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How Much Does Your College Student Know About Food Safety

college girl putting food in microwave at a run
Going away to college is a huge step for many students and parents alike. Unfortunately, many do not know the food safety concerns involved when cooking with small appliances.


As college students are now living on their own, some for the first time, they may have carried a microwave, tabletop grill, mini-fridge, and toaster-oven, as well as the other school related items they thought they needed. Unfortunately, many do not know the food safety concerns that need to be considered when cooking with these appliances.

Most college students eat whenever and whatever is convenient. Even if that means eating pizza from the box that was left out overnight the next morning for breakfast.

Perishable food should never be left out of the refrigerator more than two hours, one hour in very hot temperatures. This is true even if there are no meat products on the pizza. Foodborne bacteria that may be present on these foods grow fastest at temperatures between 40 and 140 °F and can double in number every 20 minutes.

If your student lives in a dorm, they may have trouble getting their food hot enough when using a microwave. This could be due to the fact that in a large building like a dorm, electrical equipment such as computers, toaster-ovens, hair dryers, and irons compete for current and reduce the electrical wattage of a microwave.

To compensate, set the microwave for the maximum time given in the instructions. Avoid using an extension cord with the microwave because power is reduced as it flows down the cord. If there isn’t a turntable, stir or rearrange food and rotate the dish. Use a food thermometer to ensure the food reaches the appropriate internal temperature.

 Most college students love to receive “care packages” from home. With all the shelf stable food products available, it is easier to mail these packages and include more than just cookies, crackers, and candy.

Include shelf-stable, microwavable entrees. These foods are not frozen and will stay fresh without refrigeration for about 18 months. Canned meats and fish, as well as dried meat and poultry, or beef and turkey jerky, are safe to mail. Bacteria can't grow in foods preserved by removing moisture.

Preparing safe food takes just four basic principles to keep in mind. These include: Wash hands and surfaces often, before you begin to cook or reheat something, and after you handle any raw foods. Also clean the surfaces often where you are preparing the foods.

 Separate raw meat, poultry, and egg products from cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination. Never place your cooked hamburgers on the same plate or container that you carried them to the grill on. 

Use a food thermometer. Raw meat, poultry, and egg products need to be cooked thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to ensure foods have reached a high enough temperature to kill any harmful bacteria that might be present.

And lastly, refrigerate everything promptly. Don’t leave pizza on the counter planning to come back later and put it away, because you could easily get distracted and hours later discover that it is still sitting out.

Going away to college is a huge step for many students and parents alike. The last thing you want is to get food borne illness while away from home.

If you have additional questions, or would like to receive free information with food thermometer guidelines and temperatures, contact the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture in Miller County by calling 870-779-3609, visiting room 215 in the Courthouse, or e-mail me at Follow me on facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS/CarlaHaleyHadley, and twitter at @MillerCountyFCS.

By Carla Haley-Hadley
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Haley-Hadley
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854
(870) 779-3609

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