With more than two decades of experience at Feeding America, including time as the non-profit’s director of food safety, Mitzi Baum this week takes over the reigns at Stop Foodborne Illness.

As the new chief executive officer at the Chicago-based organization, Baum succeeds Deidre Schlunegger in Stop’s top post. Schlunegger announced her retirement plans in November 2018. Baum assumed her new job duties Monday.

“We are fortunate and excited to gain the extensive leadership experience and personal passion for food safety that Mitzi brings to Stop Foodborne Illness,” said Mike Taylor, co-chair of Stop’s board and FDA’s former deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. “Her experience working in the non-profit sector and with food industry and government partners will be critical as we work to expand the impact Stop’s constituents have in preventing foodborne illness.” 

Baum worked at Feeding America for 23 years, helping guide the growth of what is now the largest hunger relief organization. It now includes more than 200 food banks and provides essential foods to 46 million people annually.

She was the driving force behind implementation of food safety and risk mitigation strategies for products distributed by the food bank network, according to a statement from Stop Foodborne Illness. Baum also played a key role in strengthening Feeding America’s ability to achieve significant partnerships with food donor organizations. She supported the updating of regulations to increase safe food donations for those in need.

“While awareness of food safety is growing, we know that nearly 50 million Americans each year get sick from foodborne illnesses. More than 125,000 people are hospitalized, and thousands die,” Baum said in the Stop news release. “There are very real personal and health costs associated with foodborne illness, and some people suffer from lifelong side effects. Stop can play a key role in heightening awareness among workers in the food industry and consumers. We’re working to reduce and stop foodborne illnesses from occurring.”

Stop’s retiring CEO, Schlunegger, was hired as the organization’s top employee in 2010. The organization had been founded in 1993 as Safe Tables Our Priority (STOP). It was born out of the grief and frustration of parents of children sickened and killed in the 1993 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak traced to undercooked hamburgers at Jack in the Box restaurants. During Schlunegger’s time with the non-profit group its name was changed to Stop Foodborne Illness and is often referred to simply as Stop in the food safety arena.

Schlunegger said Baum is uniquely qualified to carry on the organization’s mission.

“As I retire from my position, I couldn’t be happier to pass the gavel to Mitzi,” Schlunegger said. “She is a highly respected and influential member of the food safety community. Our organization will clearly be in very capable and inspirational hands.”

Baum’s experience in the food sector began before her time with Feeding America. She had a 10-year restaurant management career, working in Atlanta, Cincinnati and Chicago, which included Chicago’s Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. She is an adjunct instructor for Michigan State University’s Online Master of Food Safety program. She earned her Bachelor’s of Science in restaurant/hospitality management from Bowling Green State University and her Master’s of Science in Food Safety from Michigan State University.

The co-chair of Stop’s board of directors, Lauren Bush, is an E. coli outbreak survivor. She said Baum is the right executive to lead the group’s work.

“For many years, Stop has been the leader of victim support and outreach in the face of foodborne illness, working closely with individuals and families during vulnerable moments when they have nowhere else to turn,” said Bush. 

“Similarly, Mitzi’s experience and understanding of food insecure families will provide a helpful bridge to understanding Stop’s unique role. With Mitzi in the leadership role, Stop’s ability to make a positive difference will be stronger than ever.”

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