Food Safety Goes to School

In October, food safety history was made with the opening of the Eurofins Analytical Testing Center located at the Institute for Food Safety on the downtown campus of Florida State College.

From the scientific brainstorming of Florida State College and Eurofins Scientific Inc., a concept took shape: Florida State College would offer a biotechnology program designed to attract bright new talent to serve expanding local needs in life and food sciences. Input from an advisory council made it clear that this type of program would require a facility based on a proven commercial laboratory model to provide students with real-life work situations in a classroom setting. Accomplishing this goal required the right lab partner, so the college reached out to the commercial lab services industry with a request for proposals, and Eurofins responded.

Shortly after the partnership between Florida State College and Eurofins was established, the newly created Institute for Food Safety (IFS) became a reality, with growing support from local commercial entities such as food manufacturers and clinical researchers. Together, this team of collaborators would build the first commercial food testing lab on a college campus.

NSF Grant

A final piece of the puzzle, federal funding for the college program, was provided by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education awarded the college’s biotechnology program a three-year Advanced Technical Education grant to develop and disseminate the IFS curriculum. The grant provides for development of a pipeline program for using food safety as a training tool for high school teachers and students interested in food safety as a career and provides funding for developing analytical methods-based course components for the two-year college biotechnology associate in science (AS) program. The funding brings advanced molecular techniques such as real-time polymerase chain reaction and gene sequencing based on food safety to the college.

The food safety curriculum is one of two educational tracks in the biotechnology laboratory technician associate’s degree program at the college. Students pursuing the biotechnology testing laboratory technician option take the same core biotechnology laboratory courses as students on the research laboratory track. Additionally, the IFS students take advanced biotechnology methods courses with an emphasis on regulatory issues, sample handling, and instrument methodology focused on food safety issues.

They needed personnel now, and the learning curve simply takes too long when the need is immediate.

—Steven R. Wallace, PhD, Florida State College at Jacksonville

In late 2009, the first phase of this ambitious program grew from a concept to a complete biotechnology laboratory technician course of study that would provide a sound science curriculum coupled with hands-on practical training in a state-of-the-art on-site working lab. Eurofins and other local commercial supporters will provide internships to students.

As the college went about launching the curriculum, Eurofins began developing plans for a fully operational commercial microbiology laboratory in the Advanced Technology Center located at the college’s downtown campus. The company worked with the advisory board of IFS to design the classroom laboratory, which would encompass an additional laboratory of the same size, as well as a shared resources area.

The shared resources area, yet another unique facet of this collaboration, provides Eurofins staff and students a place to work side by side without infringing on the proprietary and confidential nature of Eurofins’ systems and protocols. Construction began in late spring 2010, but building plans will not end there.

Summer 2010 research participants at the Institute for Food Safety at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Summer 2010 research participants at the Institute for Food Safety at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Meeting a Need

“When I became aware of our partnership with the college last year, I knew there was much more that could be done, that should be done,” said Patricia Wester, director of Eurofins’ food safety systems and an integral member of the team. A long-time veteran of the industry, she has devoted her professional life to food safety. Wester’s division handles accredited certification audits for Eurofins, and she is well aware of the global need for more qualified, trained auditors and the lack of a cohesive training model for developing entry level audit personnel. As an alumna, she is also familiar with the college.

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