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NC State's Stevenson Works to Build Top-Notch Online Food Safety Program

Dr. Clint Stevenson is an assistant professor of Food Science with the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at NC State.

Stevenson is also the Distance Education program coordinator for Food Science. As coordinator, he develops and delivers online training programs for food quality assurance professionals. Stevenson uses reality-based training systems, including videos, games and customized training modules to help teach his students.

We recently caught up with Dr. Stevenson to learn more about food science and the programs he teaches.

Why did you help develop the online Undergraduate Certificate in Food Safety program?

CS: Our stakeholders in the industry have always needed more college graduates who are experienced and qualified to protect our food supply. The certificate program was designed to fill this need. Coming from the food industry myself, I am pleased to prepare students to be workforce-ready upon graduation.

As part of that program, you’re offering a Food Safety and Preventive Controls Alliance certificate of completion. Can you explain this certificate and why it’s important?

CS: Essentially every FDA-regulated food manufacturing facility is required to have a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) on their premises. This is a new requirement due to the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 that will be enforced over the next couple of years. Big companies have to be compliant by September 2016, medium companies by September 2017 and small companies by September 2018. We redesigned my course, FS 435/535 “Food Safety Management Systems,” so it integrates the curriculum developed by the Food Safety and Preventive Controls Alliance. Then we got the course approved by the Association of Food and Drug Officials, which means we can award students with the PCQI certificate.

Can you talk about the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and its impact on food safety regulations?

CS: The FSMA is the most significant change to food safety regulations since the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1938. There are seven new rules, each of which is very significant because they have new requirements for growing fresh produce, feeding animals, and shipping food, for example. The biggest change is the mentality for food safety — now there is a push toward a science-based approach to minimizing the risks for food safety problems.

Can you explain the day-to-day role of a preventive controls qualified individual?

CS: A PCQI is the person who is responsible for the food safety system in a food company. They would develop a plan for maintaining food safety and update that plan as necessary. On a daily basis, they would monitor all processes and people to make sure the plan is being followed. This person would review all records concerning food safety (for example, temperature and time of cooking). They would also be the person to train all the workers in a facility how to implement the food safety plan. In the event that there is a deviation, the PCQI would be the person to pursue corrective action.

What do you hope to accomplish with the Undergraduate Food Safety Manager Certificate program, and where do you see it going?

CS: My goal is to establish the certificate program as a program that is recognized by the industry as a top-notch program for college students who want to make a difference in the safety of our food supply. This will attract college recruiters to NC State for our top talent.

What are some of the careers that might be available to students after earning a food safety certificate?

CS: They could be a food safety manager for a food company. Or they could audit companies’ food safety programs on behalf of other companies/buyers such as WalMart and Food Lion. Or they could be a food inspector for the government (FDA).