Greetings to Amy Jones, a graduate student in the Ph.D. in Food Science program and a wonderful addition to the Discover FSHN Series! Amy is a student of Dr. Keith Schneider, and her research focuses on food safety. Read on to learn about her journey to UF, her extensive background as an R&D scientist, her devotion to rescue animals, and why you’ve probably eaten a food she’s helped develop!
Would you tell me about your current project?
My project involves studying the effect of water activity and acidulation on the survival of Salmonella in MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) ration energy bars. Low moisture foods, such as energy bars, have been associated with Salmonella outbreaks which is a widespread problem within the food industry. Our research is in collaboration with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center and should provide valuable insight into producing a safer product for U.S. soldiers. The findings could also be applied to civilian manufacturing with foods such as peanut butter, nuts, spices, chocolate, and powdered infant formula.
Would you share how you chose the Ph.D. in Food Science program at UF?
I got my B.S. in Food Science at Louisiana State University and went straight into industry as a Food Product Developer/R&D Scientist for 4+ years. While working outside New Orleans as an R&D Scientist for a custom food manufacturer, I decided to switch career paths, which meant going back to school. Only a handful of universities offered both an M.S. and Ph.D. in nutraceuticals, which is what I originally wanted to study. UF was one of those options.
I was contacted by Dr. Soohyoun Ahn, and she offered me funding to work in her lab doing research that focused on methods development and molecular biology while working towards my M.S. I took the offer, started my M.S. in Fall 2015 at UF, and decided to stay on for my Ph.D. I hope to graduate in December 2021, but that may get pushed back depending on how my research progresses. With COVID-19, we all got kicked out of the lab for a while, so I’m just trying to play catch up at this point.
You’ve had quite a lot of industry experience! Will you tell me about your time as an R&D scientist before coming to UF?
I’ve worked for several big food companies as an R&D Scientist/Product Developer/Technical Specialist. I did a lot of work with dairy: processed cheese at Land O’Lakes, ice cream at Blue Bunny, and macaroni and cheese at Diversified Foods and Seasonings. I worked on plenty of other foods, but I like dairy, so I was pretty happy to work with cheese and ice cream. In addition, I specialized in reverse engineering, safety issues, and engineering projects related to product development. When I was at Diversified, I frequently flew out to our other manufacturing plants to troubleshoot processing issues and meet with customers when developing or reformulating products. I enjoyed my work but wanted a different challenge, so I went back to school.
What do you believe is the most important fact the public should know about food safety?
Learn how to properly wash your hands. The CDC has step-by-step guidelines which you see posted in many public restrooms. I know it sounds simple, but hand washing really goes a long way to protect you against pathogens and food-borne illness.
What do you want to do after graduation?
I plan on going back into industry working either as a food safety scientist or in assay development. I still enjoy certain aspects of product development and the creativity that comes with that type of position, but I also really love working in molecular biology. Bacteria really are fascinating, and science is always changing!
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to bake and recently got back into painting, acrylics mostly. I love water, so kayaking, swimming, and going to the beach are always on the top of my list. During quarantine, I’ve really missed the performing arts, going to musicals, orchestra performances, ballet, etc. I had tickets for Waitress at the beginning of April 2020. I was so excited, and then the show got cancelled.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Two fun facts about me:
(1) I grew up rescuing animals. I’ve had a red fox, hawk, a mockingbird, ducks, squirrels, and a ton of baby possums. They’d be released once we nursed them back to health. I started rescuing pet rats when I was in 8th grade and haven’t looked back. They are really cute, sweet, and very smart.
(2) I grew up outside of Baton Rouge, LA. My family is Cajun, so I grew up with a love of food and music. My grandfather used to play guitar and sing Cajun French songs for us which I miss so much. As for other family members, my uncle played the banjo, my mom the bass, and my aunt the fiddle. They used to have their own bluegrass band and play on the radio.
Note: Some images in this post were taken prior to national guidelines of face coverings and social distancing.
Header caption: International Association for Food Protection 2019 Annual Meeting in Louisville, KY at The Rathskeller of The Seelbach. From left to right: Adam Baker, Jay De, Alan Gutierrez, Amy, Bruna Bertoldi, Chris Pabst.
P.S. The Discover FSHN Series highlights the unique experiences of UF’s Food Science and Human Nutrition students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Want to read more about the amazing work going on in the FSHN department? See our previous features below:
Savanna Curtis, Food Science (M.S.)
Carley Rusch and Matthew Beke, Nutritional Sciences (Ph.D.)
Alexa Hosey, Dietetics (MS/DI)
Vicnie Leandre, Food Science (M.S.)
Rufus Theophilus, Nutritional Sciences (Ph.D.)
Amber Fritsche, Dietetics (MS/DI)
Dr. Naim Montazeri, Food Science/Food Virology
Dr. Jeanette Andrade, Dietetics
Dr. Zhiyong Cheng, Nutritional Sciences
Dr. Juan Andrade Laborde, Global Nutrition
Dr. Razieh Farzad, Food Science
Rebecca Gould, Dietetics, Postdoctoral Research
Becca Solch, Nutritional Sciences, Postdoctoral Research
Hannah Cooper, Dietetics, Private Practice
Richie Li, Food Science, Product Development