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College of Health and Human Sciences

Grant extends research of K-State's child food safety center

Friday, January 9, 2015

Researchers in the Department of Hospitality Management and Dietetics have received an $800,000 grant from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to extend the Center of Excellence for Food Safety Research in Child Nutrition Programs.

The College of Human Ecology was awarded a 2-year, $1.6 million grant in 2012 to establish the center and an additional $800,000 in 2014.

“Our research helps provide the foundation for science-based decisions for food safety of the more than 2.2 billion meals and snacks served annually through various child nutrition programs,” explained Kevin Roberts, associate professor and director of the center. Food safety research impacts programs such as the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Summer Food Service Program, After School Snack Programs and the Child and Adult Care Feeding Programs.

Also on the leadership team are Carol Shanklin, dean of graduate school and professor; Kevin Sauer, associate professor of hospitality management and dietetics; and Jeannie Sneed, research professor of hospitality management and dietetics.

Two new researchers will join the center in early 2015.

Paola Paez has been named associate research professor. She is currently an associate professor in the School of Human Nutrition, College of Medicine, University of Costa Rica. Paez received her doctorate from Iowa State University in foodservice and lodging management. Her research focuses on training and motivating foodservice employees to follow safe food handling practices.

Ellen Thomas has been named research assistant professor. She is completing her doctoral degree at North Carolina State University in food science. Her dissertation research focuses on servers’ communication with consumers regarding the risks associated with eating undercooked ground beef. Her project is part of a national USDA Coordinated Agricultural Project grant to assess and mitigate Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli risks associated with ground beef from farm-to-fork.

Kansas State University has a long history of research and education related to food service management. More than five colleges and 13 departments are involved in food safety issues at the university.

“Collaboration with others around campus gives us added opportunities for broad research and outreach that involves faculty, staff and students,” Roberts said.
A continuing project is a 4-day course called Serving up Science offered three times a year on the K-State campus. It is designed to provide staff in district school nutrition programs and state agencies with the food science principles that support the Food Safety Program based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points principles. The course focuses on developing a food safety culture, which is emphasized in the newly revised USDA Food-Safe Schools Action Guide.

Current research includes:

  • Safety of School Lunches Served on Field Trips. Little research regarding the safety of field trip meals has been conducted. Both teachers and school foodservice managers will be surveyed to determine current practices with field trip meals with the purpose of identifying opportunities to improve food safety.
  • Food Allergy Study. Schools are responsible for ensuring that students with food allergies who are participating in the national School Lunch Program receive safe, healthy meals. This study will survey district foodservice directors across the nation to collect baseline data on food allergies and allergens in schools. This research explores practices and challenges of managing allergies in schools as well as the incidence and nature of recent food allergy reactions.
  • Summer Food Service Program Study. The Summer Food Service Program feeds low-income children when school is not in session. Sponsor organizations include schools, churches, and other community partners who provide meals that meet federal nutrition standards. Food safety is a vital part of all foodservice programs. This observational study is designed to gain better insight in how non-school organizations are delivering meals to children and identify food safety concerns.
  • Behavior-based Food Safety Study. Foodservice employees have innate barriers that prevent them from modeling proper food safety practices. This study will identify those barriers, develop and test a revised Serving-it-Safe training course, and increase employee knowledge of food safety.

The Department of Hospitality Management and Dietetics is one of five academic units in the College of Human Ecology.

This article was posted on Friday, January 9, 2015, and is filed under College News, Hospitality Management.