She teaches food law, food safety and quality management, and is a guest lecturer for International Food Laws and Regulation at Michigan State University. She also heads up the QM and food law working group at the ZHAW in Wädenswil.
SNV Story No. 5: The best way to learn and teach about standards is through case studies
Food is an important aspect of our lives, from cultivation, production and processing to our daily enjoyment of our favourite dishes. For obvious reasons including protecting our health, there are countless legal regulations and standards in these areas. Food Technology students come into contract with standards in their first year of study. We spoke to Dr Evelyn Kirchsteiger-Meier, a lecturer at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Wädenswil. She heads up the QM and food law working group and researches and publishes in these fields.
When do students first come into contact with standards?
In the second semester. Lea Leibundgut, SNV programme manager, visits the course and provides an introduction to the subject of standards from an expert’s perspective. This introduction covers issues such as the meaning of standards and the difference between standards and laws. After this introduction, the subject of standards is covered in a weekly lesson. We also look at standards and how they are interpreted and used during practical work.
What is the main focus of the course?
There are three pillars that are relevant for the content of my course: food law, food safety and quality management. In the area of food law, basic knowledge and the difference between standards and legal regulations are central. Students need to know what the binding legal regulations are and what aspects are regulated through standards. One key aspect of food safety is the SN EN ISO 22000 standard, which necessitates a management system for food safety. The SN EN ISO 9001 standard also provides the foundation for an industry-wide and established quality management system. The importance of each of these individual elements depends on the future function and the size of company.
What path can students follow after graduation? What standards knowledge do they need in the working world?
They have plenty of different options after completing the bachelor’s degree, from food production to positions in the relevant public authorities. The importance of legal regulations and standards is very high in these fields. Many companies that our students work for are certified in accordance with a standard. For many, certification is absolutely essential if they want to remain competitive and do business internationally. Companies that export products to other countries also have to take the standards and laws of the importing countries into account. Germany, for example, is very active in the area of food hygiene, and has its own DIN standards. At UN level, there is also the Codex Alimentarius, which promotes fair practices in the food trade at international level and focuses on protecting consumer health. As a lecturer, it is important to me that the students gain an overview of national and international regulations and standards during their studies.
What is the biggest challenge when teaching about standards?
Simply working through the standards from A to Z is not very effective. It’s important to show students how they work in practice and demonstrate how to think about standards in this context. Take vendor management, for example – they have to be aware of what needs to be taken into account in this area, from evaluation and regular assessment through to quality control of the delivered food items. One particularly interesting challenge is presented by the fact that each company implements standards differently. This means it isn’t always possible to put what you learn in the classroom directly into practice. That’s why we regularly organise guest lectures by guest speakers from the field. These lectures help students get a better understanding of how relevant these issues are and get a better feel for how standards work. In addition to examples of practical implementation they encounter during these lectures, I also think it’s important that the students are familiar with the primary sources – the standards texts themselves.
What do the students learn in addition to the content of the standards?
They learn to deal with company-specific idiosyncrasies, make well-founded arguments and communicate effectively with authorities and auditors. During certifications, audits and potential complaints, it is important that they can justify their statements objectively, diplomatically and in a way that conforms with the relevant standards. As food technology is such a fast-moving sector, we also offer refresher courses and in-house coaching sessions as part of a life-long learning approach. We also encourage students to keep in touch with one another after they complete their studies. Experience shows that, when caught between regulation and freedom to innovate, it always helps to talk to other people in similar situations.
What interests you personally about standards and teaching in the area of food technology?
I like to really get to the root of challenges and I enjoy scientific rigour. I like taking on the role of bridge-builder between the worlds of research and practice.
Dr Evelyn Kirchsteiger-Meier
Dr Evelyn Kirchsteiger-Meier heads up the QM and food law working group at the ZHAW in Wädenswil. She teaches food law, food safety and quality management, and is a guest lecturer for International Food Laws and Regulation at Michigan State University. She heads up the Food Safety and Quality subject area within the bachelor’s degree course in Wädenswil. She is a biologist, and studied food law at the University of Bayreuth. She spent many years working in various positions at Nestlé, including as project manager for ISO 22000 certification. Her research focus is food law in Switzerland and the EU and food hygiene law in the US.
Dr Evelyn Kirchsteiger-Meier