The need to increase food safety knowledge among high school students is critical to improve safe food handling skills, cultivate the next generation of food safety professionals, and to enhance scientific civic literacy. All high school students are consumers of food, and consumers have an important role in protecting themselves from illness by using proper food handling techniques. Responsibilities increase post high school graduation as youth live with greater independence. Many youth are also involved in food preparation for others both in the home and when employed in food service, retail, or manufacturing; young adults aged 16 to 19 y represent 20% of the food service workforce in the United States (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011). Studies have also concluded that young adults are generally more likely to practice risky food handling behaviors than other age groups (Patil and others 2005; McArthur and others 2007); and therefore, it is important that students learn the basis for safe food practices from legitimate sources. Written content standards for high school education in the United States compartmentally address life sciences (Natl. Science Education Standards, Natl. Research Council 1996), health and disease prevention (Natl. Health Education Content Standards; CDC 2007), and food safety (Agriscience Education – Food Science Technology; Delaware Dept. of Education 2007). However, not all high school students are exposed to microbiological food safety as life science concepts can be appropriately taught with a multitude of different systems and applications, and food science may be an elective course of study. Outside of the formal classroom, families of high school students may not serve as alternative sources of accurate food safety information as knowledge and practices among adults also generally appear to be inadequate or at least inconsistent (Harris and others 2006). High school students are also defining future personal education and career goals and should be aware of opportunities to utilize skills and interest in science to keep the food supply safe. An anticipated shortage of U.S. students with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) expertise, including agricultural science, is a growing concern among many educators, industry experts, and policy makers. It is important to make high school students aware of the necessary aptitudes to pursue careers in food safety because the educational paths elected in high school affect opportunities for successful entry into baccalaureate programs and other careers postgraduation. Further, whether or not students eventually work in a segment of the food industry, they can affect change through political and communication channels and should understand the issues before them to do so appropriately. Less than a quarter of the general populous of the United States has been characterized as having scientific civic literacy (Natl. Research Council 2011), and previous studies have illustrated disconnects between attitudes and practices of young adults as well as appreciation of the impact of individual behavior in relation to agriculture and other societal issues (Harmon and Maretzki 2006).
Microbiological food safety is a topic of popular press during foodborne illness outbreaks and food product recalls. Some food safety education may occur as a result of outbreak events, as perceived risk of foodborne illness affects food purchasing and preparation behaviors (Ralston and others 2002; Harris and others 2006). The familiar news stories of foodborne illness outbreaks provide a platform for more complete and enduring food safety education in the academic setting.
The utility of storytelling based on illness outbreaks for conveying food safety information to food handlers has previously been reported (Chapman and others 2011) and supports the importance of teaching rationale and consequence in an effort to engage and affect behavioral change. Compelling stories that provide a personal connection are memorable and can build a sense of community among learners and instructors (Abrahamson 1998). The use of storytelling (Abrahamson 1998; Lordley 2007) and case studies (Herreid 2005; DeSchryver and others 2007) to enhance science education in the academic setting has also received positive analysis in support of comprehension of facts, development of critical thinking and analytical skills, and enhancement of cognitive and emotional connections.
The objectives of this study were to develop and disseminate educational materials that feature basic and applied microbial food safety concepts, utilization of mathematics in science, food safety impact on global societal issues including public health, communication, regulations and the economy, and the requisite aptitudes to pursue related career opportunities. This paper presents the insight of secondary educators for the development of food safety educational materials, the impact of these materials on educator food safety knowledge, and initial educator assessment of the utility of the materials for science instruction across the curriculum.