Tasmanian food safety scientist up for Australian of the year

Sunday is Australia Day (and Monday is a holiday).

Then it’s the most wonderful time of the year because the children go back to school the next day.

Since 1960, the Aussies have awarded Australian of the Year, although I prefer the mocumentary by comedian Chris Lilley (see below).

tom.mcmeekin.aust.yearThis year, one of food safety’s own, microbiologist Professor Thomas (Big Tom) McMeekin of the University of Tasmania (UTAS), is in the running to be named Australian of the Year for 2014.

Professor McMeekin is acknowledged as a leading food microbiologist, having established new systems of improving food safety around the world, and is recognised as a pioneer in the development of predictive microbiology. He was named Tasmanian Australian of the Year 2014 in October by Premier Lara Giddings, who described him as “the world leader in predictive modelling of microbial behaviour in foods”.

Professor McMeekin has been present at UTAS since 1974, when he arrived from Northern Ireland. He held a personal Chair of Microbiology at the university before retiring from full-time employment in 2007, but stayed on as a voluntary position holder. His services won him the UTAS Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Contribution by a Voluntary Position Holder in September 2013. Earlier in the year he was awarded the Officer of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday honours for his contributions to agricultural microbiology, research and teaching.

Tom always reminded me of my uncle Larry – gregarious and quick with a quip for Douggie whenever I saw him.

Good on ya, Tom; McMeekin receives Australian award for risk modeling work

Tom always reminded me of my uncle Larry – gregarious and quick with a quip for Douggie whenever I saw him.

ABC News reports that University of Tasmania Emeritus Professor Tom McMeekin has been made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his tom.mcmeekin.jun.13distinguished service to science particularly in the development of food safety standards and education.

Tom was the Professor of Microbiology at the School of Agricultural Science at UTAS and was instrumental in the establishment in the Australian Food Safety Centre of Excellence.

The work he and a group of four other scientists did established new systems of predicting food safety around the world.

“We can do safety and we can do shelf life. We can also predict how a pro-biotic organism will grow in a particular medium like a yoghurt, or if it will die out.”

Tom McMeekin says the model has been adopted in Australia and around the world.

“The biggest breakthrough in application we had was with Meat and Livestock Australia who negotiated with AQIS on behalf of the Australian meat industry to change the way meat was tested.

Prior to these predictive models meat in a chiller in an export abattoir had to be cooled and then tested for the e coli or whatever. So retrospective, holding your product until you are sure nothing has grown on it.

Now we can use the model as a surrogate for that testing, and the model gives you an answer in real time.

That is now mandated in the export control orders and that is what monitors safe chilling process in Australian export abattoirs.