Teaching Youth Food Safety: A Game-Based Learning Experience


Youth are the next generation of food handlers — they will prepare food for themselves and their families, and may also end up working in the food industry. It’s especially important that they learn how to handle, cook, and store food safely and how to know when food is not safe to eat. But food safety is not an intrinsically exciting topic for youth, so the Learning Games Lab at New Mexico State University developed Theme Park Kitchen, an online learning game that teaches youth food safety practices in engaging ways. This publication describes how we developed the game through a design process that articulated the proper steps of safe food handling. This publication also can help Extension agents and other educators use this game in formal and informal educational settings.


Poor food safety practices lead to foodborne illness, an issue that affects approximately 48 million Americans each year. Of those 48 million, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that foodborne illness costs the country $15.5 billion annually. The good news is, we can reduce foodborne illness by educating consumers and producers about the risks and by teaching them best practices for minimizing and even eliminating chances of food contamination. Youth ages 11 to 13 are a priority audience for food safety education because they are at an age when they start helping their parents cook, making their own snacks, reheating leftovers, and preparing food from recipes. They also often are caregivers for infants, young children, and elderly family members (Byrd-Bredbenner, Abbot, Quick, 2010). Research shows that despite their cooking interest and capabilities, youth have a limited understanding of foodborne illnesses and food safety practices (Batista et al., 2023; Byrd-Bredbenner et al., 2007). The New Mexico State University Learning Games Lab (NMSU LGL) developed Theme Park Kitchen, an online learning game, to fill this knowledge gap. This publication describes how gameplay fosters behavior change and how NMSU LGL created Theme Park Kitchen using inclusive design for learning, which takes into account that everyone learns differently. We also articulate ways that educators and Extension agents can use the game in formal and informal educational settings.


Powered by