met the inclusion criteria.

The study included students of Western Carolina University, and included those who live on campus, off campus or distant, as well as online students living in North Carolina. As rules and regulations vary from state to state, distant education and online students who did not live in the state of North Carolina were excluded from the study.

The independent variable in the study was the basic knowledge of food safety and food service regulations. From survey questions, we obtained information to determine the study participant's basic knowledge of food safety and food service regulations. Questions used to measure the independent variable encompassed topics such as awareness that food service facilities are regulated, significance of food service inspections, consequence of a food service facility not receiving a passing score, how uncooked ready-to-eat foods should be handled, and visibility and location of posted inspection scores.

The dependent variable was measured based on topics that relate to the expectation of food service regulations such as importance of inspection score when deciding to eat at a food service facility and lowest acceptable inspection score. The dependent variable was also measured based on topics that relate to the study participant's expected response by a health official to violations concerning restroom...

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