Back in the day when I was at South Dakota State University, we had a name for our sister land grant universities to the south in Lincoln, Nebraska and Manhattan, Kansas.
We called them graduate schools.
And I’ve long thought Kansas State University in particular was a pretty smart place. That impression continued with my involvement with food safety. At present, the K State faculty includes both Dr. James Marsden, recognized worldwide for his research into the control of the nasty pathogens that can get into raw meat, and Dr. Douglas Powell, who drives home lessons about food safety to a global audience, especially through his popular “barfblog.”
Whenever I’ve been present to hear Dr. Marsden speak, it’s like one of those old E.F. Hutton ads on television; everybody in the meat industry turns to listen not wanting to miss a word. If Marsden thinks your intervention strategy stinks, you better move on to something else because when he says so, it is what it is.
Dr. Powell is a completely different story. His “barfblog” taps into the popular culture, bringing what he calls “evidence-based opinions” on food safety to the masses, or at least anyone who tunes in long enough. He gives great media interviews, and reporters love quoting him because then they can use the “barfblog” in their copy.
Some at K State know the value of their star faculty members and both of these gentlemen are included in the university’s media guide. Food Safety News also recently named both professors as among food safety leaders in academia.
But the future of Professor Powell at K State is now very much in doubt. He announced on barfblog on March 29 that K State would not be renewing his contract after June 30, 2013 because of “poor attendance.”
His blog entry was titled “Bye-bye bites; fired for bad attendance.”
Food Safety News sought to get K-State’s take on what’s going on with Powell’s contract, but big universities do what the lawyers tell them to do when it comes to personnel matters and that’s to say words that amount to saying nothing.
From Powell, we understand his “poor attendance” stems from the fact that during the past couple years he’s spent more time in Brisbane, Australia than Manhattan, Kansas. This is because his spouse, Dr. Amy Hubbell joined the language arts faculty at the University of Queensland in 2011.
With some reading between the lines, we think Powell’s working from the family’s new home in Brisbane was approved by his veterinary college dean two years ago, but has now been vetoed by the K State provost. No working from the down under or no contact might be the provost’s position, but we really do not know.
The irascible Powell has no sacred cows when it comes to food safety. He’s taken on celebrity chefs, big hospitals, many a major food manufacturer, and anybody else who is doing or saying something stupid about food safety. He even makes a pretty good case that the porn industry is more responsible than the food industry, not a debate food business really wants to have.
A recent presentation where he spoke from his kitchen in Brisbane to a Canadian audience is available on barfblog. It’s a good example of how he’s continued to be effective for K State because of the “electronic and eclectic “ nature of his research.
Powell makes a pretty good case that no matter where he is in the world, he can continue do good work for K State. If K State does not come around on this one, the world’s safety community is going to have less access to Powell and his work.
In an email, Powell told me he anticipates he will be blogging in some reduced form. Powell, Hubbell and Dr. Ben Chapman, food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University, write barfblog, which is prominently linked with KSU’s “Safe food from farm to fork” website called “Bites.”
His readers are letting Powell know how much they value him.
“Your crisp and always accurate synopses of both news and research articles provide a wealth of information for all of us who otherwise would have no way of accessing this news, “ commented Carol L. Tucker-Foreman, distinguished fellow at The Food Policy Institute of the Consumer Federation of America. “Virtually every week I send a link to the (barfblog) to colleagues letting them know something important has happened and we need to follow up.”
Another noted that Powell provides valuable information, but added:
“I know zero about the facts here, but I could fairly well imagine the difficulty a dean would have in defending a faculty member who has left the country — not just on sabbatical but apparently permanently (?) — And still expects a paycheck from the Kansas taxpayers,” said another reader, who also noted that even Yahoo recently ended telecommuting.
And the possibility of losing barfblog is not the only loss for the food safety community.
Phyllis Entis, who was on our media list of food safety leaders, has opted to terminate eFoodAlert, her 5-year old digest of food recalls, foodborne disease outbreaks and food safety issues. The loss of her blog is another very significant development for the world of food safety.
Entis, who worked for both government and industry for 35 years as a food safety microbiologist, turned eFoodAlert into a world news source by running down every reliable source she could for the recall and outbreak news of the day.
Food Safety News had come to rely on eFoodAlert in a number of ways, and we were pleased to have Phyllis as one of our contributing writers, which we hope she will continue from time to time.
But, eFoodAlert came to an end March 31 so after four decades of food safety, so Phyllis can pursue her passion for creative writing. And with no change in her work ethic, she began Prompt Prose, the very next day on April 1. We thought for a moment that she had cooked up an April Fool’s joke, but no.
P.S. In “The Last Post” she wrote for eFoodAlert, Phyllis was kind enough to recognize Food Safety News as an “excellent source” that did not exist when she started eFoodAlert. We are working to take up some of the slack left by the termination of her fine work. Readers can look forward to seeing these changes in the days ahead.© Food Safety News