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    February 2020

    Eating Contests: Managing the Risk While Preserving the Fun

    Competitive eating — races to see who can eat the most food in a limited time — is an increasingly popular form of entertainment on campus, including as a fundraising event for student groups. But it can pose danger. 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 institutions require that contests occur 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 your 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. It may increase risk of injury.
    • Warn of allergens. To avoid cross-contamination, commercial kitchens should prepare food for eating contests. (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.
    • Ensure medical personnel is present due to the potential for choking. Have a dedicated cellphone available for calling 911 if additional help is needed. 
    • Require a monitor. 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. 

    More from UE

    Risk Management for Campus Student Events

    Student Organizations and Activities

    Additional Resources

    Boston University: Eating Contest Waiver

    University of Wisconsin-Madison: Student Organization Resources & Policy Guide — Risk Management

    Penn State University (Altoona): Policy Regarding Eating Contests

    Drexel University: Office of Campus Acitivites Policies and Procedures Manual

    Pace University: Policies and Procedures Manual (Eating Contests, p. 22)

    Worcester Polytechnic Institute: Student Organization Manual (Eating Contests Policy, p. 21)

    By Heather A. Salko, senior risk management counsel


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