With food recalls from romaine lettuce to cauliflower generating perennial headlines, a new $1-million gift from two University of Guelph grads will establish a professorship intended to improve food safety in Canada and abroad.
Prof. Lawrence Goodridge, a three-time U of G grad, will join his alma mater this month from a faculty position at McGill University to take up the new Leung Family Professorship in Food Safety based in the Department of Food Science.
“I’m thrilled to be back,” said Goodridge, who studies ways to detect and control food- and water-borne bacterial pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria.
His position will be funded by $750,000 from Tony and Connie Leung, both 1977 grads of U of G and now semi-retired founders of Sanwa Growers Inc. Based in Tampa, Florida, the 38-year-old company sells produce and other goods to restaurants and small wholesale markets.
Their gift also includes $200,000 to expand experiential learning in food system issues for undergraduate students and a $50,000 leadership donation for an OAC ’77 class project to renovate U of G’s Meat Science Laboratory in the Department of Animal Biosciences.
“We’ve always been advocates for food safety,” said Tony Leung, who studied environmental horticulture at U of G.
Referring to an E. coli outbreak in produce late last year, he said food safety is “not confined to romaine lettuce or vegetables but it’s an issue for other products. Consumer education and food handler education is very important. The food safety issue starts at the farm and it doesn’t finish until the table.”
Connie Leung, an economics graduate, said she hopes to see U of G attract more students in the field. “Food safety should be a concern not just for Canadians but for everybody,” she said. Both she and Tony grew up in Hong Kong before coming to Canada, where they met as U of G students.
Under the new professorship, Goodridge plans to pursue interdisciplinary research on campus on food-borne pathogens, antibiotic resistance and food fraud.
He has already worked with University of Guelph researchers, including a current Genome Canada-funded project with food science professors Jeff Farber and Gisèle LaPointe on detecting salmonella in fresh produce.
“My research at Guelph will integrate genomics with other fields like social media and artificial intelligence to develop models to potentially predict food-borne outbreaks before they occur,” said Goodridge.
Since 2013, he has been a professor in McGill University’s Department of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry, where he held the Ian and Jayne Munro Chair in Food Safety.
He completed a B.Sc. in microbiology and graduate degrees in food science at U of G. After a post-doc at the University of Georgia, he was a faculty member at the University of Wyoming and at Colorado State University before returning to Canada.
He has published about 70 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and has received public and private research funding in Canada and the United States.
OAC dean Rene Van Acker said Goodridge will further strengthen the University’s reputation in food safety teaching and training for students and industry workers.
“High-quality, world-leading expertise in this area is really important for everybody,” said Van Acker. “It’s a responsibility we take very seriously. We hear about recalls and food safety issues every year. It can kill people.”
The Leung gift will also support U of G’s annual Feeding 9 Billion challenge and ICON (Ideas Congress) course. ICON involves senior undergraduate students in projects to address food system issues along with community and industry groups.
The new funding will allow organizers to run a second course each year, including additional teaching resources and scholarships. It will also help increase outreach to other Canadian universities, including widening the Feeding 9 Billion challenge – now run in four locations in Canada – to all 10 provinces each year.
The new donation will also support OAC’s Meat Science Laboratory, the only one of its kind at a Canadian university with federally licensed facilities to study consumer evaluation of processed meat products.
The facility is expected to improve graduate and undergraduate teaching programs and will strengthen U of G connections to provincial and national meat processors, said Van Acker.