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Eating Contests: Manage the Risk While Preserving the Fun

Heather Salko, Esq.
October 2020
Strategies to minimize risks at competitive eating events

Competitive eating — races to see who can eat the most food in a limited time — is an increasingly popular form of entertainment on campus, and often used 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. Others require that contests be conducted on campus so oversight can be provided.

Beyond forbidding or discouraging these events, you can minimize the risk of injury by:

  • Requiring registration of the event. Require that any eating contest, no matter when held or for what purpose, be an officially registered event subject to the rules of your events policy, including insurance requirements. For best practices around campus events, see UE’s Checklist: Risk Management for Campus Student Events.
  • Requiring 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.
  • Banning alcohol. Drinking alcohol before or during the contest may impair participants’ judgment about their bodies’ reactions to consuming high volumes of food. It may increase risk of injury.
  • Warning 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.
  • Ensuring medical personnel is present due to the potential for choking. Have a dedicated cellphone available for calling 911 if additional help is needed.
  • Requiring 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

Checklist: Risk Management for Campus Student Events

Student Organizations and Activities: Managing the Risks

Additional Resources

Boston University: Eating Contest Waiver

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

Drexel University: Office of Campus Activities Policies and Procedures Manual

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

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