June 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA2

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Exploring Curriculum to Meet the Food Safety Needs of Bilingual Youth

One hundred thirty-two Hispanic youth in grades 4-6 participated in a study to determine the effectiveness of a food safety educational curriculum and a Spanish video. This project adapted youth educational materials and a video on safe food handling developed by Purdue University. The video script was translated into Spanish to reflect cultural language differences and a Spanish version of the video was developed. Four educational treatment groups were developed to determine the effectiveness of the curriculum. Youth who were taught the five lesson unit, completed recommended activities, and viewed the video scored the highest on food safety and handling. The control group scored the lowest.

Tracy Hoover
Assistant Professor
Department of Agricultural Education and Communication
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida
Internet address: TSH@GNV.IFAS.UFL.EDU

Anne Cooper
Extension Agent II - Home Economics
Dade County
Miami, Florida

Mark Tamplin
Associate Professor
Department of Home Economics
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida

Janice Osmond
Graduate Student

Kelli Edgell
Graduate Student
Agricultural Education and Communication
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida

Bilingual Education

Bilingual education in the Unites States has been in existence for centuries with programs emphasizing language maintenance and assimilation of individuals or groups into the mainstream of society. Although forms of private bilingual schools were used by different European groups for the retention of mother languages, these attempts among the immigrant groups were not successful (Paulston, 1980).

There was a great difference in the experiences of the Europeans compared to the Hispanics, who make up 80% of the students enrolled in bilingual education programs. Reaction to failures of minority school children forced the government to acknowledge bilingualism and legislate bilingual education programs (Siguan & Mackay, 1987; Paulston, 1980).

One of the first pieces of legislation relating to bilingual education was Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Paulson, 1980). This became a primary weapon of minorities in their battle to establish bilingual education (Teitelbaum & Hiller, 1977). Closely following, was the 1968 Title VII amendment, known as the Bilingual Education Act, that provided the first federal funds for bilingual education and the Bilingual Education Act of 1974. It was reported that the Bilingual Education Act of 1968, intended for children of low-income families was not necessarily what its name indicated since the actual goal was not bilingualism, but English proficiency (National Institute of Education, 1975). Legislators viewed these programs as compensatory in nature and their primary objective was a more rapid and efficient acquisition of English. However, ethnic groups involved in the implementation refer to the programs as bilingual and see the objectives as stable bilingualism with maintenance of the original culture and the original language (Paulston, 1980).

The landmark case in bilingual education was Lau vs. Nichols, in which the parent of a Chinese student sued the San Francisco School Board. The case questioned whether non-English- speaking children received an equal educational opportunity when instructed in a language they cannot understand. The plaintiffs claimed that the absence of programs designed to meet the linguistic needs of such students violated Title VII. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Lau relying solely on Title VII which suggested equal treatment does not constitute equal opportunity (Paulston, 1980).

Based upon the Supreme Court Ruling, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) appointed a task force to set guidelines for implementing the Lau decision, also known as the "Lau Remedies," which have caused considerable confusion. For instance, at the elementary level, the "Lau Remedies" reject English as a Second Language saying that it is not an acceptable bilingual education program (Paulston, 1980).

The future of bilingual education programs in the United States is uncertain. Inevitably, when federal funding for these programs is reviewed, the efficiency of these programs in teaching children English is questioned. Others target bilingual education programs as disturbing to national unity and question their worth as well.

As the Cooperative Extension Service continues to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse and multicultural client group. It is important that educational materials both written and verbal be made available to those individuals in their primary language.

Food Safety

With the number of children cooking in the home rapidly increasing, the need to educate them about food safety has become a necessity (Stanley and Mason, 1993). Almost one-third of the households in the United States report that family members other than the adult female are responsible for meal preparation at home (Food Marketing Institute and Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, 1989). The International Food Information Council (1991) reported that 87% of all the children surveyed prepared some of their own meals.

