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K-State Today

July 15, 2011

Food science, safety is life's work for K-State researcher

Submitted by Julie Fosberg

National and international food science and safety professionals know Jim Marsden. Yet the general population, who will never meet or know him, are among those who benefit from his research-based food safety strategies to prevent food-borne illness.

Marsden, Regents Distinguished Professor of food safety and security at Kansas State University, has made a number of breakthroughs in meat safety, and has earned a reputation as one of the nation's foremost food safety experts. His research has helped develop steam pasteurization for meat and irradiation as a method for killing E. coli.

Most recently, Marsden's research has led him to work with the North American Meat Processors Association to petition the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Services to use the term pasteurized on consumer labels for eligible meat and poultry products.

Doing so will help consumers understand that such products have been processed in a manner that eliminates health risks, according to Marsden. For instance, high hydrostatic pressure is a common technology that can pasteurize meat and poultry products. By adding a pasteurized label to these products, consumers are more aware that the product has been treated safely.

Marsden is also working with large retailers such as Costco and Walmart, to strengthen food safety measures with beef and pork suppliers. This can lead to safer food across the meat industry.

His friendly, neighborly style reflects his growing up years in Oklahoma, and those who know and respect him personally and professionally are not surprised to learn that he had an early interest in science.

As a child, Marsden asked for a chemistry set, and then insisted on building a laboratory in the family's garage.

His early scientific endeavors prompted suggestions that he consider a career in medicine, and he earned a science-based bachelor's degree in psychology at the University of Oklahoma, thinking that he would apply to medical school.

Before doing so, however, Marsden realized that it was the laboratory -- and the research experience -- that continued to hold his interest, so he chose to earn a master's and doctoral degrees in food science at Oklahoma State University.

"The psychology background, with its the reasoning and problem-solving skills, has proved helpful in a career focused on food safety and science," said Marsden, who, after completing his degrees, began his career as a senior scientist researching soy proteins for the Armour Food Co. in Chicago.

Marsden's next job, a management position with Wilson Foods in Oklahoma City, was close to family, but he realized that research, rather than a desk job, seemed better fit for his career interests. He accepted the general manager's position for ABC Research, a food safety and science laboratory in Gainesville, Fla.

From there, he was recruited to serve as senior vice president for scientific affairs for the American Meat Institute Foundation, which is based in Washington, D.C., and sponsors meat research around the county.

With his national presence in food safety and science research growing, Marsden was invited to help resolve food safety failures associated with E. coli O157:H7 at a Jack-In-the-Box restaurant in western Washington state.

A year later, Marsden was recruited to join the faculty in the department of Animal Sciences and Industry faculty in the College of Agriculture at K-State.

Why K-State?

Marsden, who gives high marks to Jack Riley, then head of the department, and Curtis Kastner, professor of meat science and now head of the Food Science Institute at K-State, said, "K-State has absolutely the best infrastructure for food safety on beef, and I was impressed with its people, its facilities and its commitment to food safety."

Although nearing an age when some might consider retirement, Marsden continues to look forward, and is focusing on promoting pasteurization for raw meat and poultry to ensure pathogren-free products.

He also is excited about new facilities at K-State, including the Biosecurity Research Institute and construction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's National Bio and Agro-Security Defense Facility, also known as NBAF.

According to Marsden, the decision to locate NBAF at K-State, affirms that the university is continuing to emerge as a world leader in food science and safety research.

"It's fantastic,” he said, and from his food science and safety researcher's point of view, "like moving NASA to Manhattan, Kan."