University of Tennessee, Knoxville
BS in Food Science
BA in Language World Business
University of Connecticut
BS in Pathobiology
BS in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Moving across the country to Chicago to become the 2021 – 2022 Dave Theno Food Safety Fellow at Stop Foodborne Illness (STOP) was one of the best decisions I have made. At STOP, I am learning invaluable lessons, gaining experiences that are not easily accessible to young professionals, and being wholeheartedly supported in my goals.
Before I became STOP’s Fellow, I was immersed in my microbiology degree and research. Learning in-depth, about food pathogens and how they worked, I developed a strong scientific background in the field of food microbiology.
However, it was not until I began my Fellowship that I understood the true severity and impact of these microbes. Every day, I’m seeing the heart-breaking stories of our constituents and their families. These stories remind me of the importance of what microbiologists do, as well as what organizations like STOP do, and motivate me to continue working on improving food safety to prevent foodborne illness and death. Additionally, we are tasked with the important responsibility of amplifying the voices of those impacted by contaminated food and making sure that their message is heard. Through my Fellowship, I am gaining valuable perspectives from passionate constituents, scientific experts, industry partners, and government agencies while working as a valued member of the STOP team.
Since high school, my life goal has been to improve overall public health by reducing preventable illnesses. To do this effectively, I realized early on that I would not only require a strong educational background, but I would also need contacts and experience in the field of public health. As the Dave Theno Fellow, I have been able to work towards this goal by taking opportunities to expand my professional network and participate in interesting meetings with the FDA, CDC, FSIS, and consumer advocacy groups. Through these contacts and experiences I continue to learn more about food safety regulations and how policy changes occur.
During my Fellowship, I am also participating in Michigan State University’s Online Food Safety Program. I am excitedly studying topics such as foodborne disease epidemiology and evolution of foodborne pathogens. Diving into these topics has allowed me to better connect my previous education with the work I do at STOP.
While I have observed the work of others and strengthened my own food safety education, I have also had the chance to further STOP’s mission by getting involved and making contributions of my own. For instance, I am leading my own project on Salmonella serovars to support STOP’s commitment to reducing Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry.
I am engaging the general public by addressing questions and concerns they may have on food, food science and food safety through an advice page called Ask a Scientist.
I would recommend the Dave Theno Food Safety Fellowship to those who are interested in melding their knowledge and education with their desires to make a difference in the world. You will be learning more about food safety AND be involved in making food safer! ~NJ
To quote my predecessor and friend Emily Forauer, “… being the Dave Theno Fellow is a unique position and opportunity for anyone interested in food safety, public health, and policy.” I could not agree more – as a Dave Theno Food Safety Fellow, you will be given insight and a perspective which most young professionals do not have access, and your network will expand by leaps and bounds.
At the core of Stop Foodborne Illness is their constituent advocates. Their stories are a great reminder that the work we do is for them and others who share their often painful, totally unnecessary experience. All the reading, research, and conversations inform the projects that I am working on, and ties back to our mission to prevent illness and death from contaminated food.
A monthly opportunity that a Fellow has is to participate on calls with professionals at the top of their fields, from FSIS, FDA, and CDC. Through these meetings, I have learned so much about consumer and regulatory perspectives when approaching food safety. Additionally, I have been included on brainstorming sessions with consumer advocacy groups such as the Pew Charitable Trusts. I have learned more about strategically approaching policy changes by attending these discussions, and I anticipate amazing things happening because of these projects.
Another benefit of the Fellowship is that it pays for the Food Safety Certificate from Michigan State University’s Online Food Safety Program. COVID-19 first hit while I was taking an epidemiology class. Our professors, who were trained by the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) at CDC, held an informal webinar where we could ask them questions about the pandemic and get their viewpoint. To say I “nerded-out” would be an understatement! It was a great opportunity to learn about epidemiology in real-time. Studying the scientific side of food safety by holding journal clubs with instructors of the Online Food Safety program has also been an enormous advantage. Hearing their informed interpretations of an article and being challenged to become a better researcher has been instrumental in my professional development.
Like everyone else, I have had to transition to the work-from-home environment during this pandemic. While I miss being in the office, seeing my co-workers and bouncing ideas off of them, working from home has its own perks too (like being able to sleep in or wear pajamas to work). However, our team at STOP has been extremely busy with all the projects and research that we are working on. I take great pleasure in the work I do, in part, because I know it is foundational to furthering the mission of STOP, and by furthering their mission I am ultimately giving a voice to our constituent advocates and anyone who is facing or has faced a foodborne illness and its consequences.
Are you interested in food safety and want your eyes opened about all aspects of it? I encourage you to apply to the Dave Theno Fellowship. It will absolutely change your perspective and your life. ~JR
Being the Dave Theno Food Safety Fellow at Stop Foodborne Illness (STOP) is a really unique position because all my previous food safety experience is on the scientific side, and now I’m on the personal side interacting with the people whose lives are completely changed by contaminated food.
I’ve read every story on the website’s Honor Wall, and I’m working on projects to help others be able to share their stories about foodborne illness. Seeing how someone’s voice can change another’s perspective is fascinating, people will work harder and take safe actions when they see how they’re holding someone’s life in their hands — their decisions can literally change a life.
