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Food Safety Tips for College Students

college students preparing a meal together
Does your college student know what they need to know about food safety so they don't end up with the dreaded food borne illness?


The hustle and bustle of packing up for college is now over and most college students who are away at college have unpacked and are now entering a new world of responsibility. There is no longer someone there to make sure they are up and out the door for classes, helping with laundry or even making sure they have a home cooked meal. They will now be making all those decisions on their own.

Chances are you purchased what they thought were the essentials, laptop, television, cell phone, chargers. Depending upon dorm or apartment rules, they may have packed a microwave oven, tabletop grill, mini-fridge, and toaster-oven. All of these things are good to have as long as you remember that these appliances are great for that late night snack, but there are food safety concerns to take into account when cooking with them.

College students have busy schedules; many times they eat whenever and whatever is convenient. Food safety in the kitchen is not a concern for them until they get the dreaded food borne illness.

What does your college student need to know so they don’t end up in the health services office on campus with a food borne illness? Here are some tips you may want to pass along to them.

Pizza isn’t meant to be left out all night and eaten the next morning for breakfast. I enjoyed my fair share of pizza for breakfast in college, but I had learned that it had to be refrigerated and not left out in the box all night. Leaving it out on the counter gives harmful bacteria the green light 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.

One favorite activity of college students, and alumni too, is tailgating. If the tailgate includes hamburgers, the only way to assure that the hamburger is done, regardless of color, is to use a food thermometer. Color is not an indicator of doneness. Ground beef may turn brown before it has reached a temperature at which bacteria are destroyed. A hamburger cooked to 160 °F, measured with a food thermometer throughout the patty, is safe, regardless of color.

Those living in the dorm may have trouble getting their food hot enough when using a microwave. In a large building like a dorm, electrical equipment such as computers, toaster-ovens, and hair dryers 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.

Care packages from home were always a treat as a college student. Today 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.

Preparing healthy, safe food requires just four basic principles to remember when cooking and preparing foods. These include: Wash hands and surfaces often both 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. Bleach based wipes are convenient and will do the trick.

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 that pizza on the counter with the plan 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 students and parents alike. The last thing you want is to get food borne illness while away from home. 

For more information, or to receive a chart with temperatures using a meat thermometer, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at, on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS/CarlaDue, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at

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

Media Contact: Carla Due
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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