National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
A Chilling Investigation (6-8th Grade)
6 - 8
45 minutes, plus additional observation time
Students will observe the difference in bacterial count between a hamburger that’s left out at room temperature and a hamburger that’s kept refrigerated. The lab reinforces the concept that food must be properly chilled in order for it to remain safe to eat. This lab will be conducted as a teacher demonstration.
- .5 pound (227 grams) package of inexpensive, raw hamburger
- Dishwashing detergent for cleaning utensils and countertops
- Disinfecting bleach solution (20 ml of liquid household bleach in 1 L of tap water, see page 8)
- Knife for cutting hamburger package
- 2 self-sealing (zipper-style) plastic bags
- 2 plates for hamburger packages
- Paper towels
- Safety gloves and lab aprons for anyone handling hamburger
- 3 sterile Petri dishes with nutrient agar and covers
- Parafilm to seal Petri dishes
- Sterile cotton swabs
- Refrigerator or cooler with ice pack to keep the meat chilled
- Lab Report Outline
- Purchase hamburger.
- Disinfect the knife.
- Divide the hamburger package in half by cutting through the package, including the meat and the bottom of the Styrofoam™ tray.
- Put each half in a self-sealing bag and seal.
- Label one bag “chilled” and refrigerate it immediately.
- Label the other bag “room temperature” and leave it out at room temperature at least overnight.
- Be sure to put the packages on plates or in a bowl to prevent raw meat juices from leaking onto other food items in the refrigerator or onto the counter.
- Make one copy of the Lab Report Outline for each student.
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
danger zone: a temperature range for food where the risk of harmful bacteria growth is the highest
food safety: a scientific discipline describing handling, preparation, and storage of food in ways that prevent foodborne illness
foodborne illness: any illness resulting from the consumption of food that is spoiled or contaminated
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Use the following scenario as an introduction, or ask students to come up with a scenario of when meat might be unintentionally left out of the refrigerator for too long.
- Suggested Scenario: Last night, Mrs. Smith bought 2 packages of hamburger that she planned to cook for dinner the next evening. She put one package in the refrigerator. But then the phone rang, and other things occurred that distracted her. She forgot to put the other package of hamburger in the refrigerator. It sat out on the kitchen counter all night long. She woke up the next morning and placed the hamburger in the refrigerator, but wondered if the unrefrigerated hamburger was safe to eat.
- Ask students, "Would you eat the unrefrigerated hamburger? Why or why not? Let’s test both packages of hamburger and see if there’s any difference between them."
Part 1: Conduct the Lab
- Have the class form a hypothesis about the properly refrigerated hamburger versus the hamburger left out at room temperature.
- Now ask, "How would you test your hypothesis?" Record their answers.
- Discuss a good experimental design for this lab.
- Ask for three volunteers. Remind them to wear safety gloves and lab aprons. They should take their sample near the center of the meat and away from the surface where the hamburger was cut. If possible, get a drop of hamburger juice.
- Have one student label one Petri dish “control.”
- Have the second student label one dish “chilled.” Have them swab the properly chilled hamburger, and inoculate the “chilled” dish.
- Have the third student label one dish “room temperature.” Swab the hamburger that was left out of the refrigerator, and inoculate the “room temperature” dish.
- Tell the students that one package of hamburger was cut in half to make two packages. Then ask, "Why did we cut the package in half rather than just buying 2 individual packages?" (To ensure that the meat tested is from the same batch, so as not to introduce another variable into the experiment)
- Use Parafilm to seal the dishes (see the attached Lab Procedures sheet for more details).
- Place the Petri dishes in the incubator at 95° F (35° C) or let dishes sit at room temperature (away from the sun) for 1 to 2 days.
Part 2: Observe, Record, and Summarize Results
At the beginning of the next day, ask students to observe and record results.
- Have the class discuss the results in relation to their hypothesis. Were there any surprises?
- Ask students:
- "Did the cold kill the bacteria in the refrigerated sample?" (There may be some bacterial growth, since cold doesn’t kill bacteria.)
- "What did you observe in the unrefrigerated sample?" (Since the sample had remained in the “Danger Zone” for several hours, more bacteria grew than on the refrigerated sample.)
- "What can you conclude about what went wrong along the Farm-to-Table Continuum in respect to this hamburger?" (The hamburger may have been contaminated with bacteria before Ms. Smith purchased it. However, she compounded the problem by mishandling the meat after she brought it home. She did not follow the “Chill” rule of the 4 Cs of Food Safety — she violated the 2-hour rule by not placing the hamburger in the refrigerator immediately.)
- "Who has the final responsibility for the safety of this burger?" (It’s our responsibility to make sure that food stays safe after we purchase it.)
- "Could I just cook the unrefrigerated hamburger thoroughly and make it safe to eat?" (No. If food is left unrefrigerated, bacteria cells will grow and more heat is required to kill the additional cells. Meat that is left out too long can accumulate bacterial toxins that may not be destroyed by additional cooking. Also, leaving the meat unrefrigerated invites the possibility of cross-contaminating surfaces, hands, etc. You should practice safe food-handling habits and always handle your food defensively. If the hamburger was left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, it should have been discarded.)
- Students can use the attached Lab Report Outline to record the results.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
- What does the cold chain have to do with the things we learned in this lab? (We all need to continue the cold chain that started back on the farm in order to keep our food safe. Keep food chilled until it’s ready to be cooked or eaten.)
- Why do we freeze hamburger meat? (Freezing keeps food safe by causing foodborne illness microbes to enter a dormant stage.)
- Does freezing kill bacteria? (No, freezing slows down the growth of harmful bacteria.)
To freeze or not to freeze: that is the question! Well, the answer is simple. To keep harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying, always store foods that won’t be used right away in the refrigerator or freezer.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Relate what you’ve learned about bacterial growth and chilling to other foods such as chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, etc.
Visit a local fast-food restaurant or supermarket and interview the manager to find out how he/she maintains the cold chain.
Suggested Companion Resources
- Beef Blasters (Activity)
- Lose a Million Bacteria The Game (Activity)
- The 12 Most Unwanted Bacteria (Activity)
- How Safe is Your Salad? (Multimedia)
- Virtual Food Safety Labs (Multimedia)
- Antimicrobial Wash for Fresh Produce (Website)
- Fight Bac! Food Safety Education (Website)
- Food Safety A to Z Reference Guide (Website)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Food, Health, and Lifestyle
- Demonstrate safe methods for food handling, preparation, and storage in the home. (T3.6-8.a)
- Identify forms and sources of food contamination relative to personal health and safety (T3.6-8.h)
Education Content Standards
Food Products and Processing Systems Career Pathway
FPP.01.02Apply food safety and sanitation procedures in the handling and processing of food products to ensure food quality.
FPP.01.03Apply food safety procedures when storing food products to ensure food quality.
FPP.02.01Apply principles of nutrition and biology to develop food products that provide a safe, wholesome and nutritious food supply for local and global food systems.
Common Core Connections
Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.