Center for Food Safety

This interview details the Center for Food Safety, a company based in the United States. The interview is with Kristen E. Gibson, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Food Safety.

Source: Center for Food Safety

What is the origin story of the Center for Food Safety?

The Center for Food Safety within the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture was officially established in 2005 with the appointment of the first Director, Dr. Steve Ricke. The goal of the Center was to serve the food safety needs of Arkansas.

During the first several years of the Center, competitive funds were available through the Animal Science Food Safety Consortium which included the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Kansas State University, and Iowa State University. The Food Safety Consortium funds were aimed at enhancing the safety of meat products in the U.S., and thus this was the primary research focus of the Center. Dr. Ricke left the Center in Fall 2020 to pursue the next stage of his career. Dr. Kristen Gibson was hired as the new Director of the Center in Spring 2022.

Source: Center for Food Safety

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the Center for Food Safety in the future?

The biggest challenges the Center faces are related to funding and aging infrastructure. Specifically, the Center is comprised of faculty from across the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture (UADA) which means that we are not housed in one location but dispersed across the Fayetteville campus and the UADA state office in Little Rock.

In addition, the Center does not have a specific funding line for research or personnel support; therefore, we tend to operate on an individual level as opposed to as a unit though we are trying to change this through incentives focused on collaborative research grants. Regarding infrastructure, as with most universities across the country, research infrastructure is aging, and we are not immune to this. To be the face of food safety in the state of Arkansas and beyond, we are actively working on increasing funding to renovate or create new research facilities in order to serve our state and expand our programs.

Source: Center for Food Safety

What is unique about the Center for Food Safety compared to similar programs?

Our Center includes faculty, staff, and students addressing critical food safety issues facing the U.S. Namely, Dr. Jennifer Acuff is a leading expert in low-moisture food safety with a focus on the persistence of Salmonella in products such as dairy milk powders and tree nuts—both causes of foodborne outbreaks over the past several years. Moreover, Dr. Acuff and Dr. Tomi Obe are working on strategies to address Salmonella in poultry harvest during pre-harvest and post-harvest processes which is a top priority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service.

We also have food process engineers working on novel interventions to control both bacterial pathogens and mycotoxin production in low-moisture foods and cereal grains, respectively. Dr. Kristen Gibson focuses mainly on fresh produce safety and the emerging market of hydroponically-grown leafy greens. In addition, Dr. Gibson is one of a few researchers in the U.S. with a focus on foodborne viruses including human norovirus which is the primary cause of foodborne illness in the U.S.

Source: Center for Food Safety

What are some trends you are seeing in the agriculture/food industry based on your vantage point at the center of food safety?

I am not sure there is anything specific on trends. An area that is always evolving in the food industry is related to reformulation of products to meet consumer demands for “clean” labels or removal of  ingredients that are no longer considered ‘generally recognized as safe’. When reformulation happens, there is always a need to consider the food safety and quality implications of the reformulated product. The same goes with the demand for more sustainable packaging. Packaging is a key component to maintaining food quality as well as food safety.

Source: Center for Food Safety

How can people connect with you or learn more about the Center for Food Safety?

They can visit our website (foodsafety.uada.edu), follow us on Instagram (@arkfoodsafety), and follow us on LinkedIn (Arkansas Center for Food Safety).

Source: Center for Food Safety

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