Purpose: To determine the most important food safety education needs for high school students in Ontario, Canada. Specifically our goal was to prioritize messages from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s existing, standardized food handler training program, and identify additional messages unique to this demographic.
Methods: We conducted 19 semi-structured key informant interviews with experts in food safety and youth education. Interviewees were given the standard training material prior to the interview, and were asked about the need for food safety education in youth, to prioritize the content from the standard training material based on youth’s needs, and to identify any other priority training messages for youth. We identified implicit and explicit priority training needs via thematic analysis.
Results: Food safety education in youth was considered important due to reported perceptions of invulnerability, low understanding of risks associated with foods, the ‘second weaning’ phenomenon, and the need to instill good practices before bad habits are established. Priority education messages were: hand hygiene; cross contamination; temperature (emphasizing reheating, leftovers, lunches, and snacks); and microbiology (emphasizing how food gets contaminated and how anyone can get sick). Other unique education needs included travelling with food, and sharing of food and drink.
Significance: Ontario’s standard food handler training program, developed mainly for commercial food handlers, aligns well with the education needs of the province’s youth, particularly if risks important to youth (e.g., packed lunches) can be highlighted.