During his graduate studies, Jacques Overdiep III has been involved with the North Central Region Center for Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). He developed common law language for the FSMA law to make it more easily understood. Photo by Whitney Sager.

Graduate student helps make food safety requirements more understandable

Jacques Overdiep III will graduate later this week with a master’s degree in food science. His journey to Iowa State University is a unique one that has allowed him to get outside his comfort zone and see and experience new things.

While pursuing an undergraduate degree at North Carolina State University, Overdiep’s father encouraged him to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), just in case Overdiep decided to attend graduate school. After he took the exam, Angela Shaw, associate professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, emailed Overdiep, asking if he would like to take part in a research project she was conducting.

“I thought it was spam at first,” Overdiep admitted. After a quick search on the Internet, he learned not only who Shaw was but also the type of research she’s been involved with, and decided to email her back.

“Jacques worked in a food safety lab at North Carolina State University and I knew his supervisor,” Shaw explained. “His supervisor told me that he was an excellent student and leader at NC State and that he wanted Jacques to stay. After talking with Jacques over the phone, I was very impressed with his confidence, leadership potential, and desire to learn.”

Following the phone call with Shaw, Overdiep scheduled a time to visit to Iowa State and talk to Shaw further.

“It reminded me of home because of how small and quiet it was,” Overdiep said of Iowa State’s campus.

His roommate at NC State joked Overdiep would complete his undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees at NC State, then go on to become a professor at the university. However, with his family just minutes away from campus, Overdiep knew it would benefit him to get away from home and pursue a graduate degree in Ames, Iowa.

While at Iowa State, Overdiep became involved in Shaw’s work with the North Central Region Center for Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The organization serves to connect educators with farmers and producers to teach them ways to prevent food borne illnesses while growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables.

For Overdiep’s thesis, he worked on developing common language for the FSMA law to make it more easily understood. He created a 70-page checklist fruit and vegetable processors can use to make sure they are meeting FSMA requirements, specifically the Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food Rule, the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food Rule and Amendments to the Registration of Food Facilities. The checklist includes hints for each item that further helps individuals understand what is expected of them or how they can meet the requirements.

So far, more than 600 people have downloaded the checklist since it was made available in mid-2017, and Shaw said it is regularly requested by the food industry.

“I was surprised by the reception,” Overdiep said.

In addition to the checklist, Overdiep assessed the FSMA educational needs of processors in the region as part of his thesis work. He also developed fact sheets for processors in 12 states to use for clarification of state and federal laws related to fruit and vegetable processing.

On top of all that, Overdiep has served as a teaching assistant in the food microbiology lab for Shannon Coleman, assistant professor, and Xiaolei “Shelley” Shi, adjunct assistant professor in food science and human nutrition.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time as a TA, particularly interacting with students and developing my skills not only as a microbiologist, but also as a lecturer,” Overdiep said.

“Jacques is a leader in my laboratory and is recognized as an excellent student by every professor he has taken a course with,” Shaw said.

Though Ames is a long way from his North Carolina roots, Overdiep said he has enjoyed his time at Iowa State and getting to know his roommates and lab partners.

“I’ve learned how to be independent as an individual and how to monitor my own time and deadlines,” Overdiep said.

Following graduation, Overdiep has accepted a position with Hormel Foods in Osceola as an associate quality and process control supervisor. This will be his first time working in industry.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” Overdiep said.

Though he’s been in school for the past 19 years, Overdiep said at some point he’d like to earn his doctoral degree. Whether or not that will be at Iowa State has yet to be decided.