First in the state to initiate

University of Arizona offering new Food Safety undergrad degree

The Universtiy of Arizona (UA) will begin its new Food Safety Undergraduate Degree program in the fall of 2018. The program will address the need of food safety professionals in the state. Yuma County alone is third largest vegetable supplier in the nation; 90 percent of the USA’s leafy green vegetables are grown in the state between November and March. It produces more than 175 different crops and counts for more than a third of Arizona’s total agricultural revenue; a reported $17.1 billion industry.

Dr. Sadhana Ravishankar, Associate Professor, School of Animal & Comparative Biomedical Sciences at UA, who possesses a food science background, is happy to see the program coming to fruition. “I’ve always felt that food safety is really important and no university in Arizona was offering a food safety degree. It’s definitely a state that has a lot of agricultural significance.” As she points out, most of the produce grown in Arizona is the ‘ready-to-eat’ kind, meaning leafy greens – essentially salad vegetables that will be consumed raw. 

10 core courses
With regards to the course itself, students will learn how to handle the evolving safety challenges facing the food industry. Program-specific curriculum includes 10 core courses that make up the basis of food safety education. Students will develop an all-around perspective in food safety, epidemiology, food toxicology and legalities in the food industry as well as an outbreaks investigation course. The program is housed in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Applications for the food safety degree program are currently available.

Contamination is a risky issue that has been more prevalent over the last two decades. Ravishankar notes there was much less incidence 20 – 25 years ago. “In the last while produce has been a big culprit. One of the biggest problems is fecal contamination.” She says even dust from an animal farm can carry bacteria and deposit itself on produce in the field, and irrigation water can also be a source of contamination. 

As a career she says it’s an expanding field and there are countless avenues graduates from the program could take. Ravishankar lists a few examples, including: quality assurance manager, food safety manager, product scientist, regulatory affairs specialist, food processing specialist, global trade compliance analyst, food law attorneys, lobbyists, food toxicologist, epidemiologist, public health officers, food inspectors. 

Ravishankar has researched on natural ways to prevent contamination and the results look positive, which could aid in natural food safety measures in processing, handling or even at-home preparation. “In our lab one of the main focuses of research is to come up with ways to control bacteria in natural ways,” she says. “We’ve done a lot of research with plant-based anti-microbials. They are good for you, they’re healthy, and don’t have any side effects.” 

The recommendation from her lab includes using natural essential oils such as oregano, cinnamon or lemongrass oil as an effective way to wash produce. “These are very effective at killing food born pathogenic bacteria.” By adding a couple of drops to the wash water Ravishankar says it can kill bacteria that could have occurred anywhere in the food’s production chain. "We are excited to be the first to offer a major that looks at overall food safety in Arizona."

For more information:
Sadhana Ravishankar
University of Arizona
Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences
Tel: 520-626-1499

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