Rockin’ Safe Students!

Can you believe it’s back to school already? Where did summer go?! If you read my previous posts, you know that summer is my FAVORITE time of year. It’s still technically summer, but my kids are now wearing their backpacks, hauling instruments off to school each day, packing lunches and I barely see them most days!

Being my kids, of course, those insulated lunch bags are full of ice packs and hand wipes.
But for college kids – I have one of those too – back to school is an important time to teach your kids some lessons they probably won’t learn in the classroom. Believe it or not, foodborne illness is fairly common on college campuses. But it doesn’t have to be!

In 2016, over 200 college students were sickened after eating at a cafeteria and snack bar on a college campus in Pennsylvania. Their symptoms included vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and many of them went to the hospital. The culprit was confirmed as being Norovirus, a common disease which can be passed through food, or through person to person contact.      The school ended up closing for two days in order to halt the progression of the illness.

This example shows what can happen if a virus or bacteria makes its way into a common dining area. But many studies show that students cause themselves to become ill by their own lack of safe behaviors. Every year in the U.S., it’s estimated there are 76 million foodborne illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths. A study done on unsafe food safety behaviors determined that college students are one of the most at-risk groups!

Why is this? There are several good reasons: college students may be preparing food for the first time in their lives; environmental factors such as stress, alcohol consumption, and less than ideal cleanliness; lack of access to refrigeration or easy access to handwashing; and of course lack of knowledge.

If you are, or you have a college student, or even a high school student who is newly independent, it’s a great idea to arm them with good food safe skills. These skills will become lifelong habits that will protect them and possibly prevent tragic results down the road, something no one wants. The great thing is that being safe in the kitchen is easy and doesn’t require special tools or training. As you’re helping your child learn to navigate in the world, don’t neglect this aspect of his or her health.

So here we go – a list to get you started:

  • Always wash your hands before preparing food and before eating. Use soap and hot water!
  • Throw away perishable food within 2 hours if it isn’t refrigerated. Don’t eat leftover pizza or Chinese food that sat out on the counter overnight. So not worth it!
  • When bringing meat or other perishables to a tailgate party, keep it cold (40⁰) with ice or ice packs.
  • Never use the ice in a cooler that you used to cool the food, for your drinks! That ice is contaminated and could make you sick.
  • Invest in a $6 dial thermometer from the grocery store and temp meat, if you’re cooking it. Fish, beef, pork, lamb, and veal: 145⁰. Ground beef, pork, lamb, veal, and eggs: 155⁰. All poultry, and microwave food, 165⁰.
  • Keep hot food hot, and cold food cold!
  • Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw food separate from cooked food; bacteria from raw food can contaminate ready to eat food.
  • Keep your food cooking and eating areas clean. Sounds obvious, but it’s important!
  • When microwaving, follow package directions. Keep food covered and stir. Let food stand two minutes after you take it out; it’s still cooking during this period. If you’re defrosting in the microwave, cook food immediately after, don’t save the food for later.
  • When packing a lunch or snack to take along, remember to use ice packs or ways to keep perishable food cold. If you will not be eating for a long time, consider bringing non-perishable items. Pb and j anyone?

Think about printing out this list for your student so he or she can keep it in a handy spot – like on a dorm refrigerator.

If you’d like to do more in-depth reading, the USDA has a nice booklet with references on many topics that is very readable. You can even print it out if you’re so inclined – although it’s fairly long. Here is the link:

That’s it for today! Keep your kiddos safe everybody. They are the reason we care, right? I know mine are. And happy back to school!




About foodsleuth

I’m a food safety specialist with over 20 years’ experience of restaurant inspection experience. I dabble in writing too for fun. I love to cook (for my family and friends), to eat, and to critique restaurants (unprofessionally)!

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