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Ashim Datta to lead food safety simulation project

Ashim Datta

A $683,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will support a project aimed at integrating the power of computer simulation with the teaching of food safety principles.

Ashim Datta, professor of biological and environmental engineering, will direct the three-year project, which involves academic partners at seven other universities including University of California, Davis, Ohio State University and the University of Maryland. Cornell will receive about $400,000 of the total project funds.

The purpose of the project, part of the USDA’s Higher Education Challenge Grants program, is to develop an educational framework and computational tools to enhance education on food safety. Because managing food safety is inherently interdisciplinary, demand is increasing for risk-based, quantitative management approaches, according to the project proposal. Through computer simulation, effective problem-oriented training through “what if” scenarios can be more easily designed.

According to the project proposal, simulation technology can enhance learning by reinforcing basic concepts, allowing the learner to explore complex scenarios, linking basic concepts to real-world applications, and studying effects that would be impossible to replicate easily in the real world. Simulation can also be an interactive, problem-solving exercise for students.

Though the grant is specifically for food safety issues, Datta says that integrating simulation principles in education can have a major impact on a wide variety of subjects.

“The introduction of simulation to education in general is itself novel and cuts across many disciplines,” Datta said. “It allows students to solve more realistic problems and to go beyond disciplinary boundaries.”

Approaches to these simulation-based food safety education tools will include predictive microbiology, engineering and risk analysis, the proposal says. The project will build on available software to implement quantitative models related to three aspects of food safety education: fundamental microbiology, the impact of processing on safety and safety risk assessment.

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