Stu Hutson – (352) 273-3569
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Whether E. coli on spinach or Salmonella in peanut butter, it seems food-borne illness outbreaks are becoming all too familiar to the average shopper. On Jan. 29, when a national task force of 12 experts meet in Washington, D.C. to discuss how to improve America’s food safety – three of the experts will hail from the Gator Nation, with two from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“I think that this shows that the University of Florida, and IFAS in particular, has an enormous amount of the food safety expertise in the form of experienced staff and resources,” said Douglas Archer, a task force member and IFAS associate dean for research. “The three of us get to draw on that – to use that potential to begin to help solve some bigger problems.”
Archer will be joined on the panel by Martha Rhodes Roberts, IFAS special assistant to the director of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station and dean for research, and Glenn Morris, director of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute.
The expert committee is being convened at the behest of Congress by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Its one-year goal is to create recommendations for improving the Food and Drug Administration’s approach to food safety.
The group has its job cut out for it. While being criticized for its lack of oversight by both Congress and advocacy groups, the FDA has repeatedly undergone reductions in its budget and personnel.
“There are some real problems,” Archer said. “For example, we live in a time where we should be able to track the source of food with a computer keystroke. But, tracing food paths has been one of the major difficulties in these recent outbreaks.”
Prior to beginning work in UF’s department of food science and human nutrition in 1994, Archer served as deputy director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA. During his FDA career, Archer was a commissioned officer in the United States Public Health Service and was appointed assistant Surgeon General in 1990. He is a member of the Institute of Food Technologists Global Policy and Regulations Committee as subject expert on food hygiene.
Roberts was formerly the deputy commissioner of agriculture at the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services, and was the first woman in the nation to become the state’s assistant commissioner of agriculture. In 2003, she received the FDA Commissioner’s Special Citation for outstanding leadership and cooperative support of joint regulatory responsibilities in advancing food safety and enhancing the public health mandate. That same year, she was inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Along with his position and research at UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, Morris is a member of the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine. Before coming to UF, where he is also a professor of medicine, he was chairman of the epidemiology and preventive medicine department at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore.