Tag Archives: Food Safety

Ana S.: My Summer Project In Data Collection

My Summer Project In Data Collection

By Ana S.

During my time here in El Paso County, I had the opportunity to see and experience many different parts of public health. While I have been working on designated tasks related to rabies and vector borne disease prevention, I have also been able to shadow other environmental health specialists to get a better sense of what a typical day looks like for an employee in the Environmental Health Division. Being a fresh set of eyes during these shadowing experiences is what eventually led me to developing my second project for the summer.

El Paso County has over 2700 Retail Food Establishments (RFEs), each one with their own set of food safety challenges. For restaurants specializing in international cuisine, many of their challenges relate to the language and cultural barriers that operators experience when interacting with inspectors. Past inspection reports suggest that many of these restaurants have a much higher number of critical violations than other facilities. Many of the health specialists I spoke to explained that these violations were usually related to the resistant behavior of  restaurant operators, which has made it very difficult for specialists to collaborate and work toward developing safer facilities. While I had experienced this resistance first-hand, I also noticed another trend that I thought may explain the problem further. At many of these food facilities, operators and employees spoke little to no English. This barrier can pose quite a challenge for the health department, as they have no health specialists on staff who speak any language other than English or Spanish. Additionally, while Hispanic and English speaking facilities can receive educational materials in their native language, health specialists have no resources available for any other languages. This often leaves multicultural restaurants in the dark when it comes to maintaining a safe and healthy work environment. Noticing this trend made me wonder if the lack of compliance was caused, not by a lack of willingness to comply, but rather by a lack of understanding on how to comply.

That’s when I started developing my project, which is working to provide resources and information to employees in their native language in the hope of giving them a better understanding of how to run a safer restaurant. For my remaining time here, I’ve been working with the director of the food program, as well as a population health epidemiologist, to complete a number of tasks that will help put this plan into effect. First, I’ve been conducting a survey, which was recently sent to all 2700 RFEs in El Paso County, asking what languages are commonly spoken between employees and owners. Second, I’ve been collecting and developing a set of documents which can be given to all health inspectors to be used when working with non-English speaking employees. Finally, I’ve been developing a color-coded map, which indicates where restaurants are located and what languages are spoken at each restaurant, so inspectors can prepare to bring the correct materials prior to the inspection. All the while, I’ve been working with health specialists to educate them on how to be more culturally aware, in order to produce a more collaborative environment during inspections.

This project has required a lot of time, collaboration, and problem solving skills to produce effective results. It’s also been a project that’s required me to utilize my background in statistics and epidemiological practices. In the end, this project will hopefully be the first of many investigations into how we can develop better cross-cultural communication strategies as a governmental agency. I’m really glad that I could be a part of the beginning of this process!

Duo: Finding My Food Safety Internship

Finding My Food Safety Internship

By Duo G.

This summer, I will intern at Mars Global Food Safety Center, located in my hometown of Beijing, China. My internship supervisor is the global analytical research manager of the center. The Mars Global Food Safety Center opened in September 2015. It aims to increase scientific understanding and capability in an effort to ensure safe food for all through knowledge capture, knowledge generation, and knowledge sharing. It has two main laboratories – the microbiology lab and the analytical lab.

Duo in the analytical instrumentation room at Mars Global Food Safety Center.

I will work in the analytical lab together with the scientists in Global Food Safety Center. My work will focus on solving food safety issues, which include aflatoxin mitigation and food adulteration. I will have the opportunity to spend time working with different scientists for different research projects.

What I am most excited about is the opportunity to bring my knowledge and skills learnt from school into the real world. I am excited to work with the scientists in this industrial setting outside the university. As a triple major in environmental health, chemistry, and biochemistry, I am also really excited that this internship can strongly utilize and integrate my studies in all my three majors. As this is my first internship, I am also a little nervous about what my daily work will be, if there is a huge difference between school and the work, and if I can make good relationships with my colleagues.

My experience getting this internship was different than most of my classmates’. During the early stage of my internship search, I mainly focused on internship opportunities in the US. However, my search and application did not go very smoothly. I was not interested in some of the internships posted and I was feeling frustrated by the slow responses from the internships I did apply for. I decided to browse and apply for internships back in China. Many of the positions in China seemed to be much more interesting to me, and the application processes were much easier and quicker than the American ones. The internship search and application processes only took me about three days on the first week of my summer break and I received responses very quickly in the same week, some even the following day after I sent out my application. Right after my phone interviews, I received several offers. Among these, I chose this internship at Mars Global Food Safety Center. After I confirmed their offer, I booked my flight back to China and officially started my internship in Beijing in the following week.

Duo G.: About My Food Safety Internship

About My Food Safety Internship

By Duo G.

Duo in the analytical instrumentation room at Mars Global Food Safety Center.

This summer, I am interning at Mars Global Food Safety Center located in my hometown in Beijing, China. I am working in the analytical lab together with the scientists here. The lab focuses on solving the food safety issues, which include aflatoxin mitigation and food adulteration. My internship basically consists of three research projects.

From week 1 to week 3, I am working on a mycotoxin detoxifier project with Dr. Peng. Mycotoxin detoxifiers are the substances that can suppress or reduce the absorption of mycotoxins, promote the secretion of mycotoxins, or modify their mode of action. The goal of this project is to quantitively analyze the amount of mycotoxin in corn after being treated by different detoxifiers under different concentrations. The tasks include corn grinding, pipette handling, solution preparation for sample preparation & sample analysis, aflatoxin purification with immunoaffinity column (IAC), HPLC detection, and quantitative analysis.

