Foodborne diseases are an important public health issue, and young adults are an important demographic to target with food safety education. Our objective was to assess the food safety knowledge of undergraduate students at a Canadian university, to identify potential areas for such education.
In February 2015, we conducted an online survey of 485 undergraduate students at a university in Ontario, Canada. We assessed various food-related factors, including cooking frequency and prior food handling or preparation education. We then modeled the relationship between 'overall knowledge score' and the demographic and food skills/cooking experience predictors using multivariable log-binomial regression, to determine factors associated with relatively higher proportions of correct responses.
Respondents were, on average, 20.5 years old, and the majority (64.8 %) lived off campus. Students cooked from basic ingredients infrequently, with 3 in 4 doing so a few times a year to never. Students averaged 6.2 correct answers to the 11 knowledge questions. Adjusting for other important covariates, older age and being a current food handler were associated with relatively higher knowledge, whereas working/volunteering in a hospital and infrequent cooking were associated with relatively lower knowledge. Males in the Faculty of Science had relatively higher knowledge than females in the Faculty of Science, both of whom had relatively higher knowledge than all students in other Faculties. Among students who had never taken a food preparation course, knowledge increased with self-reported cooking ability; however, among students who had taken such a course, knowledge was highest among those with low self-reported cooking ability.
Consistent with other similar studies, students in Faculties outside of the Faculty of Science, younger students, and those who cook infrequently could benefit from food safety education. Supporting improved hand hygiene, in particular clarifying hand washing versus hand sanitizing messages, may also be important. Universities can play a role in such education, including as part of preparing students for work or volunteer placements, or as general support for student health and success.