A grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will support a project which will integrate computer simulation with the teaching of food safety.
The three year project will start in September focussing on cross disciplinary training to go beyond traditional boundaries of microbiology and engineering.
Approaches to simulation-based food safety education tools will include predictive microbiology, engineering and risk analysis to be integrated with food safety existing courses.
The project will build on available software to implement quantitative models related to fundamental microbiology, the impact of processing on safety and risk assessment.
Involves seven other universities
Ashim Datta, professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell University, will direct the three-year project, which involves academic partners at seven other universities including University of California, Davis, Ohio State University and the University of Maryland.
Cornell University will receive about $400,000 of the $683,000 grant.
Demand is increasing for risk-based, quantitative management approaches and through computer simulation, effective problem-oriented training through “what if” scenarios can be designed.
Datta told FoodQualityNews.com that it will allow the prediction of safety instead of knowing after the fact by working with engineering and microbiology simulations to look at different scenarios.
“Microbiologists understand the safety of refrigerated food and understand the growth and elevated temperature effect but not the details of heat transfer which gets into the engineering side of process details and environmental factors," he said.
“Microbiologists are given a qualitative understanding of the surrounding temperature change, if it changes the food temperature also changes near the surface and less so inside.
“We can give them simulation tools so in a realistic way they can look at the engineering aspect, now they know to incorporate the physics of the process without going into engineer level details.
“Engineers know heat transfer and rate processes but maybe they haven’t applied this to food safety, if you can bring the microbiological details to bring in rates of microbiological growth and sensitivity to temperature they can put this training in combination with what they already know.”
Simulation boost for food safety
Simulation technology can enhance learning by reinforcing basic concepts, allowing the learner to explore complex scenarios, linking concepts to real-world applications, and studying effects that would be impossible to replicate easily in the real world, according to the project proposal.
Datta said the goal is to put the modules in existing courses, try it out and then get together to share and learn from the material they have developed for others to use.
“Simulation models are already developed for research they are used in the automobile industry and for aeroplanes all the time. The food industry is different because of a complex system but sometimes food safety education is not realistic because real world statistics are not applied," he said.
“In a lab course you study how microbes grow with temperature and you experiment, realistically that is hours or days, they cannot do weeks or months so using simulators to simulate what is not feasible can help.
“Predictions are not absolutely the final answer but they are plans, so for temperature abuse of products we can ask how bad would it get, is it lethal or nothing to be worried about. It reduces experimentation and makes the design cycle shorter as you have more insight into what is going on.”