TAMPA, FL — Before beginning three days of seminars, panel discussions, scientific research presentations and high-level collaboration on how to make food safer, members of the International Association for Food Protection paused Sunday evening to remember and honor one of the best of their ranks.

Accepting the Stop Foodborne Illness annual Food Safety Hero award for her late husband Dave Theno, Jill Theno introduced several family members who joined her at the Tampa Convention Center for the opening night of the annual conference of the International Association for Food Protection. Behind Jill are Deirdre Schlunegger and Mike Taylor, CEO and board member of Stop Foodborne Illness. Also on stage were, beginning at center, daughter Britt Ghan, sister Meg Theno, sister Jan Shiff, sister Nancy Peth, niece Megan Kaufman, and brother-in-law Hal Shiff.

In a special presentation before the annual Ivan Parkin Lecture, which marks the beginning of IAFP’s annual meeting, conference and tradeshow, thousands of attendees gathered for the launch of the Dave Theno Fellowship and the posthumous presentation of the Stop Foodborne Illness Food Safety Hero Award in recognition of his more than four decades of dedication.

The Chicago-based nonprofit advocacy group, lead by CEO Deirdre Schlunegger, had planned to honor Dave Theno with its hero award this year. But before the group could present it, Theno, age 66, died when he was hit by a large wave while swimming with his 14-year-old grandson on June 19 in Hawaii.

Jill and Dave Theno at their home in Lana’i, Hawaii. Photo by Karen Harris

The group had notified Theno that he was to be the recipient this year. When news of his untimely death swept through the international food safety community, the organization’s leadership decided to rename the annual honor for the man who was to receive it this year.

At the Tampa Convention Center Sunday evening, Theno’s wife Jill and several family members accepted the hero award in his name.

Mike Taylor, former deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and now a board member for Stop Foodborne Illness, described Theno’s impact. Following are Taylor’s remarks.

Dave Theno driving the family pontoon boat on Lake Ripley in Wisconsin for his son Dave III and his grandson Rowan. Photo by Meg Theno

Deirdre and I are grateful to IAFP for this opportunity to honor Dave Theno and his family.  

Dave was our friend, and the friend of so many here and around the entire food safety world.  He was also our food safety hero for the way his passion, his courage and his deep personal commitment over many years forever changed the food safety landscape.

Dave enjoying time with his new German shorthair pup Gracie. Photo by Jill Theno

But, as passionate and committed as Dave was to food safety, nothing was more important to him than his family, several of whom are with us this evening.  Dave’s wife Jill and stepdaughter Britt; his sisters Nancy, Meg and Jan and Jan’s husband Hal; his niece Megan and Megan’s son Marshall, Dave’s great nephew — who is great in more ways than one, I’m sure.

Dave’s family life and his life and friends outside of food safety were so important and meaningful to him. He knew how to have fun. And he gave so much back to so many. We can only imagine the loss his family and friends feel. Our hearts go out to all of them.

Dave’s extended food safety family was also important to him, and it is immense.  It includes the many of us who were privileged to know and work with Dave. And it includes everyone in this room and around the world who is working to make food safe.  Dave changed things for all of us. And he thought of each of us as friend and family.

Now, for those who were not involved in food safety 25 years ago, I’d like to take a minute to explain why I say Dave changed things for all of us.  

Back in 1993, Dave Theno was the guy who Jack in the Box called in to fix its food safety program and save the company after its tragic and historic outbreak caused by E. coli O157H:7 in hamburger. That outbreak seriously injured hundreds of people, and it killed four children, one of whom was Lauren Rudolph, the six-year-old daughter of Roni Rudolph Austin.  

Early in his tenure at Jack in the Box, Dave connected with Roni, who gave him a picture of Lauren that Dave carried in his briefcase every day. Roni and Lauren made food safety personal for Dave. They were his inspiration. And, as Dave said publicly on many occasions, he made food safety decisions based on the question “What would Lauren want me to do?” 

This was the beginning of the modern era of food safety.  

This was when the idea of food safety culture was born — the idea that food safety is a personal commitment to be lived, not just a professional task to be performed.

And Dave harnessed Roni’s and Lauren’s inspiration not only to pioneer micro testing and other preventive interventions at Jack in the Box, he made it his mission to promote these practices across the entire beef industry.  

Dave was the key industry instigator and leader for the massive shift in food safety practices and culture that made such a huge difference for beef safety and is still underway across the entire food system in the United States and globally. 

 Dave’s leadership not only moved the industry. It was also a big part of what made it possible for those of us in government to build microbial testing and standards into the FSIS meat and poultry HAACP program. Dave showed us the way.

But Dave’s work was not done when he left Jack in the Box. He remained unrelenting in his passion for food safety and in his deep concern for people who are victims of illness, and Dave was very much still at it in his full-bore way through Gray Dog Partners.  

Up until the week before his death, Dave was engaged in helping those who want to do the right thing on food safety improve how they do it. 

And that’s why STOP Foodborne Illness, on whose board I’m proud to serve, had told Dave not long before he died that he would be receiving STOP’s Food Safety Hero Award for 2017.  

It’s why STOP has renamed the honor the Dave Theno Food Safety Hero Award. And it’s why we are so pleased to give the award this year to Dave’s family.  

In addition to renaming the hero award for Theno, Stop Foodborne Illness, the organization has set up the Dave Theno Fellowship — an award to be given annually to a new graduate from a food safety program or a public policy program. Stop Foodborne Illness has secured more then $25,000 in donations for the fellowship program. Bill Marler, publisher of Food Safety News, donated the first $25,000.  To make a donation to the Dave Theno Fellowship, please visit his legacy page by clicking here.

Memorial services are scheduled on Aug. 13 at the Lomas Santa Fe Country Club in Solana Beach, CA, and on Sept. 17 at the Lake Ripley Country Club in Cambridge, WI.


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