Many teenagers aren’t aware of how to safely and properly handle food products, according to a new study out of the University of Waterloo.

The study examined hand sanitation, cross-contamination avoidance and other food-handling practices by students between Grade 10 and Grade 12 on three occasions – before they took a course in food safety, two weeks after the course, and three months later.

It found that, on average, the students followed fewer than half of the 32 recommended food-handling practices even after taking the course. The course did lead to significant improvements, but many students still took part in what researchers described as “risky behaviours known to lead to food-borne diseases.”

The most significant change in students before and after taking the course was an increase in the use of meat thermometers. Five per cent of students did this before the course, 36 did it two weeks after, and 33 did it three months later.

Ken Diplock, who led the study, says the findings are important because high school students tend get jobs at places such as supermarkets and restaurants, where they are expected to handle food.

“It’s important to get to students before they develop bad habits,” he said in a press release.

According to Diplock, enhancing education around food safety could help improve food-handling practices among teenagers.

The study, which also involved researchers from the University of Guelph, was published in the Journal of Food Protection.