Children's increasingly active role in food preparation often occurs with little formal or non-formal education about safe food preparation and handling techniques. Most schools do not offer food handling and/or home economics classes until the middle/high school level. A need for an increase in food safety practices is evident because of the increased incidence of foodborne disease illnesses. It was predicted that without increasing the knowledge of consumers, the incidence of foodbourne illness would continue to increase into the next century (Raithel, 1988).

Both children and their parents have a limited knowledge about safe food preparation. A 1992 consumer survey on food safety knowledge showed that those under 35 years of age had the lowest scores. As the age of consumers in the survey increased, food safety knowledge scores also increased (Williamson, Gravani, and Lawless, 1992).

Purpose and Procedure

This project addressed the food safety and food handling needs of Hispanic youth. Four methods were utilized to determine the most effective means of addressing the food safety issue. This project adapted the "Mystery of the Poison Panther Picnic" youth educational materials, video and five lesson unit on safe food handling developed by Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service (1990) to more adequately address the needs of bilingual youth.


One hundred thirty-two Hispanic/bilingual youth in grades 4- 6, participated in the study. The children were enrolled in after -school care programs or were from intact classes in Hialeah, Dade County, Florida. Hialeah (population 188,000) is a predominately Hispanic community (97.8%) located in the metropolitan area of Miami.

Video Script Translation:

The Poison Panther Picnic video script was translated into Spanish and shared with a focus group comprised of individuals with extensive and varied Hispanic back grounds. Appropriate modifications were made to reflect cultural and contemporary language differences.

Educational Method:

In order to determine the effectiveness of the curriculum in both English and Spanish four educational method groups were developed. Sociodemographic and cultural characteristics of students were obtained through teacher/instructor-gathered information of the groups. Teachers were asked cultural background (e.g. Cuban, Mexican) of the students and the approximate percentage of youth in the group who were receiving free/reduced cost lunches. The information related to school lunches was used as an estimate of socio-economic level.

Educational Method One:

This group served as a control group for the study. Twenty- seven youth attending three YMCA after-school programs took the pre-test. All children were Hispanic with one-third of the children from middle income and two-thirds from lower income households.

Educational Method Two:

This group viewed the English version of Poisoned Panther Picnic Twenty-nine children from three YMCA after school programs participated. All children were Hispanic with three-fourths of children in this group from low income households, and the remainder from middle income households.

Educational Method Three:

This group received the five lesson unit and English video. Forty-six sixth graders in an English for Speakers of Other Languages class participated in this treatment. All were Hispanic, with 75% from Nicaragua. All children were from low income households. Due to the limited English proficiency of the youth all lessons and pre- and post-tests were translated into Spanish by the classroom teacher. A potential limitation affecting the test scores for this group is that they recently finished a science unit on micro-organisms and their growth, however, they had not covered food safety and microbial growth in food. In addition to the Purdue materials, A USDA publication ("Como Hector Se Enfermo" - How Hector Got Sick) was distributed to the students. Children took this brochure home to share with family and relatives at the end of the unit.

Educational Method Four:

This group only viewed the Spanish version of the video. Twenty-nine children in four YMCA programs viewed the Spanish translation of the Poisoned Panther Picnic. All students in this treatment from lower economic households were from Central America and the Caribbean.

Instrumentation and Data Analysis:

An evaluation instrument of ten multiple choice questions developed by Purdue University, was used to determine the student's food safety knowledge was utilized in the study. The maximum score a student could receive was a 10. Data were analyzed with SAS using a paired - t test.


One hundred thirty two Hispanic youth in grades 4-6 from Hialeah, Florida participated in the study. Four educational method groups were utilized. Students in the control group took the evaluation instrument to assess food safety knowledge. Twenty -seven youth from three different YMCA after school educational programs comprised Method 1. Students in Method 1 had an average score of 8.7 on the exam, scores ranged from 7-10.