Working with STOP has added a big element of compassion to my work, and I’m going to take that with me no matter where I end up in my career.
Earning the Food Safety Certificate from Michigan State is another important aspect of the fellowship. I get to keep learning more about the science behind food safety — which is something I genuinely love. Even though they’re online, the classes are engaging and the professors are adept at keeping the material interesting.
Every day I’m surprised at what I’m able to do in this position! As a student, I think it’s really valuable that I’m participating in the Safe Food Coalition, which has meetings with amazingly knowledgeable and experienced people from CDC and FSIS, not to mention the members of the coalition from organizations such as the Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
I’ve never realized how important it is for advocates to keep pushing for safer food, and the policy changes that have happened in recent years are super interesting to learn about.
I have also traveled all over the country, to conferences, expos, and I even met the food safety team for the national restaurant chain Jack in the Box. That was really awe-inspiring, my being there as a result of the deep connections between STOP and Dave Theno, who many knew as “the man who saved Jack in the Box.”
This fellowship was named for Dave, who was always working to create safer ways for food to be produced with a scientific approach while also knowing he worked for people, especially the children, who he wanted to protect. This fellowship is the perfect environment for a student to gain a wider perspective on food safety and a clearer understanding that the work we do matters.
I would encourage anyone who’s got an interest in food safety to apply, this fellowship will actually change your life. ~EF
The Dave Theno Food Safety Fellowship will be offered to one recent graduate (2017-2022) with a food science, animal science, political science, or public health undergraduate or graduate degree from an accredited college or university with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. Preference will be given to those seeking a career in food industry or food regulation.
The Fellow will complete a 12-credit Online Food Safety Certificate with Michigan State University and work with Stop Foodborne Illness in Chicago, IL (Housing is not provided, there is an option to work remotely). Salary for the Fellowship is $31,000.
Snail Mail: Stop Foodborne Illness, 4809 N Ravenswood Ave, #214 Chicago, IL 60640 | Attn: Dave Theno Fellowship
Michigan State University’s (MSU) Online Food Safety Program strives to educate professionals on how to make global food systems safe and supports individuals as they advance in food safety-related careers. Professionals in the program will develop critical thinking, an increased understanding of food safety science and leadership skills, centering the individual and their company at the forefront of food safety.
The program consists of an online Master of Science in Food Safety Degree, Graduate Food Safety Certificate, online non-credit continuing education courses, and an on-campus executive education program.
The Fellowship includes tuition support to complete the 12 credit, online Graduate Food Safety Certificate with the MSU Online Food Safety Program. The Graduate Certificate includes three required courses: VM 811 Evolution and Ecology of Foodborne Pathogens, VM 812 Food Safety Toxicology, and VM 831 Food Safety Epidemiology, plus one approved elective course. Coursework for the MSU Online Food Safety Graduate Certificate will be paid for by STOP.
For more information regarding the MSU Online Food Safety Graduate Certificate please visit, foodsafety.msu.edu/graduate-certificate.
Stop Foodborne Illness is a national nonprofit public health organization that supports and engages people directly impacted by foodborne illness and mobilizes them to help prevent illness and death by driving change through advocacy, collaboration, and innovation.
Partnering with leaders in food industry, we promote sound food safety policy and best practices from farm to table. We encourage federal and state bodies and agencies to mitigate food safety risks through policy and legislation. For media, government, industry, and consumers, it is our volunteer advocates who provide a human face behind the statistics – a powerful reminder of the need for a vigilant food safety culture.
For those impacted by foodborne pathogens we provide a platform, through our website and a wide-range of speaking opportunities, to share their story. We offer peer-to-peer mentoring for victims and families across the country. We create and maintain an array of beneficial information (downloadable on our website) for anyone seeking more knowledge on foodborne illness. The stories on our website’s Honor Wall are a testament to the strength and endurance of individuals and families. Telling one’s story is often, not only empowering for the storyteller, but thought provoking for the listener.
David Theno was a man of action and was passionate about what it really meant to keep food safe. It was about family. A friendship with one of the founders of Stop Foodborne Illness (who lost a child to E. coli O157:H7) profoundly influenced Dave to keep a photograph of her daughter, Lauren Beth, in his wallet throughout his career, to remind him of the devastation wrought by foodborne pathogens. As a result, he worked tirelessly to create a culture of food safety.
Dave was hired as senior vice president and chief food safety officer for Jack in the Box in 1993, as the San Diego fast food chain was reeling from a massive and deadly outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. Four deaths, including Lauren Beth’s, and hundreds of illnesses were blamed on the burger chain that some said would not survive.
Top management made an early decision to give Theno complete authority over food safety. He implemented a comprehensive Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan and then required a finished product testing protocol, test and hold, that initially irked others in the meat industry before it was almost universally adopted. Theno remained with Jack in the Box for almost 16 years.
Theno earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology and science journalism from Iowa State University and master’s and doctoral degrees in food microbiology and animal sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Theno’s leadership in responding to the 1993 outbreak and challenge of E. coli O157:H7 has been recognized by numerous scientific and industry organizations.
At the time of his death, Dave Theno was CEO of Gray Dog Partners Inc., a food safety consulting business based in Del Mar, CA. He had been CEO since 2009.