Date of Award

8-2012

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Food Science and Human Nutrition

Advisor

Mary Ellen Camire

Second Committee Member

Alfred Bushway

Third Committee Member

Beth Calder

Abstract

Foodborne illness is a considerable public health issue in the United States. According to the latest report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 48 million Americans will become ill from foodborne pathogens annually. The Healthy People 2020 objectives highlight the need for more preventative efforts in reducing the incidence of foodborne illness. Other public health campaigns and even federal legislation have begun to take a more preventative approach as well. Numerous researchers have made attempts in the form of surveys, in-home inventories and even in-home video surveillance to try and understand how 'safe' consumers are in their own kitchens. One of the common findings of this research is that people with an education beyond high school tend to handle food less safely and also consume more 'risky' foods. Very few food safety knowledge and behavior studies have utilized college students as the target population. The objective of this research was to establish baseline data and identify needs of 18-26 year old University of Maine students in regards to their food safety knowledge. A validated food safety knowledge questionnaire was combined with demographic questions and made available in an online format. A total of 123 people responded to the First Class recruitment notice by clicking the link to the survey. Respondents who did not agree to the informed consent, were not University of Maine students and did not identify an age between 18 and 26 years were excluded. This resulted in a total of 104 participants. The statistics generated included descriptive statistics for scores based on demographic criteria, ANOVA comparison for scores between each scale and total score and chi-square tests for associations between categorical variables. A significance level of p < 0.05 was used in this study.

The survey results showed that the average score among all participants was 53 points out of a possible 89 points indicating an average of 60% correct, while the mean total score of the national survey was similar at 53.7 points. The survey questions that required participants to identify common sources of foodborne pathogens had the lowest average percent correct in both surveys; 31% correct in this study and 32% in the national survey. Another interesting finding in this study was that less than 50% of participants were able to correctly identify several risky foods, which include sliced melon, raw sprouts and unpasteurized fruit juice.

Baseline data of this population showed the need for educational programs for 18-26 year old University of Maine students on the common sources of foodborne pathogens and proper handling of fresh produce. Also, these scores from this survey do not show improvement when compared to the national survey conducted in 2006, which suggests that little progress has been made to educate this population about food safety. Current research has found that educational interventions targeted towards this population should be media based and that the interventions educate young adults about the reasons why they are at-risk for foodborne illness, providing specific information and skills on how to prevent foodborne illness. Furthermore research within the food industry regarding food safety education of employees suggests that interventions are most successful when they are repeated at regular intervals. Future research should continue to use this instrument to monitor effectiveness of future educational programs implemented to increase food safety knowledge in this population and to track the progress of food safety education over time.

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