Method 2 consisted of a pre- and post-test with the English version of the Poison Panther Picnic serving as the educational method. Twenty-nine children from 3 YMCA after school educational programs in method 2. Their average pretest score was a 7.5 with a range (2-10) and average post test score 9.0 with range (4-10). This was the only group to show a significant increase from pre- to post-test score (p < 0.5).

Method 3 consisted of a pre- and post-test with the five lesson unit and English version of the Poison Panther Picnic video serving as the educational treatment. There was no significant difference between pre-test 9.5 with a range (6-10) and post-test 9.7 with a range (7-10) scores. Forty-six sixth graders from an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class participated in this method. All materials were translated into Spanish for the youth.

Method 4 consisted of a pre- and post-test with the Spanish version of the Poison Picnic video. There was no significant difference between pre-test 7.6 with a range (6-10) and post-test 7.6 with a range (6-10) scores. Twenty-nine youth from four YMCA programs participated in this method. Even though Spanish was the primary language spoken at home, the children in this group said they would have rather watched the video in English. However, they did understand the Spanish version.

The results of each educational method are portrayed in Table 1. The only group that showed a significant gain from pre- to post-test scores was group 2 (English version of video). The students in Group 3 were engaged in the most comprehensive food safety lesson. (Five lesson plans and video). This coupled with their previous exposure to a unit on micro-organisms may have attributed to inflated pre- and post-test scores.

The results of each method were considered independently. This is due to the varied and statistically different scores obtained on treatment pretests. Based upon demographics of the groups, such as, cultural differences (distinctively different Hispanic groups in the Miami area), socioeconomic status and type of program (after school versus intact public school class), youth who participated in this study differed significantly from each other on pretest scores. Additionally, students in the ESOL class (group 3) had all materials translated into Spanish due to their limited English ability. This modification may have biased pre and post-test scores

Table 1. Test Scores by Education Method Group
Pretest Post test
Methodn mean range mean range
Method 1 2   8.7 7-10
Method 2* 29 7.5 2-10 9.0 4-10
Method 3 46 9.5 6-10 9.7 7-10
Method 4 29 7.6 6-10 7.6 6-10


Utilization and minor adaption of existing curricula to meet the food safety needs of Hispanic youth is a viable option. The adaption of the Poison Panther Picnic and related materials into Spanish will provide increased opportunities to reach and educate yet another clientele group.

While findings do not support the need to translate materials into Spanish they should be interpreted with caution due to the lack of control of extraneous variables. Subsequent analysis and research is needed to build into the research design extraneous variables (e.g. generations the family has been located in the U.S., socio-economic status, primary language spoken at home, etc.).


Food Marketing Institute and Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. (1989). Dinnertime U.S.A. New York, NY.

National Institute of Education (1975). Spanish-English Bilingual Education in the United States: Current Issues, Resources and Recommended Funding Priorities for Research. Washington, D.C.

Paulston, C.B. (1980). Bilingual Education Theories and Issues. Rowley, MA: Newbury House Publishers, Inc.

Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service (1990). Producer Through Consumer: Partners to a Safe Food Supply - Youth Curriculum. Purdue University, W. Lafayette, IN.

Raithel, K.S. (1988). Concerns, challenges of keeping nation's food supply safe in the 21st century being studied now. Journal of the American Medical Association, 260, pp.15-16.

Siguan, M. & Mackay, W.F. (1987). Education and Bilingualism. London: Kogan Page Ltd.

Stanley, M. & Mason, A. (1993). Effects of Educational Treatment on the Gain and

Retention of Food Safety Knowledge by Fifth-Grade Students. Research Summary, West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University.

Teitelbaum, H. & Hiller, R.J. (1977). The Legal Perspective, In Bilingual Education: Current Perspectives, 3. Arlington, VA: Center for Applied Linguistics.

The International Food Information Council (1991). How children are making food choices. IFIC Review, Washington, D.C.

Williamson, D.M., Gravani, R.B., & Lawless, H.T. (1992). Correlating food safety knowledge with home food-preparation practices. Food Technology. 46, pp.94-100.