From week 4 to week 7, I am doing a rice adulteration project. This project aims to develop an accurate and precise fingerprinting method using multivariate tools to build a robust model to distinguish possibly adulterated rice from authentic rice in China. The goal is to focus on one key tool and develop his competence on it for adulteration identification. There are two instruments of vibrational spectroscopy used in parallel in this project for collecting the spectra: SCiO (NIR) and FTIR. For NIR, it is a handheld portable device that requires little sample preparation and is very easy to use. The tasks include scanning each rice sample poured in the petri dish and then analyze the spectra. For FTIR, it requires sample preparation: I need to grind and sieve each rice sample to get the smallest layer of rice particles less than 100 microns to do the FTIR scanning, in order to maintain the accuracy and the consistency of the results. After collecting two set of spectra using two different methods for our 136 Chinese rice samples, I conduct data analysis using computer software, which includes two different computer programs: SCiO and Simca. For data analysis using each program, the tasks include data processing, model building, model testing, etc. This project is the focus of my internship.

From week 8 to week 10, I am doing a final aflatoxin mitigation project (ozone project) with Dr. Li. Chemical destruction is one way to destroy aflatoxin and with great advantage for bulky grain, like peanut kernel. The goal of this project is to operate one chemical method using ozone on degradation of aflatoxins and learn the aflatoxin detection capabilities in peanuts. The tasks include experimental design, generating ozone (ozone water) using ozone generator, determining ozone concentration in water by iodometric titration, performing ozone-aflatoxin reaction experiment, instrumental analysis using QTOF LC/MS and QQQ LC/MS. Many types of wet chemistry reaction and instrumentation are operated for this project.

These research projects at Mars Global Food Safety Center have very strong connections to environmental health. Aflatoxin contamination is responsible for huge economic loss, not only in peanuts, but also in corn and other tree nuts. Sorting systems during processing are quite effective at separating out highly contaminated materials. But this creates a waste stream which today is either destroyed, repurposed through unregulated routes, or consumed by local farmers and their families and fed to the animals. Therefore, it will cause huge environmental consequence that is harmful to our environmental health and human health. Through the study in GFSC, we are exploring potential solutions that could reduce the toxicity level of highly contaminated peanuts and open up opportunities for safely repurposing and reducing food waste, e.g. safe animal feed.

Food fraud is another key issue among food safety risks. Adulterated substances might be added into the food product to substitute the original raw material. These adulterated substances are very likely to cause negative health outcome to human. Many food fraud cases in China have caused a lot of severe health outcomes, including fatality, of the consumers, which have already become China’s public health crisis in terms of food safety. GFSC has long-term blueprint and driving ambition on raw material integrity. GFSC focuses on identifying vulnerable raw material value streams, fingerprinting technologies and prevention frameworks to aid in food fraud prevention.

Besides these three main research projects on my timeline, I am also learning about routine laboratory functioning, chemical inventory and equipment storage, and also environmental health and safety management. I am also studying a lot from the Environmental Health & Safety team at Mars Global Food Safety Center about the laboratory safety management and environmental health practices.

My solid chemistry knowledge and laboratory skills are the most important skills I need to make my internship awesome. Other basic laboratory knowledge and skills in terms of laboratory management and environmental health & safety are also very important. Many “soft skills” like interpersonal communication and time management are also needed.

I will need the support from the research scientists of analytical team, especially the scientists who act as my mentors and are in charge of the projects that I am working on. I will also need a lot of support from the lab assistants I work with over summer.

Hien N.: An Informational Interview with a Food Safety Specialist

An Informational Interview with a Food Safety Specialist

By Hien N.

Layne is an Environmental Health Specialist in the Food Safety program at Snohomish Health District. She has been with Snohomish Health District for over 30 years! She is a well-respected employee with a vast degree of knowledge in environmental health. The most enjoyable aspect of her job at this time is training others and conducting policy work for the food program. She was an inspector for many years but now she does mostly education and training for the other health inspectors. Her least favorite part of her job is there isn’t enough time to get everything done that needs to be done. She believes that there is always something that can be done to improve public health.

Layne attended Western Washington University and studied environmental science and microbiology with an emphasis on fresh-water ecosystems. Right after graduating from Western, she acquired a job with Lewis County as a microbiologist, and then later moved to Snohomish Health District. She initially worked in the solid and hazardous waste program which also included conducting pool inspections. After about a year, she moved to the Food Program and there is where she developed her expertise in “all things food”.

She explained that as a health inspector in the Food Program, you may end up working varied work hours.  This, however, can work in your favor.  You are able to flex your hours to meet the needs of the Health District, but also to meet your personal needs (if necessary).

Being one of the first women to work in Environmental Health Program at the Snohomish Health District, Layne worked with the Environmental Health Director and the Human Resource Director to create a policy that extended allowable maternal leave.  She was able to utilize this new policy as were other future working mothers.  When returning to work after her maternal leave, she was also able to create the first part-time environmental health specialist position.  Several other employees also made use of the new limited availability of part-time positions.  These were not just working mothers; formerly retired persons also came back to work on a part-time basis.

Layne is a wonderful person with great intentions for public health safety. Snohomish Health District is lucky to have someone like her regulating over Snohomish County!