Teaching Youth Food Safety: A Game-Based Learning Experience


With an initial understanding of the content need, an interdisciplinary team of developers (programmers, game designers, artists) and food safety content experts collaborated in a design summit. Previous to the original summit, content experts conducted focus groups with youth to understand what concepts regarding food safety were unclear, what youth in this age range understood about preventing food borne illness, and how youth prepared, cooked, and stored food. Articulating a problem related to learning the content was the team's first step. To state the problem, the team looked at how foodborne illness has been taught, what kind of misconceptions or lack of understanding learners have, or — if they know the content — why their behavior does not reflect their knowledge (Byrd-Bredbenner, Abbot, and Quick, 2010). This research indicated that youth consider it important to learn about foodborne illness but experience barriers to learning; they also have the feeling that they are “ invincible ”— not susceptible to foodborne illness. Data also identify youths’ preference for learning foodborne content in an interactive and hands-on format, where they have agency. With research data, the team articulated the problems:

 How to teach youth food safety practices?

 How to give youth an understanding of how foodborne illness happens and the risks?

 What actions (behavior) youth need to learn to prevent foodborne illness?

The team defined intended changes for learners. The changes represent how learners need to be transformed to learn the content, including changes in learners’ knowledge and behavior:

 Knowledge: Users will gain knowledge about the causes of foodborne illness, including unclean hands and surfaces, cross-contamination of meat with other surfaces or foods, and safe temperatures and storage times.  Behavior: Users need to change behavior when cooking: including washing hands before handling food, avoiding cross-contamination of raw meat and other food items, and using a cooking thermometer to cook meat to the right temperature. To provide youth food safety knowledge leading to a behavior change, the team identified activities to foster that change . This is part of the process of moving from problems to transformational changes. The team created activities reflecting real-life tasks to enable youth to gain vital safe food-handling skills to prevent foodborne illness, such as washing hands before handling food, avoiding cross-contamination, cleaning kitchen surfaces, and using a cooking thermometer. With a problem, intended changes , and activities outlined, the team started thinking about incorporating those elements into a fun and engaging media product. The team designed product ideas using design activities such as brainstorming, drawing drafts, and making paper mockups. The group chose a game as the best media for this project based on the audience and content needs. In this cooking game, players need to handle food following food safety practices, avoiding contamination, and serving delicious food to customers. The design process used to move developers through the steps of articulating the audience, desired change, type of activity and engagement is now referred to as the “Transformational Design Process” (Chamberlin & Schell, 2018).


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