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    May 2018

    Eating Contests: Managing the Risk While Preserving the Fun

    Competitive eating—races to see who can eat the most food in a limited amount of time—is growing more popular. Often a fundraising event for student groups, contests include races to eat hot dogs, pie, chicken nuggets, and even Jell-O. Student organizations such as sororities, athletics teams, and student government often sponsor these races, and some institutions officially sanction them. For example, dining services may sponsor a pie-eating event.

    Eating contests can provide entertainment during homecoming or exams, but they can pose dangers. Even professional participants have choked, vomited, suffered stomach damage, and asphyxiated, resulting in death. United Educators (UE) has handled claims involving students injured during or after an eating contest. While professional competitive eaters train for their events, students may be unprepared to participate safely.

    As a result, some institutions have banned these contests. Other schools require that contests take place on campus so they can provide more oversight. Beyond forbidding or discouraging these events, institutions can take steps to minimize the risk of injury. Consider the following actions:

    • Require registration of the event. Require that any eating contest, no matter when held or for what purpose, be an officially registered event subject to oversight by your events policy and carry the required insurance. For best practices around campus events, see the risk management tips in EduRisk’s checklist, "Risk Management for Student Events."
    • Require participants to sign a waiver. While a waiver does not prevent potential injury, it notifies participants of the dangers eating contests pose and may protect the institution from liability if someone is injured. Follow Boston University’s example and tailor the waiver to eating contests and list general risks. Also, require participants to certify that they are in good health and able to participate in the contest.
    • Ban alcohol. Drinking alcohol before or during the contest may impair the participants’ judgment about their bodies’ reactions to consuming high volumes of food and may increase risk of injury.
    • Warn of allergens. Eating contest food should be prepared by a commercial kitchen rather than homemade. (Some institutions require that campus dining services prepare it). Prominently post warnings of potential allergens, such as peanuts. Offer allergen-free options to students with food allergies.
    • Require the presence of medical personnel. Because of the potential for choking, a trained medical professional, such as an EMT, should be present. Also, consider having a dedicated cellphone available for calling 911 if additional help is needed. 
    • Require a monitor. In addition to trained medical personnel, appoint an individual (or more, depending on the number of participants) to monitor participants for signs of distress during the contest. Give this person the authority to call for medical intervention or to end participation in the contest. 


    Boston University Eating Contest Waiver

    University of Wisconsin-Madison Student Event Risk Management

    Penn State University (Altoona) Eating Contest Policy

    Drexel University Student Event Policy

    EduRisk Checklist: “Risk Management for Student Events”

    EduRisk Risk Research Bulletin: “Student Organizations and Activities”

    Pace University Ban on Eating Competitions

    By Heather A. Salko, senior risk management counsel


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