The food safety world has lost two champions

I never met Dave Theno. I saw him speak a few times at IAFP, and other places; he had a fantastic story to tell – he had the experience of cleaning up after a tragic food safety mess. Stories like that are compelling – especially when the storyteller is earnest an candid (and Dave was). There’s a lot to learn from folks like that. Dave was a food safety rock star. Everyone knew him.

Sadly, Dave passed away on Monday.

The food safety world lost another star, albeit quietly.

My introduction to the real food and agriculture world was driving around Ontario (that’s in Canada) with Doug and Amber Bailey.

In the summer of 2001, we went on a trip to Leamington, Ontario to spend some time in vegetable greenhouses where Amber was collecting wash water and tomato samples for analysis and talking to the growers about hazards and risk reduction.

These trips were part of a program that Doug, Amber and Denton Hoffman, then General Manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, had created. On that trip, Denton told me that what kept him up at night was the thought of a customer in Pittsburgh or Cleveland getting sick from one of his industry’s 200+ members products.

That one incident could close the border to the hundreds of thousands of pounds of tomatoes and cucumbers that were being shipped all over the Eastern U.S.

I think the story is that Denton approached Doug sometime after following a Cyclospora outbreak linked to Guatemalan raspberries. Initially California strawberries were fingered for the illnesses. Denton saw how an outbreak, even if the industry wasn’t the source, could cost millions. So he wanted a robust, science-based and defendable food safety program to protect his members.

I took over Amber’s role as food safety coordinator and worked alongside Denton from 2001-2005. After declining health over the past few years and a stroke in 2015, Denton passed away last week.

I can’t find the words to describe how my experience with Denton shaped me. I have to steal Doug’s words, ‘This guy was a champion of on-farm food safety, long before it was fashionable.’ Yep.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.