Food Safety for College Students

September is that time of year when students start heading back to school and the cooler weather starts moving in.  College co-eds are getting back into the swing of football games and late night cramming. Freshmen are learning to live without their parents and survive on their own.

Did you know that September is also National Food Safety Month? Food safety is a very important, and often times overlooked, subject. The CDC estimates that every year close to 48 million people will contract a food borne illness and 3,000 people a year will die from one. Many of you have probably contracted light cases of food poisoning at sometime in your lives without even knowing it. The positive to point out about food poisoning however is that most cases are preventable. So as all of you college students are adjusting to your late nights and new diets here are some food safety tips to keep in mind.

You wake up in the morning to find a leftover box of pizza on your table from the night before, you are considering eating a slice for breakfast before class. Good idea? Probably not. Perishable foods like pizza and other take out meals should never be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours. We call room temperature the “danger zone” because this is where bacteria are able to thrive the most. So throw the leftover box away. The next time you order take out make sure to refrigerate the food within two hours. If you do so your pizza will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days saving you a couple of dollars on your next meals.

Wanting to save time and money by packing your lunch to take to campus? Great idea! Just make sure you are packing it safely and correctly. Hot foods need to stay hot (not warm) and cold foods must stay cold. Again, we want to keep all foods out of the danger zone (40 degrees – 140 degrees). In order to keep hot foods hot consider using a thermos for liquid items. However a better option is to chill your food the night before and then use a microwave on campus to heat the food when you are ready to eat. To keep food cold use an insulated lunchbox and ice packs. Remember ANY perishable food must be kept out of the danger zone. This includes lunch meats and cheeses, leftovers, and many types of condiments. If you are unsure if your food will be safe or not, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Throw in an ice pack just in case.

If your parents send groceries back to school with you after a weekend at home, this is a great thing! It can be a good idea to keep an ice chest in your car that way all perishable food will make it back to campus with you safely. Load the food just before leaving and add ice packs or ice as needed.

If you have any instance come up where you need to prepare food for a group (i.e. potluck, meeting, etc)  keep some basic food safety rules in mind.

  • Always wash your hands BEFORE  preparing any food and AFTER handling raw meats.
  • Use clean utensils and dishes.
  • Never use the same dishes and utensils for fresh foods as you used for raw meats.
  • Make sure to keep foods hot/cold during transportation by using ice chests or heating sources.

Food safety just takes a few extra steps and little extra effort but the pay off is always worth it! Keep these tips in mind and feel free to e-mail me if you need more information amanda.horn@okstate.edu

References:

United States Department of Agricutlture. (July 2011). Food Safety Tips for College Students. Retrieved from http://www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/Food_Safety_Tips_for_College_Students.pdf

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