Seasons Of Change For Food Safety

Change has been a constant, personally and professionally, since Angela Shaw returned to Iowa State in 2011.

As an extension food safety specialist Shaw serves as the point person helping Iowa farmers and food manufacturers deal with changes required by the Food Safety Modernization Act. The federal law updated ways food producers protect consumers from contamination. Shaw teaches short courses, holds webinars and does professional development for growers and manufacturers.

She married soon after taking her post as assistant professor in food science and human nutrition, changing her name. Last September she gave birth to a son. Her sleep patterns have since changed dramatically.

And although she was returning to her alma mater (’03 animal science, ’06 MS meat science), the climate was quite a change from Texas where she earned a doctorate at Texas Tech University in animal science with an emphasis in food safety and microbiology.

“Education about best practices is important for our newest generation of food scientist and future growers,” she says.

Iowa food processors have welcomed Shaw’s help. Kellen Longenecker, manager of the General Mills facility in Carlisle, says, “From the first plant visit to the Safety Day we hosted for our entire plant population, she proved to be an invaluable resource to building our food safety training.”

Adoption of the food safety law has been difficult for many in the food industry, requiring them to make changes—more paperwork, accountability and verification—that increases costs, she says.

“There are a lot of questions,” Shaw says,“but the changes are better for food safety.”

Shaw’s research covers pre- and post-harvest handling of fruits and vegetables. She studies bulk grains and further processing, like juices and additives incorporated into foods.

She and her team of students are working on projects including an evaluation of sanitizing rinses for cantaloupe and watermelon to see which are most effective against major pathogens and an online food safety module for school gardens and university gardens.

An aquaponics project to test the possibility of growing fish, leafy greens and basil in water is just getting started. The water will be rotated throughout, moving from the fish tank to fertilize the greens, then going to the basil section.

“My portion is the food safety, but we’re also looking at the economics of it as well as the quality of the product produced. There are a lot of opportunities to bring fish to Iowa and not have to worry about winter. We could use barns and buildings, converting them to these units,” she says.

Shaw marvels at the opportunities she’s experienced since returning to Iowa State. The transition from Texas was eased by friends who were still in the Ames area.

“A lot of the people I work with now were my teachers and mentors, so it was a wonderful fit for me to come back,” she says.