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Collaboration common theme among food safety honorees

CHICAGO — More than 70 combined years of food safety advocacy and research by John Butts and Purnendu Vasavada was recognized with Lifetime Achievement Awards at the 18th annual Food Safety Summit today.

NSF Food Safety Aware presenters and honorees at the 18th annual Food Safety Summit are (from left): presenter Shelly Feist of the Partnership for Food Safety; honorees John Butts, Judy Harrison, Gary Acuff, who accepted the award for Purnendu C. Vasavada; and presenter Lori Stephens, of NSF International.

NSF Food Safety Award presenters and honorees at the 18th annual Food Safety Summit are (from left): presenter Shelly Feist of the Partnership for Food Safety; honorees John Butts, Judy Harrison and Gary Acuff, who accepted the award for Purnendu C. Vasavada; and presenter Lori Stephens of NSF International.

The annual Food Safety Leadership Award for Training and Education went to Judy A. Harrison, professor and Extension food safety specialist at the University of Georgia’s Department of Foods and Nutrition.

NSF International, a global public health and safety organization that provides food safety and quality assurance services across all food supply chain sectors, presents the awards to recognize individuals and organizations for real and lasting improvements in food safety.

Now in its thirteenth year, the awards program encourages innovation in educational programs, processes and technologies to advance food safety.

Each year, an independent panel of food safety experts from academia, industry and the regulatory community reviews nominations from around the world to select the recipients. Nominations are evaluated on the basis of innovation, design and contribution to the advancement of food safety.

“The work of John Butts, Purnendu Vasavada and Judy Harrison has contributed to important advances in food safety innovation, pathogen mitigation, education and training, NSF president and CEO Kevan Lawlor said.

“Their leadership and enthusiasm in applying science-based methods, sharing information across the industry, collaborating and training to help solve vital food safety issues embodies the spirit of NSF International’s Food Safety Leadership Awards.”

John R. Butts
A food safety advocate and food processing scientist, Butts has more than 40 years of experience creating food protection solutions such as improved sanitation and sanitary design of facilities and equipment, pathogen intervention, process control and risk assessment.

He has helped food companies integrate scientific principles and food technology in real-world manufacturing settings to help enhance food safety, assure product quality and deliver efficient solutions.

In particular, he developed investigative tools that help identify and control pathogen growth in cooked, processed meats and he implemented technologies to minimize pathogen transfer within high-risk areas.

In the 1980s, Dr. Butts led the team that developed Land O’Frost’s “Seek & Destroy” process to identify and control Listeria monocytogenes growth niches, which has since been adopted across the meat industry and by other food sectors.

He also introduced a pasteurization step and one-way product process that separated the raw and ready-to-eat (RTE) areas of plants.

Butts is one of the founding members of an education program with the North American Meat Institute to teach environmental pathogen control. The program of strategies and practices to control Listeria in RTE meat and poultry products has been widely accepted across the U.S. and globally.

“John is a mentor, a cheerleader and a tireless advocate for food safety. In addition to being a lifelong learner, John is a lifelong sharer; he has worked tirelessly to push the limits of what needs to be done to make product safer through relentless sanitary design improvements. Most importantly, he shares what he has learned freely and openly with the rest of the industry,” US Foods vice president for food safety Sharon Beals said in a news release.

Purnendu C. Vasavada
Retired now, Purnendu C. Vasavada’s career included lasting contributions to advancing the safety of dairy products through teaching, applied research and training programs on novel food processing, emerging pathogens, microbial food safety and rapid methods for detecting microorganisms.

For 30 years, he organized the Food Microbiology Symposium and Rapid Methods Workshop, which attracted scientists worldwide, provided a forum for expanding food safety knowledge, and helped companies understand emerging pathogens and developments in cultural, immunological and molecular methods to implement effective strategies for food safety and quality assurance.

As an FDA-Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Fellow, Vasavada was instrumental in forming the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA). In 2013, he helped initiate FSPCA working groups to develop training materials for the FSMA Preventive Controls for Human Foods regulation.

The Food Safety Preventive Controls for Human Food course is now being offered to train FDA investigators, state food processing inspectors and the food processing industry in preparation for the upcoming implementation of rules from the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

During his career Vasavada initiated and managed collaborations with academia, industry and governmental agencies in the U.S. and abroad. Through the USDA Cochrane Fellowship program and the U.S. Agency for International Development, he developed training programs for visiting scientists and industry professionals from Asia and Eastern Europe.

He has taught more than 2,500 students and food science professionals, presented more than 150 papers and authored more than 100 publications, including co-editing the book “Beverage Quality and Safety.”

“Dr. Vasavada’s career epitomizes the mission of advancing food safety and represents an outstanding example of cooperation between scientists in academia, government and industry,” said Damanna Ramkishan Rao, national program leader at the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, in a news release.

Judy A. Harrison
Judy A. Harrison designs and implements targeted food safety education programs for children, consumers, farmers and farmers’ market managers to reduce the risk of foodborne illness and improve behaviors. She has collaborated with partners such as the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) to create and implement programs to help keep food safe nationwide.

She has developed curricula, educational videos and print materials for extension agents, trained extension agents and disseminated food safety knowledge in consumer publications and the media. She uses focus groups and applied research to target the programs and then measures their effectiveness in improving food safety knowledge and behavior.

Working with the PFSE and USDA, Harrison led the development of the series “Smart Kids Fight BAC!” —  an animated video, activity books and teaching guides — and the book “He’s BAC!” to teach kids to keep food safe.

The curriculum significantly increased food safety knowledge of thousands of children and was requested in 27 states. “Wash Your Paws, Georgia!” is another of Harrison’s programs. It has taught more than 10,000 children proper hand washing to prevent illness.

Her curriculum “Enhancing the Safety of Locally Grown Produce” has trained approximately 650 farmers and 150 market managers in five states. The program enhances consumer protection by increasing knowledge and safety practices such as self-inspections, improved cleaning and sanitizing, and better record keeping.

“Dr. Harrison’s work is nationally recognized and fills a need of providing scientifically-sound food safety information to multiple audiences in very creative ways so that it is well received and utilized. Her passion for food safety is visible in her expertise, leadership and outstanding work developing food safety education programs,” said Hilary S. Thesmar, Vice President of Food Safety for the Food Marketing Institute, in a news release.

Award jurors for 2016
The NSF Food Safety Leadership Award nominations are judged by an independent panel of jurors. The 2016 jurors included:

  • Mary Adolf, M.S., R.D., Executive Director, International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association;
  • Shelley Feist, Executive Director, Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE);
  • Donna Garren, Ph.D., Vice President, Regulatory and Technical Affairs, American Frozen Food Institute;
  • Linda Harris, Ph.D., President-Elect, IAFP, and Specialist in Cooperative Extension Food Science and Technology, University of California-Davis;
  • Ernest Julian, Ph.D., Chief of the Office of Food Protection, Rhode Island Department of Health;
  • Ronald Klein, Program Director, Association of Food and Drug Officials;
  • Jim Mann, Founder and Executive Director, Handwashing for Life Institute; and
  • Ewen Todd, Ph.D., President, Ewen Todd Consulting and Former Director, Food Safety Policy Center, Michigan State University.

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