By Ellen Bombela, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications Service
Keith Fennell has always had a passion for helping others, whether through mentoring kids or doing community service. As a George Washington Carver summer intern, he was able to expand his love for helping others in a different way. He conducted research to help make a difference in the safety of produce consumers get from grocery stores.
Fennell, a junior at North Carolina A&T State University studying food industry management, spent the summer researching E. Coli contamination during the washing and rinsing of romaine lettuce and strawberries.
“We mimicked what happens when produce leaves a farm to when it gets to the grocery store,” Fennell said. “We found that the produce can get contaminated from different stages of the process, including runoff from manure and equipment that hasn’t been cleaned before being used to transport the produce.”
Recent outbreaks of E. coli on romaine lettuce caused illness and death. Fennell’s research was to help try to prevent something like that from happening again.
“We came up with risk factors as far as food safety, and necessary procedures that should be followed on recalls,” Fennell said.
Fennell was also able to earn two certificates this summer, one in produce safety and one in preventive safety in human food. With a research project and two certifications completed within a span of two months, Fennell said this internship was one of the most intense things that he has done.
“It’s been challenging, but it’s also been fun. I got to learn a lot about what I like to do,” Fennell said. “It has allowed me to work with my hands, which I discovered is something that I like.” Fennell said. “It was more than just talking about what I was going to be researching, but it was actually seeing things for myself out in the field and interacting with farmers who grow the produce.,”
This experience was Fennell’s first time working in a lab so there were a few challenges such as new terminology. Overcoming the obstacles helped him grow personally and professionally, which is one of the goals of the GWC Internship Program.
Outside of research projects, the 17 interns in the program attended workshops, tours and seminars. They also went on group outings to places like the Omaha Henry Doorley Zoo and the World Food Prize in Des Moines.
After finishing his undergraduate work, Fennell is considering going to graduate school.