UF University of Florida IFAS

Jul 10, 2024
New statewide Florida Extension agent educates growers on food safety

A new statewide Florida Extension agent is helping growers manage food safety concerns.

Growing up in rural Douglas, Georgia, a town of 11,000 people, Stephanie Brown actively participated in Future Farmers of America. She also liked to watch cooking shows on TV, and she enjoyed science.

But she wasn’t sure how to combine food with science.

Flash forward a couple of decades, and now she’s the new state specialized agent for food science for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension in southwest Florida.

Stephanie Brown is the new food science statewide specialized agent for UF/IFAS Extension in Southwest Florida.
Stephanie Brown is the new food science statewide specialized agent for UF/IFAS Extension in Southwest Florida.

“When I was in high school, I was selected to attend the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program as an agricultural sciences major,” she said in a news release. “It was a great opportunity to get a first glimpse into what college or other academic pursuits could look like outside of a traditional classroom setting. What made this program unique was there was not a set curriculum, no tests and (we had) freedom to pursue what we were interested in learning. This program was a game changer for me.”

Later, as a sophomore at the University of Georgia (UGA), Brown was looking for a course to satisfy one of her core degree requirements. She was intrigued by a class called, “Food Issues and Choices,” adding, “Who doesn’t like talking about food?”

She wound up earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in food science at UGA, then a master’s in animal science from the University of Connecticut (UConn). In August, she will receive her Ph.D. in animal science from UConn.

While earning her doctorate, Brown worked as a food safety specialist at Oregon State University. Now, Brown plans to help residents, entrepreneurs, members of the food industry and others understand more about food safety statewide – but with an emphasis on stakeholders in Southwest Florida.

Brown admits to having a lot to learn about the specific food science and safety needs of Florida.

“I foresee one of the biggest needs being to provide assistance — through outreach and education — to the food industry with understanding and compliance of new and changing federal regulations,” she said.

UF University of Florida IFAS logo

For example, in November 2022 and May 2024, the Food and Drug Administration released the final Food Traceability Rule and Pre-Harvest Agricultural Water Rule, respectively.

Both rules fall under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was signed into law in 2011. This act was one of the most sweeping changes to food safety regulation in decades, with one of the big outcomes being a shift from reacting to problems to a focus on preventing them.

Not all food operations are required to comply with FSMA regulations. However, Brown and others still need to train smaller food operations on other food related regulations (at the local, state, and federal level) and food safety best practices. The food safety team at UF/IFAS has already done a fantastic job creating and adapting courses and resources for some of these audiences, she said.

“However, as industry needs change, it is important that we continue to meet those needs,” Brown said. “I have talked with several food science and food safety faculty and staff at UF/IFAS about this topic, and I look forward to our future collaborations, so we can deliver information to our constituents.”

Brown works at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee, Florida, which employs scientists from many academic disciplines.

“Although I greatly miss my Oregon collaborators and friends, this position had everything I was looking for in the next stage of my career,” she said. “Through my job- searching over the years, I had not found many positions that allow you to solely focus on helping people, which was one of the major reasons I got into science as a career path. Extension is great in that regard in that it allows for direct interactions with your community and lets you use your skillsets to help solve real problems.”

Brad Buck, UF/IFAS.




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