JHU Launches New Food Safety Regulation Degree
Johns Hopkins University recently launched a new master's degree in Food Safety Regulation. The degree is offered by Advanced Academic Programs. Hopkins Happenings asked Tom Colonna, associate director Regulatory Science and Food Safety Regulation Programs, to discuss the need for a food safety regulation degree. For additional information, visit AAP's Food Safety Regulation website.
Hopkins Happenings: Why a degree in Food Safety Regulation, and why now?
Colonna: Food safety regulation is a continuing global public health need that will remain a concern as long as we expand and change our agricultural industries, challenge our environmental capacity and alter the demographics of our human population. The FDA and United States Department of Agriculture regulate the safe practice of primary and secondary food products to the American public. Federal food safety activities include inspecting domestic food-processing facilities and imported food at ports of entry, visiting foreign countries or firms to inspect and evaluate foreign food safety systems, analyzing samples collected at food-processing facilities to identify possible contamination, rulemaking and standard setting, and developing guidance for industry, among others.
Hopkins Happenings: What are the current challenges in the food safety industry?
Colonna: According to Food and Drug Administration reports, about 15 percent of food that Americans eat comes from abroad, more than double the amount just 10 years ago, including nearly two-thirds of fresh fruits and vegetables. The safety of the food supply, both foreign and domestic, is a critical public health issue. Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, former FDA Commissioner, estimated that one in every six Americans becomes ill from eating contaminated food each year; about 130,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. Consumers are eating more raw and minimally processed foods and segments of the population that are particularly susceptible to food-borne illnesses, such as older adults and immune-compromised individuals, are growing.
Hopkins Happenings: What is the goal of the degree program?
Colonna: The program will cultivate knowledge and specific skills intended to prepare graduates to deal with the complex and pressing issues discussed above. For example, a risk-based approach is necessary to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses and preserve the public’s trust in the food safety system. Training and hiring personnel with various expertise, such as risk management and analysis, is critical to implementing a risk-based system. Developing a comprehensive strategic plan that identifies public health goals and metrics to measure success is essential. Risk communication is an integral part of food safety management, especially during an emergency, when information needs to be conveyed clearly and in a timely fashion. The risk-based system will require integrating effective risk communication and food safety education.
Hopkins Happenings: What will students learn?
Colonna: The landscape of food safety regulation is currently undergoing extensive changes. As the field continues to change, the proposed program is designed to change with it. While the seven required courses will remain constant, the content will adapt to changes in discoveries in and understanding of the covered topics. Similarly, the approved list of elective courses will be a living document that will include newly created courses as appropriate. New courses will be considered based on student feedback and changes in the industry.
Hopkins Happenings: What kinds of careers can students consider after completing this program?
Colonna: Food safety regulatory specialists help to ensure the quality and safety of our food supply. Food safety regulatory specialists enforce proper methods of seed selection, fertilization, pest control, harvesting, storage and transport. They make sure foods are properly labeled, kept at the right temperature and taken off the shelves once they expire. Import inspectors are charged with ensuring that food products imported into the United States meet the same safety standards. For commercially prepared foods, food safety regulatory specialists monitor processing operations, inspect equipment and identify potential sources of contamination. Food safety regulatory specialists also inspect food service operators, such as restaurants and caterers, to enforce health and safety regulations. Most food safety regulatory specialists are employed by government agencies as inspectors or work for a food producer helping to promote full compliance with food safety regulations.
Hopkins Happenings: Food safety is a topic we all care about as we all are touched by issues such as food poisoning and food contamination. Can you elaborate on the importance of this field, and why we need smart people working in the food safety industry?
Colonna: The growth of the food industry in Maryland, the United States and globally will cause an increasing need for skilled professionals to fill positions within this expanding discipline. The global food industry will continue to be a driving force behind the state’s economic expansion in the next decade, as more scientific discoveries move out of research laboratories and into commercial production. The field of food safety regulation will have an increasingly important role in ensuring the continued rapid growth of the global food industry.