Editor’s note: In this column Jaime Ragos, the Dave Theno Fellow for STOP Foodborne Illness, discusses her year working and learning in the food safety arena.
I have learned some valuable lessons in these days of the coronavirus . . . things like, I enjoy my own company, The Golden Girls” is a quality TV show, and if I scratch beneath the surface there are lots of opportunities for me to pursue.
Like most everyone I know, the COVID-19 pandemic has flipped my world upside down. Throughout the six-month work-from-home period, I have gotten to know the walls of my apartment very, very well. Most of the conferences I was scheduled to attend with other STOP staff members have been postponed or moved to a virtual format. Although my intended travel and networking opportunities have been limited, I have still gained invaluable experience working with several influential food safety leaders — all through Zoom.
My time with Stop Foodborne Illness has been very productive — I have finished the required coursework for the Food Safety Certificate Program through Michigan State University’s (MSU) Online Food Safety Program. Prior to COVID-19, I presented a poster at MSU on the preliminary data from my research on the long-term consequences of E. coli. I am proud to have done a lot of the groundwork on this project, and anticipate future fellows tackling this project in the years to come. Collecting this data and doing this research will be valuable because having evidence on the dangers of foodborne illness leads to further advocacy and policy changes to make our food supply safer.
Currently, I am doing research on early detection methods of foodborne illness with a couple other staff members and Ben Chapman at North Carolina State University. These research opportunities have increased my understanding and comprehension of food safety as a public health issue, and why we strongly advocate for safer food.
It is a great honor to be the Dave Theno Fellow, and it has given me multiple opportunities that most young professionals, early in their career, do not have. I have listened in on stakeholder calls with the Safe Food Coalition, and I have learned more and been challenged to think differently about public policy and the multiple avenues one can take to enact legislative changes.
Lastly, because of Dave Theno’s great reputation, and STOP’s, too, I have been invited to attend brainstorming sessions with food safety leaders to explore practical actions that can make the food supply safer.
It has been a great comfort to see that STOP’s efforts do not just end with food safety. Thanks to the vision of our CEO, Mitzi Baum, we also desire to join local community events when we can. Since the pandemic has left so many people food insecure, our team has been volunteering for the Lakeview pantry, which is in a neighborhood close to our office. Helping people get a meal on their table is the least I can do during these times.
Even though COVID-19 changed my plans, I continue to be excited about the work I have been doing at STOP and will finish out 2020 in Chicago.
By Jamie Ragos