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Food Safety Tips for College Students

college students walking towards the dorm with a care package in her hands with other students in the background.
All college students love to receive "care packages" from home. With all the shelf-stable food products, it is easier than ever to mail more than just cookies, crackers and candy.


College is back in session and students have packed up and are living on their own. They probably packed what they saw as the basics-TV, laptop, and cell phone. They also may have carried along a microwave oven, tabletop grill, mini-fridge, and toaster-oven.

With the busy schedules of college students, they eat whenever and whatever is convenient. When it comes to safely preparing meals, many college kids simply don't know what it takes to prepare food safely and many could end up with a foodborne illness.

Here are a few tips you may want to pass along to your college student so that they don’t spend time at the health services office on campus with a food borne illness.

When college students have extra money, they will probably buy pizza.  Unfortunately many leave the pizza in the box, on the counter overnight and then want to eat it the next morning for breakfast. That gives harmful bacteria the time to grow and multiply. 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 is probably 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. Also, avoid using an extension cord with the microwave because power is reduced as it flows down the cord. Cover foods during cooking. Remember to stir or rearrange food and rotate the dish. Use a food thermometer to ensure the food reaches the appropriate internal temperature.

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

Some great choices to include in your care package might 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, such as beef and turkey jerky, are safe to mail. Bacteria can't grow in foods preserved by removing moisture.

Above all, students need to remember that preparing healthy, safe foods takes just four basic principles to keep in mind when cooking and preparing foods.  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. Follow these simple guidelines listed above.

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

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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