Despite the U.S. food supply being among the world’s safest, food safety is a national health concern, complicated by the global network of food sources and millions of establishments preparing and serving food. Troubling annual statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include: 76 million cases of food borne illnesses, 300,000 associated hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.
Johnson & Wales University received a CDC grant for its Gold Standard for Food Safety Initiative, an outreach program to educate food service professionals and consumers on minimizing their risk of food borne illness.
â€˜We’re determined to be diligent and committed to surpass all local and federal requirements, and to strive to make it the standard across the country,â€™ says University Dean of Culinary Education, Karl Guggenmos ’93, ’02 M.B.A. The CDC grant is one manifestation of the â€˜support and enthusiastic commitment in this effort.â€™
Implementing systems and policies and practicing what they teach, JWU procedures exceed state and local regulations requiring all chefs, managers and students to complete a food safety manager certification. JWU has also established an internal inspection system and a committee that monitors related practices and responds to issues to prevent risk, using opportunities for students to learn remedies and accept accountability.
â€˜We’re going above and beyond minimum requirements,â€™ says Susan Wallace, JWU’s executive director of food safety. â€˜We’re heightening our students’ awareness about food safety â€” making it as intuitive as knife skills. Safe food handling and preparation are as important as taste and presentation.â€™ She points to increasing food recalls and related illnesses facing professionals and consumers. â€˜Years ago people ate what was seasonal and local. Today food comes from all over, and many countries don’t mirror our [U.S.] regulations. The quickest way to lose your business is to have a food borne illness associated with your name or your business.â€™
Recognizing this, the grant funds related symposia, training, educational programs and materials to help professionals and consumers better understand food safety. JWU is offering innovative resources and panels at the National Restaurant Association and American Culinary Federation conferences, Food Safety Education Conference and Conference on Food Protection. Community, and kid-friendly events are being planned across JWU’s campus communities. â€˜Thanks to the funding, this initiative will help our organizations share their knowledge, as well as review food borne illness outbreaks with the ultimate goal of helping prevent future outbreaks within the food service industry,â€™ says Ruth L. Petran, corporate scientist for food safety at Ecolab Inc. She is a panelist alongside experts from JWU, the Darden Restaurant Group and Ecolab’s EcoSure division.
â€˜At this stage, we’re the experts, getting questions from alumni chef-owners, educators and restaurateurs,â€™ says JWU Associate Professor Linda Kender ’95, ’97 M.A.T., food safety liaison. â€˜Our reputation as the premier culinary school demands we be at the head of the class on issues like food safety.â€™ Kender is doing her bit by conducting inspections, instructing students and updating faculty by incorporating food safety into meetings, trainings and communications. An industry panel expert, she works with vendors and purveyors, investigating their sources and facilities before products reach JWU’s culinary storeroom. â€˜This has always been a passion of mine.â€™
That passion has inspired many, including William E. Long ’08. â€˜She bridges being a great chef and practicing proper food handling, safety and sanitation,â€™ Long says. The Providence Campus’ culinary purchaser, Long is pursuing his M.B.A. in hospitality at JWU. â€˜A chef’s approach to sanitation and food safety can determine reputation and even livelihood.â€™ He plans to make an impact through food product research and development. â€˜I’m part of the Ã¢â‚¬ËœCaptain Planet’ generation,â€™ he says. â€˜Social responsibility plays a big role, and food safety is part of that.â€™