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Food Scientist Tackles Food Safety in the Lab, the Field, and the Classroom

Jennifer Acuff is making a three-tiered effort to ensure that food arrives from the farm to the kitchen without contamination.

Acuff joined the University of Arkansas System Agriculture Division and Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Biological Sciences right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. She is an assistant professor of microbiology and food safety in the Department of Food Science.

She has appointments as an assistant professor at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, the research and extension branches of the Division of Agriculture, and a teaching appointment at Bumpers College.

"My research, extension and teaching appointments are very close in terms of percentage," Acuff said. "It is intended to create a very integrated program."

"Food science is an ideal place for similar appointments," said Jeyam Subbiah, head of the Department of Food Science. "We want Dr. Acuff's research results to be immediately applied to the food industry through her outreach efforts, and she too teaches students about this important area."

"She is an excellent teacher," Subbiah said, "and she has been very flexible, she came on board in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and had to change everything we do to adapt. She did it exceptionally well." well, to manage their classes and build a research program. "


Acuff earned his BA in Biology from Abilene Christian University and a Masters in Food Microbiology from Kansas State University. He earned a Ph.D. in food safety and microbiology from Virginia Tech University in 2020.

Has a background in food safety research, working in areas related to beef, ready-to-eat foods, and low water activity foods.


Acuff's research focuses primarily on intervention technologies designed to reduce pathogen contamination in postharvest foods. investigates strategies to improve the safety of fresh and processed foods and protect products from microbial contamination.

Currently focusing on microbial contamination in low moisture food products, including spices, nuts, dried fruits and powders.

"Low moisture foods are often overlooked. moisture, "Acuff said. "Low humidity environments do not promote bacterial growth. It is rare, but it does happen." He cited two cases, one in peanut butter and one in dry infant formula, which resulted in market recalls and changes in production.

"It's very important to make sure dry food is safe," he said.

"The Food and Drug Administration says that all foods are susceptible to contamination," Acuff said. "So we are investigating what we can do to reduce the risks and how to show that it works."

Acuff is currently working on an industry grant funded project to investigate Salmonella contamination in powdered dairy products. "I'm looking for contamination routes and how long the bacterial pathogen survives. Also, what solutions are available to destroy the bacteria."

You are also looking for effective substitute bacteria. These would be harmless bacteria that would otherwise behave like Salmonella. They could be fed into a company's production line to verify that detection and inactivation systems are working properly.


Acuff wants to bring the results of its research directly to the food industry, he said. In addition, you can help companies find potential problems in their food processing systems and take successful steps to make their products safe.

"My outreach work will focus on consultation and investigation at the plant to help companies identify, mitigate and document contamination risks," he said.

"We are doing applied research that can help the food industries," Acuff said, "and also to engage our local communities on food safety issues."


The Acuff classroom will help prepare students for food safety jobs in the food industry and prepare the next generation of food safety scientists. He already lectures on food microbiology and related laboratories.

"There are a lot of students from other academic programs besides food science," Acuff said. "They come from pre-health programs and other disciplines for which food safety education is important."

Acuff is also developing an online master's program in food safety.

"The goal is to help people become better informed about food safety, both at home and in industry," he said.

For more information on the Agriculture Division's research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch.

For information on the Arkansas outreach program, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.

About the Division of Agriculture: The mission of the Division of Agriculture of the University of Arkansas System is to strengthen agriculture, communities and families by connecting trusted research with the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Agriculture Division conducts research and extension work within the nation's historic land-grant educational system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 Arkansas counties and faculty on five system campuses.

The Division of Agriculture of the University of Arkansas System offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital status or veteran, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action / Equal Opportunity Employer.

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