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Food made safer thanks to David Theno

If you have read the June issue of National Hog Farmer you’ll have seen that a quality pork supply is of utmost importance. Consumers demand a quality product regardless if you’re talking pork, beef, televisions, smartphones or widgets. Problem is consumers determine what quality means to them. Ten consumers will have 10 different ideas of what makes a pleasurable pork dining experience for them. While determining what a quality pork product is can be a lot like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall, the overlying theme the entire meat industry has to agree on is the component of ensuring that a safe product ends up on consumers’ plates.

Food safety is a true farm-to-fork issue, with every step of the way in the meat production chain playing an integral role. No one person or facet is any more or any less important with the goal of providing a safe food product. Though that may be true, the industry recently lost a man who had been credited with putting food safety at the forefront.

David Theno may not be a household name, but consumers are indebted to his service to the meat industry. In a case of being the right person in the right place at the right time, Theno was senior vice president and chief food safety officer for Jack-in-the-Box, the San Diego fast food chain that was implicated in a massive and deadly outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in 1993. Four deaths and hundreds of illnesses were blamed on the burger chain that some said would not survive.

According to an article on the Food Safety News website, “top management of Jack-in-the-Box made an early decision to give Theno complete authority over food safety. He implemented a comprehensive Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plan and then required a finished product testing protocol, test and hold, that initially irked others in the meat industry before it was almost universally adopted.”

Theno remained with Jack in the Box for almost 16 years. When he left for Gray Dog Partners Inc., he took on being chief global food safety and quality officer for Milford, Conn.-based Subway restaurant chain. Before he joined Jack-in-the- Box, his Theno & Associates Inc. did food safety and quality management consulting for such companies as Foster Farms, Kellogg’s, Armour Food Co. and Peter Eckrich & Sons Inc.

Theno earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology and science journalism from Iowa State University and master’s and doctoral degrees in food microbiology and animal sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The U.S. meat industry and U.S. consumers owe a lot to Theno, and his leadership in responding to the 1993 outbreak and challenge of E. coli O157:H7 has been recognized by numerous scientific and industry organizations.

He was inducted into the 2012 class of the Meat Industry Hall of Fame. In his biography on the Hall of Fame website, it reads: “Theno’s lasting contribution to the meat industry was his leadership in responding to the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. He was instrumental in demonstrating how the scientific community and the meat industry can work together to solve food safety challenges.”

Theno died June 19 while swimming with his grandson in Hawaii. He was 66.

In a tribute on the Food Safety News website Dan Flynn writes: “we are consoled to know that the true legacy he leaves — food that’s safer now than ever before, though it always could be safer, will not only endure, it will save many, many hundreds if not thousands of lives.”

David Theno may not have been a household name, but his work made a lot of households safer.

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