Dynamic, intelligent, and passionate with a heart that beats to help people prevent foodborne illness—this describes the inaugural recipient of our Dave Theno Food Safety Fellowship, Ms. Emily Forauer, to a “T!”
Q: Tell us about your personal story and what sparked your interest in food safety.
A: I was first introduced to food science during my undergraduate studies at the University of Connecticut. I wanted to get some research experience, so I joined a food microbiology lab. I had never known much about or even considered food science as a possible career, but I love microbiology and always felt pulled to study science.
While in the research lab, I worked on projects focused on Listeria monocytogenes in dairy products. That work was new and interesting, and I really enjoyed it. As I progressed in the lab and gained more experience, I realized how much I loved the work. I found myself staying extra hours in the lab, going in between classes, and making my busy college schedule fit around the experiments I was doing. After just a few semesters, I knew this is what I should be pursuing for my future profession.
Q: When it comes to food safety, what’s one practice you’re most interested in and why?
A: As a microbiologist, I’m most interested in environmental monitoring. If food producers know what parts of their process may be introducing contamination into product, controls can be put in place or other steps can be taken to stop dangerous food from leaving the facility and causing harm.
Q: As our first Dave Theno Fellow, describe what you’ve been doing and what you find most meaningful?
A: My most meaningful project has been acquainting myself with and adding to STOP’s Honor Wall, a dedicated place on our website where people impacted by foodborne illness can share their stories. This is special, important work—and it can get very emotional.
Getting to know the parents, children, siblings, grandparents, and others who have had a foodborne illness or have had a loved one affected is the most meaningful to me. Reaching out to new families and hearing directly from their perspective about what they’ve gone through has been eye-opening. Because of my work with STOP, I’ve become much more intimately involved with the human element of food safety in ways I couldn’t while working in a lab.
Another meaningful project has been creation of a training program for our speakers. These special individuals who feel empowered to share their story will attend and speak at meetings and events held by food producers, manufacturers, restauranteurs, schools, and government agencies. This program streamlines the process of teaching people all they need to know about writing their story for publication on our Honor Wall, the history of STOP, food safety basics, and how to present everything to an audience.
Q: In August 2019, you’ll be off to pursue your Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Food Sciences with a concentration on Food Microbiology at the University of Vermont. Paint a picture around the kind of professional position you’d like to be in upon graduation.
A: I’m very excited to be attending the University of Vermont and to getting back to doing what I love: science. When I graduate, I’d like to be in a position where I’m able to use my skills as a microbiologist to improve food safety. I don’t know exactly what this could look like for me; but, wherever I end up, my time at STOP will serve as a reminder that the work I do can prevent illness and make a significant difference in people’s lives.
Q: What’s one thing you encourage our readers to do to make STOP even more effective in our fight against foodborne illness?
A: Share a story!
Most people are familiar with basic food safety, like washing your hands before and after handling food or using a meat thermometer. However, not everyone has heard why you need to do these things. When you share someone’s story, your listener is hearing about a real person who has experienced health issues or other hardships from contaminated food and that often makes a strong connection and inspires change.
If you’ve personally experienced a foodborne illness, share your story!
It’s so powerful to talk about your experience and the real-life impact foodborne illness has had on your life. You can reach out to STOP to start a conversation on this or even sharing with family and friends can start positive change and create awareness.
Q: What wisdom would you like to pass on to the next Dave Theno Fellow?
A: To future fellows, I encourage them to learn as much as they can about STOP and its rich history that began through sharing stories, which created a huge movement around preventing foodborne illness. Doing this at the outset of your work will be instrumental in making you a better fellow. Everything I’ve learned about the “why” of food safety and the human element will stick with me through my career as a scientist (as well as in my everyday life) and it will resonate with future fellows as well.
Emily Forauer is a 2018 graduate of the University of Connecticut with a Bachelor of Science in Pathobiology and Veterinary Science and a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Emily is the first recipient of the Stop Foodborne Illness Dave Theno Food Safety Fellowship. As a Theno Fellow, she helps advance STOP’s work on preventing foodborne disease and assisting people impacted by foodborne illness while simultaneously completing courses with Michigan State University for an Online Food Safety Certificate. After her time with STOP, Emily has plans to pursue further study of microbiology and food safety in graduate school.