A new innovative program at the University of Arizona will prepare students to handle the evolving safety challenges facing the food industry.
The recent E.coli outbreak in romaine lettuce from Yuma is stressing the need for change. Food experts at the University of Arizona say there are solutions that could help avoid and more rapidly discover where these outbreaks happen.
A breach of food safety can be catastrophic to consumers and businesses.
"It's hard to predict, whether an outbreak will happen this year or next year or the following, it can happen at any time," Associate Professor at University of Arizona Sadhana Ravishankar said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in six Americans gets sick from contaminated foods and 3,000 dies each year. Additionally, the need for employees trained in food safety will continue to grow as challenges to food safety continue to change, especially in the Grand Canyon state, that doesn't have enough qualified people to fill those educated food safety jobs.
That's why the university is being proactive with a new bachelor's degree program in food safety, the first of its kind in the state. "Rather than just react to given situations, why not train students provide with the right background, so they can serve not only at all levels," University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences professor Patricia Stock said.
The degree will allow students to learn how diseases are spread, controlled, and get students involved in food safety laws and regulations, she added. She believes that will eventually lead to many job opportunities once they graduate. "At the border level, checking produce that comes from across the border or as a microbiologist at a lab, the department of agriculture," she said.
A distance learning program in food safety will be offered in Yuma. The distance learning class format is designed to accommodate working professionals in the Yuma area who want to further their careers by obtaining a food safety degree.
Distance learning students will attend UA classes in real time using Adobe Connect and D2L, giving them the same class experience as Tucson students without having to relocate. Arrangements are being made to offer classes with hands-on components at local community college facilities in Yuma.
The program will begin in fall and registration is still open.