Academia and industry, partnering to advance the future of food safety.

As a member of the science community, you know that there’s a big difference between theory and real-life application. That gap is one of the reasons universities strive to give students hands-on experiences that resemble what they’ll run into when they’re in the workforce. But the need for understanding goes both ways. Industries that don’t engage with academics miss out on learning of the latest research when developing and improving products, which can delay the pace of innovation.

One food scientist and educator is committed to accelerating the future of food safety by keeping students and industry experts better connected — with the help of 3M.

A powerful partnership.

When University of Minnesota (UMN) professor Fernando Sampedro, PhD, started teaching a fundamental food microbiology course, he instantly knew who one of his critical education partners would be: 3M Food Safety.

Dr. Fernando Sampedro
Dr. Fernando Sampedro

Dr. Sampedro’s connection to 3M dates back to 2014, and since then, he has hosted workshops for 3M and their customers nearly every year, working to educate industry leaders on practical application of theory established in academia.

The professor says he bonded with 3M over the shared goal of ensuring the food safety industry and academic community stay better connected and prioritize knowledge-sharing. “There is a lot of information that is published by academics that doesn’t make its way to an industry setting,” he explains. “That’s the beauty of the 3M educational portfolio. They’re trying to close the gap between the industry and academia.”

That’s exactly why he reached out to 3M Food Safety’s global scientific affairs and education leader, John David, as he was preparing to teach this food microbiology course. Together, they developed a plan to combine the powers of academia and industry to advance food safety education.

Insights from the experts.

As part of their education partnership plan, two 3M employees participated in Dr. Sampedro’s class to help students understand the testing methods and technologies experts use in their everyday work.

Dr. Grant Hedblom

One of those experts, 3M Professional Service Representative Grant Hedblom, PhD, didn’t need much convincing; he had worked as a teaching assistant for that very same course while earning his graduate degree at UMN. “The experience I had as a presenter for the Food Microbiology course was a very rewarding full circle moment,” says Dr. Hedblom.

Technical Service Representative Taylor Lecy joined Dr. Hedblom to help expose students to the latest technological developments and educate them on advancements in products and testing. Lecy says that the students were interested in understanding how customers define what pathogens to test for in their facilities and which technologies they use to do so.

Taylor Lecy

Dr. Hedblom noticed that the students were also particularly engaged with the topics that helped them connect the principles they had learned throughout the class with real technologies and practices used in the food production industry.

But both Lecy and Hedblom emphasize that the benefits of engagements like these go both ways. “We are able to interact with young, talented individuals and introduce 3M Food Safety as a potential career path,” explains Lecy. “This partnership encourages collaboration between the Universities and 3M on research, education and product development.”

Adds Dr. Hedblom, “It allows for further education for us on the 3M side, as the dialogue between students and the professor provides additional considerations from the various experiences and research expertise.”

Learning from real-life application.

3M’s involvement didn’t end with expert presentations. The 3M Food Safety team also donated 3M™ Petrifilm™ Plates to be used in the course’s final capstone project. Dr. Sampedro said he was incredibly grateful for the collaboration, emphasizing that being able to work with the product line provides a good real-life example for students to see what kind of methods they’ll be using if they work in laboratories post-graduation.

For their final project, each student chose a real food product — from deli ham to brownies — and evaluated the ingredients to determine an appropriate testing plan. Students then brought their chosen food products into the lab for real testing using the 3M Petrifilm Plates. Students were then responsible for determining results and drawing insights from their testing results.

At the end of the semester, Dr. Sampedro hosted simulated “company meetings” where students presented their findings to CEOs, marketing directors, quality vice presidents and regulatory managers — roles all played by their peers and professor. Each 15-minute presentation was a practice in time management and, ultimately, the ability to make an informed business decision based on lab testing and results.

Dr. Sampedro reflected on the projects, noting, “One of our goals is to prepare students for the workplace. The students need to know traditional culture methods because that’s kind of the basics, but that’s not the reality of how the industry is testing for pathogens. They were really amazed at how simple, cost-effective and practical it was to use [3M] Petrifilm [Plates].”

A future of collaboration.

After a successful partnership with UMN this spring, 3M’s work with universities will continue. The 3M team and professors like Sampedro see mutually beneficial relationships like this one as one of the keys to keeping industry and academia better connected.

Dr. Sampedro sums it up for us: “It’s helpful for me in academia to get to know real professionals in the industry. And the other way around. I think the industry is hungry to get to know all these new advancements and tools that you can use to solve your everyday problems,” he says. “In this bridge, the role 3M has played, it’s crucial.”

Interested in partnering with 3M in your classroom? We have a program for that!