Foodbome illnesses are prevalent in the U.S., where 9.4 million foodborne illnesses caused by 31 identified pathogens annually result in 1,351 deaths and 55,961 hospitalizations (Scallan et al., 2011). Contaminated equipment, procuring food from unsafe sources, inadequate cooking, improper food handling, and poor personal hygiene are major risk factors that can cause foodborne illnesses (Food and Drug Administration, 2014). Unsafe practices by food handlers have continued to be reported despite the recognized importance of ensuring safe food handling practices and proper personal hygiene to mitigate the risks of foodborne illnesses (Angelo, Nisler, Hall, Brown, & Gould, 2017; Arendt, Ellis, Strohbehn, & Perez, 2011; Kwon, Roberts, Sauer, Cole, & Shanklin, 2014).
Risk Factors for Unsafe Food Handling Practices Among College and University Students
The risk of foodborne illness at colleges and universities (CUs) is inevitable because of dining in a communal manner, preparing large quantities of food, and serving food to a diverse demographic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2018), 333 foodborne illness outbreaks caused 17,519 illnesses and 343 hospitalizations from 2000-2015 in U.S. K-12 schools and CUs. While food handling practices of college students have been studied to mitigate risks of food safety issues on campuses, specific risk factors of foodborne illnesses at CUs have not yet been identified.
Researchers have studied food handling practices of college students, and researchers have specifically identified the major risk factors associated with unsafe food handling practices of college students: lack of cooking experience (Morrone & Rathbun, 2003), poor personal hygiene (Byrd-Bredbenner et al., 2007), lack of self-confidence about food handling (Byrd-Bredbenner et al., 2007), and lack of food safety awareness (Abbot, Byrd-Bredbenner, Schaffner, Bruhn, & Blalock, 2009; Byrd-Bredbenner et al., 2007; Green & Knechtges, 2015; Lazou, Georgiadis, Pentieva, McKevitt, & Iossifidou, 2012; Sanlier & Konaklioglu, 2012).
Food Safety Policies and Procedures at Colleges and Universities
All CUs in the U.S. are mandated to comply with the requirements of the Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting in addressing on-campus violence and safety issues (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). Each CU appoints an administrative entity to govern various aspects of campus safety to fulfill campus safety and security enforcement requirements (e.g., environmental health and safety, risk management, student health, safety). Food safety at student-led food events is handled by different departments depending on the CU. Unfortunately, policies and procedures associated with food safety tend to be limited and overshadowed by measures more focused on preventing on-campus crime and violence (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). Furthermore, there is no universal definition for a student-led food event. Authors in this study defined a student-led food event as "any event organized by a registered or recognized student organization where food will be prepared and/or provided to consumers either on- or off-campus."
Food handling by college students might involve more risks than foods handled by food handlers in commercial foodservice operations because, as many researchers have found, college students sometimes lack knowledge of food safety or food handling practices (Abbot, Policastro, Bruhn, Schaffner, & Byrd-Bredbenner, 2012; Lazou et al., 2012). Some CUs have implemented policies and procedures to address food safety issues during student-led food events on campus. For example, according to the University of Wisconsin, any food events hosted by a department, an organization, or another group either on or off property should follow approved food handling policies (University of Wisconsin-Superior, 2014). At Texas State University, all personnel planning a food event must complete a food handler course provided by the institution's Environmental Health, Safety & Risk Management Office (Texas State University Environmental Health, Safety & Risk Management, n.d.). The Department of Safety and Risk Management at the University of Rhode Island also enforces a Food Handling and Food Vendor Policy (#995-1) that requires college students to observe food safety practices during such events (University of Rhode Island Department of Safety and Risk Management, n.d.). The policy also describes procedures that address food safety issues and standard food safety regulations for student-led food events.
Iowa State University is another institution that has addressed this issue by establishing food safety policies and procedures for student-led food events and requiring its students involved in student-led food events to complete a yearly 1-hour online training on food safety basics called SafeFood 101 (Iowa State University Office of Risk Management, 2020). Food safety policies and procedures, enforced by that entity, are in accordance with the Iowa Code (Iowa Code 2020 Food Establishments and Food Processing Plants, 2019). The Iowa State University Office of Risk Management oversees the enforcement of these policies during student-led and other food-related events that must abide by its food safety guidelines. Student organizations hosting food events are required to obtain a temporary food handler permit and authorization to serve food at student-led events (Iowa State University Office of Risk Management, 2020).
There has been no known research study that has investigated presence/absence and types of food safety policies and procedures for student-led food events at CUs. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate current food safety policies and procedures at CUs to assess their similarities and differences. The specific research objectives of this study were to 1) assess current food safety policies and procedures for student-led food events at CU; 2) examine differences and similarities (e.g., varied sizes of CUs, distinct roles of risk management, and difference in the number of risk management professionals) in food safety policies and procedures; 3) identify commonly required or recommended food safety policies and procedures for these events; and 4) identify food safety personnel attitudes towards food safety policies and procedures for student-led food events at CUs.
The target population of this study comprised professionals in administrative entities responsible for overseeing student-led food events at CUs. This study examined public and land-grant CUs because a comparison of CUs located in different states with the same classification such as land-grant (U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture [USDA NIFA], n.d.) and public and land-grant (Association of Public and Land-grant Universities [APLU], n.d.) was convenient.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) lists 120 land-grant CUs and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) lists 190 public and land-grant universities (APLU, n.d.; USDA NIFA, n.d.). Eliminating redundant CUs from the two lists (231 public and/or land-grant CUs) helped identify those that should receive a web-based questionnaire. Contact information for the sample population was obtained from institution websites by searching for appropriate contact persons through related keywords (e.g., food safety, risk management, environmental health and safety, campus food event).
Titles of administrative entities associated with food safety policies and procedures for student-led food events varied with each CU, so the first person listed for each qualifying school was considered the most likely individual to be overseeing CU food safety, and that was the person we contacted via e-mail. These individuals included safety and health program managers, safety officers, environmental health service officers, and health and safety professionals. A risk management director, environmental health and safety specialist, or event coordinator was contacted in cases for which no responsible professional was listed in the directory.
An e-mail including the study's purpose, informed consent form, and a link to the web-based questionnaire was sent. In an effort to contact appropriate individuals, a request was included to forward the invitation to personnel responsible for overseeing student-led food events on campus. Approval was obtained from the university's institutional review board prior to conducting data collection.
We modified the questionnaire developed and validated by Rajagopal and Strohbehn (2011) to align it with the purpose of this study. The resulting questionnaire comprised six sections. The first section contained 10 multiple-choice food safety items designed to assess food safety knowledge of participants. The second section contained four items related to current procedures students must follow for hosting student-led food events at their institution. The third section contained three items concerning food safety policies and procedures currently implemented for student-led food events at their institution. The fourth section contained 12 items concerning food safety inspection and incidences of foodborne illnesses at their institution. The fifth section contained 18 items that examined participant perception of food safety policies and procedures at their institutions using a 5-point Likert-type scale (1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, 4 = agree, and 5 = strongly agree). Its internal reliability was examined using Cronbach's [alpha] (Ary, Jacobs, & Sorensen, 2010). Finally, the sixth section contained 11 demographic items (Dill man, Smyth, & Christian, 2014). The questionnaire was posted on...