Revamped food safety course offers essential credentials

By John Carberry

A team of faculty and extension experts have cooked up a new recipe for a long-running food science course, one instructors and students say will open doors to future employment.

Food Safety Assurance (FDSC 3960) has been offered every two years; it’s a requirement for undergraduates and a staple for some graduate students as well. Still, food science professor and class instructor Randy Worobo said he and Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety Martin Wiedmann, Ph.D. ’97, began to wonder if there was more that could be done to prepare students for a dynamic and demanding industry.

“The class was changed to focus on industry-required skills,” Worobo said. “We knew it was going to be a great advantage to the students.”

That big advantage comes from two acronyms—HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) and SQF (Safe Quality Food), certifications that are essential credentials in safe food processing. Extension support specialist Kim Bukowski brings her SQF industry instruction to the classroom through a first-in-the-U.S. partnership between a university and the Safe Quality Food Institute.

“To our knowledge, no one in the continental U.S. is offering both certifications for undergraduate students,” Bukowski said. “Having these students come out already certified, it’s really valuable to them.”

Food science undergraduate Avery Becker, a senior focusing on toxicology research, was among the first students in the redesigned course and predicts it will give him a leg up in the job market.

“This class takes the principles and applies them to what is actually done at the plant,” Becker said. “That’s why I’ve got a major advantage.”

CALS will offer the new course every spring, and the team of instructors is working on a revised course plan that will allow them to expand enrollment to as many as 75 students per class while keeping group and hands-on elements intact.

“These kids are brilliant,” Bukowski said. “They have open minds and ask very different questions. They’ve really opened my eyes, too.”