Denton Hoffman: Champion of on-farm food safety

My longtime friend and mentor, Denton Hoffman, has fallen on hard times.

denton.homerLiterally.

He slipped on some icy stairs in Guelph, had brain swelling and a subsequent stroke (that’s Denton on the right, with my asparagus baron grandfather, about 15 years ago).

At the suggestion of Gord Surgeoner, I met with Denton as a newly minted prof back in 1998 to devise an on-farm food safety program for the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers. At least three of my grad students went through the drill, and there was this time, we thought we’d killed Chapman.

Ben and I went along with Uncle Denton to the Canadian Horticulture Council meeting in Montreal in Feb. 2003. I had chaired a national committee on on-farm food safety program implementation – and the advice was completely ignored – Chapman and I had done years of groundwork with Denton and the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, and we agreed to share a room at the annual meeting to cut down on expenses.

There was a couple of receptions and I still remember Ben and I asking Uncle Denton for drink tickets. We then retired to a hotel lounge and I knew trouble was ahead when Chapman asked for a cigarette.

He then went to the bathroom.

He didn’t return.

He showed up a few hours later, seemingly intact.

In 2009, Denton wrote:

As you journey through life you meet the occasional person who makes a real difference.  Dr. Douglas Powell is one of those – to say the least.

Doug called me recently to talk about the early years.  He was new in the On Farm Food Safety business when I was working with the Ontario Greenhouse vegetable group.  Doug was at the University of Guelph and I would talk to him about the phone call I didn’t want to get.  This would be the imaginary call from a senior’s residence wondering why all the occupants were very sick after consuming a fresh salad, and if the cause may have been the greenhouse tomatoes. I never got that call—thank God–but I wanted to be ready.  And that readiness included a strong response indicating we had an On Farm Food Safety program and proof we were capable of tracing our greenhouse product. We’ve seen several incidences in the past few years with certain fresh veggies and berries that almost ruined the industry and certainly crippled those markets for a year or so.

From the University of Guelph and the beginning of the On Farm Food Safety program, Doug has moved to Kansas State University where he is associate professor of food safety. He is still very much in the industry – just relocated to a different university — and still writing newsletters, hence the reputation of “the guru” of On Farm Food Safety.

Doug has remained a good friend over all these years. We developed a bond as we developed an On Farm Food Safety program for greenhouse vegetables and more.  Doug’s philosophy was to keep it simple.  He could relate to growers, and had an uncanny ability to make the complicated science of bacterial contamination simple and understandable. Early on, he received a little help from Dr. Gord Surgeoner.  These were the seeds of the On Farm Food Safety program in Canada, spreading from Ontario Greenhouse to CHC and to most vegetable growers across Canada.

I can still see Doug in an old T-shirt and jeans, holes in both, and running shoes–that was his fashion statement. Of course, his description of toilet paper “slippage” resulting in fecal contamination on your finger was priceless, but his crude description helped to break down the mystery of bacterial contamination by food handlers with dirty hands. Seems to me I got a T-shirt from Doug with “Don’t Eat Poop” written on the front.  Doug continues to be a great communicator, a fair goalie, poor at politics but great at On Farm Food Safety and raising little girls.

Thanks, Doug.  I am proud to say I knew you back when.

And as Ben said yesterday, Denton was a great mentor on how to deal with crazy industry folks.

Denton’s brain still works, and he can be contacted at: 222 Mountainview Road North suite 217

Georgetown,On L7G 3R2

phone: 905-877-1828×1217

email: [email protected]

This guy was a champion of on-farm food safety, long before it was fashionable.