Perceptions of Food Safety and Curricular Offerings1

Article excerpt

Abstract

Students in an introductory microeconomics course were surveyed to determine their level of awareness of what comprises the field of food safety, a university's food safety program and the demand for food safety graduates and their level of interest in learning more about a degree in food safety. There was considerable ignorance among student respondents about the availability of a food safety degree and diversity of thought regarding potential courses required for the degree. The students were surprisingly accurate in their top-of-mind definitions of food safety. Just under one-third of respondents mentioned each of the key areas of procedures/processes to ensure safety of food, food properly prepared and processed and food free of disease/contamination. Respondents in general were not interested in learning more about a degree in food safety. Nor were they particularly well versed in potential careers, with many respondents mentioning jobs that in general do not require post-secondary education and would generally include firm-sponsored on-the-job training.

Key Words: Food safety, curriculum, recruitment

Introduction

Growing concern for the safety of our food supply led to the development of a national food safety initiative which affects every aspect of the food chain, from farm to fork (North Dakota State University, 2010). In response to the resultant growing demand for food safety expertise, increasing the number of graduates with food safety education has become a priority for institutions in the Upper Great Plains. Currently, North Dakota State University (NDSU) offers BS, MS and PhD. degrees in food safety, as well as an undergraduate food safety minor. NDSU appears to be the only university offering an undergraduate major in food safety although other institutions offer certificates and graduate degrees in food safety. Michigan State University offers a food safety specialization for MS students in a variety of departments, as well as an MS in food safety offered through the College of Veterinary Medicine. The latter is primarily offered through on-line courses. Kansas State University offers an MS degree in Food Safety. An inter-institutional certificate in food safety is offered through Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (GPIDEA) via cooperation between Iowa State University, Kansas State University, the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska. South Dakota State University (SDSU) offers an undergraduate minor in food safety.

Few degree programs in food safety combined with low student numbers in existing programs is of concern. Thus, collaborators at NDSU, SDSU and the University of New Mexico applied for and received a USDA Challenge Grant award with the overall goal being to expand student numbers and involvement in food safety academic programs, with a particular focus on under-represented groups including Native American and Latino populations. The focus for NDSU is on recruitment and retention.

Increasing the number of students graduating with training and experience in food safety calls for a planned process for recruitment, retention and graduation (Huddleston, 2000). One component of this process is to research enrollment and retention trends. Another component is the development and implementation of a marketing plan to inform students about academic programs in food safety and provide to them a value proposition to participate in these programs. Baseline data is necessary and will serve as a springboard for the development and implementation of marketing plans designed to increase enrollment in academic programs.

Enrollment has remained relatively low in both the undergraduate and graduate programs in food safety at NDSU. Contributing factors may be lack of student interest in, or awareness or understanding of, the programs and related career opportunities. To provide a baseline from which to judge effectiveness of recruitment strategies, data was collected on students' current knowledge of food safety, composition of a food safety degree and careers in food safety, interest in a food safety degree and intent regarding an academic program in food safety. …