Editor’s note: This is the final piece in a series of articles and opinion columns we have published in recognition of September as Food Safety Education Month.
A fortuitous combination of ambition, chance, and amazing mentors is what led me to pursue food safety. From a young age, I had known that I wanted to pursue science in college and as a career, but I didn’t know what form that would take.
At the University of Connecticut I started as a pre-veterinary student. When I was a sophomore I wanted to get involved in undergraduate research, so I joined a food microbiology lab in the Animal Science department. By my junior year, I was questioning my pre-vet direction, and by senior year I was determined that I would pursue food safety and microbiology. Now that I’m a graduate I officially consider myself a food science “convert,” which I’m sure the food microbiology Ph.D. and master’s students I worked with will be glad to hear!
Currently, I am thrilled to be working for Stop Foodborne Illness as the first Dave Theno Food Safety Fellow. Dave Theno was a food safety advocate who worked to continuously improve the safety of food production with a scientific approach, all the while keeping in mind the people he was serving. Stop is a non-profit public health organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens.
I anticipate in the year ahead I will gain perspective working with a consumer-focused organization, learning more about outbreak and recall responses, how policies regarding our food system come to be, and how to better assist those who are impacted by foodborne illness. My love of science and desire to help people are integrated in food safety in a way that I never even knew existed before college. This field is composed of dedicated professionals in every aspect of food production, academia, government, and even consumers. It still feels like a close-knit community with the common goal of protecting the food we all eat every day.
Moving forward, I plan to continue pursuing food microbiology in graduate school. I look forward to learning even more about food safety and building a career based on helping improve and preserve the microbial safety of our food system.
September was Food Safety Education Month which, to me, means many things. Everyone should have some level of food safety education, and an awareness about what goes into making and eating wholesome food.
Food safety needs to be taught starting at a young age to children, and to adults who prepare their own food. People working in restaurant spaces who prepare and serve food also need to know how to keep food safe. Even in industry, the professionals who manufacture the delicious and diverse packaged foods we find in the grocery store are obligated to know and understand food safety.
But to me, the most important part of Food Safety Education is about students. If you want an associate degree or hope to pursue a postdoctoral research position, this is a rewarding and multidisciplinary field that has something for everyone. If you look closer, you will see people keeping your food safe everywhere. From government agents checking imports to toxicologists testing novel ingredients, engineers finding better production methods and farmers using proven practices — all can have a hand in food safety.
September may be over, but all year long I encourage students to consider food safety as a career. It is science and engineering, it is awareness and outreach, it is research, design and development, and it is policy and regulation. More than anything, it is rewarding.
About the author: Emily Forauer, center, was named the first Dave Theno Fellow by STOP Foodborne Illness during the annual conference of the International Association for Food Protection in July. STOP Executive Director Deirdre Schlunegger, right, and Theno’s wife Jill Theno, left, presented the award. The fellowship honors Theno’s work by promoting food safety education and helping students who are pursuing careers in the field of food safety.
At age 66, food safety pioneer Dave Theno died when he was hit by a large wave while swimming with his grandson in Hawaii on June 19, 2017. Theno made history in food safety circles after he was hired as senior vice president and chief food safety officer for Jack-in-the-Box in 1993, which was the source of a deadly E. coli outbreak traced to undercooked hamburgers.
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