Teaching Youth Food Safety: A Game-Based Learning Experience


As a discipline, food safety assesses and manages risks in all the stages of food production and consumption, ensuring that people have safe food (Yüksel and Günay, 2023). Food safety education is crucial in preventing microbial contamination that can lead to foodborne illness. Effective food safety education covers such topics as having good personal hygiene, cooking food to safe temperatures, avoiding cross-contamination, storing food at a safe temperature, and avoiding foods from unsafe sources (Medeiros et al., 2001). Research also suggests that gameplay is a highly effective way to teach youth ages 11 through 18 about foodborne illness and food safety (Syeda et al., 2021). Interactive educational tools give users agency while they learn specific content, in the sense of interacting with the content rather than passively receiving information without the possibility to give input, choose, or modify information/elements during the learning experience. Educational games are effective interactive media designed to teach specific content. Game experiences offer a customizable learning environment, provide meaningful and immediate feedback, can be a safe learning space, and support opportunities for players to apply the content and their understanding in a meaningful context. Empirical research supports educational games' effectiveness in teaching various content and changing learners' knowledge, attitudes, and behavior (e.g., Plass, Mayer, and Homer, 2020; Engledowl, 2023). In 2007, USDA-NIFA funded a two-state (New Mexico and New Jersey) research and education project that resulted in Ninja Kitchen (2011). In collaboration with Dr. Carol Byrd-Bredbenner from Rutgers University (The State University of New Jersey), NMSU LGL designed the game focusing on real-life tasks to enable youth to gain vital safe food handling skills to prevent foodborne illness. Players engaged in a fictional kitchen in which they prepared food and served customers by following food safety best practices, including handwashing, avoiding cross-contamination, and cooking at the right temperature. "Ninja Kitchen" was a hit, with more than 4 million plays. Research data indicated the game's effectiveness: A study of more than 900 middle schoolers who played it showed that it engaged participants and shifted their knowledge, attitudes, and intentions around food safety (Quick et al., 2013). In 2020, the game became obsolete with the discontinuation of Adobe Flash. With new funding from the New Technologies in Ag Education (NTAE) grant and support from the Extension Foundation (EXF), NMSU LGL redesigned the game to comply with the latest technologies and followed inclusive design best practices, including a deep review of accessibility and representation. The new game, “Theme Park Kitchen,” offers the same transformational activities and engaging play. It includes special features for users with visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive needs and can be played on a wider range of web browsers and with accessible keyboards and tools.


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