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Subjective norms in food safety: An evaluation of classroom and popular web-based Key Influencers' impact on consumer food safety
High-school-aged youths have limited food safety knowledge and lack safe food-handling skills. However, these youths will prepare food for themselves and are frequently employed in the food service industry, where their food-handling practices can directly impact public health. Youths’ beliefs about safe food-handling behaviors are affected by Key Influencers in their lives such as peers, classroom instructors, parents, and celebrities including popular web-content authors or video hosts. Societal changes have prompted the elimination of Family and Consumer Science courses from many schools and the reduction of food-handler role models at home, while increasing access to unregulated sources of food-handling information such as information published on web-based platforms. These societal changes largely remove peers, classroom instructors, and parents from influencing youths’ food-handling behaviors.
The purpose of this study was to (1) evaluate the effectiveness of a researcher-developed food safety educational intervention at changing students’ food-handling behaviors specifically focusing on the role of subjective norms in generating behavior change and (2) conduct an exploratory content analysis of food safety messages delivered by blog authors and video hosts of popular web-content.
The researcher-developed curriculum was evaluated for adherence to academic standards and overall usability in the classroom using the Delphi Technique by a panel of secondary educators who were considered experts in the education field. The curriculum was evaluated for effectiveness at changing high school students’ food-handling behaviors through self-reported surveys and observation using GoPro head mounted and stationary cameras. Finally, content analysis was performed on food safety messages disseminated by authors and video hosts of popular blogs and YouTube videos, respectively.Findings from the study demonstrated that youths’ food-handling behaviors are affected by Key Influencers including their peers and classroom instructor. However, post-intervention, a role-reversal was observed and reported as students became influencers who sought to improve their Key Influencers’ food-handling behaviors. Differences in influencing power within these relationships could impact the sustainability of youths’ safe food-handling behaviors. In particular, imbalances in influencing power of celebrities in the absence of other Key Influencers could leave students vulnerable to adopting unsafe food-handling practices.