Students in BIMS 4491 Food Microbiology are deep into a semester of eye-opening surprises. Besides learning the significance of acronyms like HACCP, AOAC, USDA-APHIS, and the like, there has been a tourist’s journey through the microbes used for making foods and those responsible for spoilage. Students have presented case studies on outbreaks of foodborne illnesses from botulism in canned hotdog chili sauce to shigellosis at an upscale hotel. Around every corner there has been a new dimension of how vast the importance of food safety and how costly it is when problems arise.
The first major project for the class has been the production of foods using microbes. From ginger ale to sauerkraut to chocolate, from sourdough bread to cheeses to wines, the class is assembling an impressive array of microbial products for human consumption. A campus-wide reception and “tasting” is scheduled for Thanksgiving week, where a booklet of recipes (complete with a description of the microbes and processes responsible) will be available for our guests.
Today marks the launch of another project. Our students will be headed to college student kitchens to do safety analysis and sampling. Every student in the class had to obtain their food handler safety certification, so things they learned there about safe kitchens will be combined with things learned in class to analyze safety and the practices of college students in their home kitchens. A kitchen user survey and kitchen layout schematic will help Food Micro identify critical points where cross contamination can occur or where safe practices are not being followed (raw meats stored above leftovers in the fridge?). Contact plates of specialized media and swab sample retrieval kits will be used to test cutting boards, floors, countertops, refrigerator shelves, and a variety of other kitchen surfaces. When combined, the results will provide a snapshot of the status of kitchen safety for the average college student. When the data is analyzed, the class will undertake their final class project – writing a guide to safe kitchens for college students. As with our other BIMS classes, we aim to put a practical and useful product together from our semester’s efforts.
There is nothing quite like exposing your students to the way their field is put into practice. There is nothing quite as personal or practical to a student’s education as being the one using knowledge from a course to inform others on how to improve their personal safety. In this way, BIMS 4491 Food Microbiology is demonstrating the great value of learning and applying what is learned for the benefit of others.