P. Michael Davidson, PhD

Mike DavidsonDr. P. Michael Davidson is Professor of Food Microbiology and Head of the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Davidson received a B.S. in Microbiology from the University of Idaho in 1973, an M.S. in Food Science from the University of Minnesota in 1977 and a Ph.D. in Food Science from Washington State University in 1979.  He joined the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Tennessee in 1979 and achieved the rank of Professor in 1989. From 1991-1998, Davidson was Professor of Food Microbiology in the Department of Food Science and Toxicology at the University of Idaho. In 1999, he returned to the University of Tennessee. He has taught courses in food microbiology, fermentations, thermal process microbiology, and sanitation and has directed and served on committees of over 100 graduate students. Davidson was elected to the IFT Board of Directors and served from 2009-2012. Additionally, he has served as Chair of the Food Microbiology Division of the American Society for Microbiology (1993) and Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) (1997) and in 2000 was presented the Distinguished Service Award from the IFT Food Microbiology Division. Dr. Davidson has authored or co-authored over 140 refereed journal articles and book chapters, primarily in the areas of food safety and food antimicrobials. He is co-editor of the books, Antimicrobials in Foods, 3rd Edition and Food Additives. Dr. Davidson currently serves as Scientific Co-Editor of the Journal of Food Protection. He was elected Fellow of IFT, the International Association of Food Protection and the American Academy of Microbiology. Davidson's research interests are characterization of regulatory-approved and naturally occurring food antimicrobials and determination of thermal resistance characteristics of foodborne pathogens.

What do you feel you can contribute to the growth and advancement of IFT?
Firstly, no one can advance an organization alone. It takes a large team consisting of volunteers and the professional IFT staff. Growing and advancing an organization requires that professionals choose to join and become involved. When people become involved as volunteers or active participants they often become more positive about an organization. Members that are passionately positive about an organization tend to become recruiters themselves. In my many years associated with IFT, I’ve been amazed at the passion for service by literally hundreds of volunteers and staff alike. These people truly care about the organization and the profession. However, while a lot of members have similar passions for promoting the organization, not everyone sees the road to improvement in the same way. That is the nature of a large organization made up of members from many diverse professional backgrounds. The challenge then comes in being able to embrace these different viewpoints for the passion they bring and blending them for use in growing and advancing IFT. I am no different than anyone else, I have my way of thinking about how the organization should function in moving forward. However, I believe I have the capacity for understanding all viewpoints, not just my own, and I feel that this ability is something that I can use to help grow and advance IFT.

What are the three most important strategic issues facing the profession and the industry that align with IFT’s goals and how would you address these as a member of the Board of Directors?

  • We live in an era of misinformation and misunderstanding, especially concerning foods. The causes of and solutions to obesity, the risks and benefits of reduction of salt, misconceptions about GMOs, natural, organic, additives, raw milk, and many other things have demonstrated the desperate need for a trusted source for scientific information. Thus, there remains a need for IFT to be an Influential Advocate and Trusted Spokesorganization. It is my opinion that, before an organization can be a trusted source of information, it has to have both high esteem and public trust. The areas of food science and food technology are ones where passions run very deep even among the professionals in the organization. Therefore, to be an advocate of a position requires very careful thought to avoid alienating members and losing public confidence and trust. It would seem that education of the public as to what food science and technology is would be the most important and efficient use of IFTs communication activities. Related to that is the public’s lack of understanding and mistrust of science in general. Support of IFT for improved STEM education can also assist in the public’s understanding of the benefits of science and technology advancements.
  • Funding for food science-related research in food science departments nationally is less than what it should be to truly further the field. Additionally, many new food science and technology faculty members are turning away from IFT to basic research societies. IFT should partner with food science and technology departments throughout the US to approach USDA, NSF and NIH for more government funding, specifically for food science-related research. IFT should develop strategies for bringing together food science department researchers and food industry personnel to discuss potential collaborative research endeavors while addressing issues such as open access and intellectual property. Finally, IFT needs to have strategic alliances with basic research groups that work with faculty in food science and technology departments to gain participation by those individuals. All of these activities will promote food-related research and technology development. Advocating and promoting the best education and research programs in food science would assist all members of IFT from education through industry members to regulatory agencies by improving the entire food system in the US and globally. All of these activities fall under the Research Champion and Innovation Catalyst.
  • Membership in IFT declined precipitously in the past but has now begun to stabilize and show slight growth. It is obvious that membership related efforts under the strategy of Steward for the Profession and its Community have been showing some success. These activities that provide learning, networking and leadership development opportunities should continue and even expand to provide member value. To that end, IFT should continually survey members to determine what they need and value from a scientific organization so that IFT can continue to change with the times.

Why do you want to serve on the Board of Directors and how has your work and volunteer experiences prepared you to be a strategic board member?
I have been an active IFT member for the past 39 years. My initial involvement in IFT started in the 1970's with the then named, Student Division. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and thus, became involved in all aspects of the organization. I have participated in the activities, growth, and evolution of the Food Microbiology Division since the early 1980s. My activities for Sections have included service both as an officer and as a distinguished lecturer for IFT where I was able to visit Sections across the US and in the UK. At the national level, I served on the Committee on Higher Education and as a member and chair of the Committee on Divisions (and formerly Sections and Divisions). In my opinion, I have been able to contribute to all of these entities, not only because of my "institutional memory", but because I have a passion for the success of the organization. I served on the IFT Board of Directors from 2009-2012 and I am currently Head of the Department of Food Science and Technology at a major research university. These experiences, particularly my service on the IFT BOD, helped me to understand the idea of thinking “strategically.” In my opinion, being a strategic board member means to see the “big picture” and not get bogged down in the minute details. I want to serve as President-Elect because I think that there are a number of new programs that were initiated during my time as a BOD member that I could help to be successful. Additionally, I think there are several challenges that need attention such as membership and member satisfaction, funding of academic research, interaction between academics and industry, and solid scientific information on food issues that I feel I could begin to address.

What defines a successful board and how would you contribute?
A successful board is one that is mindful of their fiscal responsibility and approaches issues at a strategic level. To solve problems or evaluate new or existing programs, the board should receive input and recommendations from workgroups, task forces, etc. and act on the recommendations in line with the strategic plan, at a strategic level and with fiscal accountability. A successful board is one in which all voices should be heard, but one where compromise is vitally important. To be successful, board members must stand as one behind all decisions, even if an individual member may disagree with a decision. Finally, a successful board is always looking to the future and looking to initiate projects that benefit all members of the organization. I believe that I could contribute because I have served on the IFT Board of Directors and have experience in the duties and processes of the Board. I feel that I would bring a unique view point to the office of the President in that I am familiar with academia but also have had a wealth of interaction with food industry members through consulting, research interaction, service on IFT committees, workgroups and task forces, students I have mentored in the industry, our Departmental Industry Advisory Board, etc. I am aware of the challenges in the diversity of IFT members and am prepared to meet that challenge.

Formal Education 
PhD, 1979, Food Science & Technology, Washington State University
MS, 1977, Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota
BS, 1973, Bacteriology, University of Idaho

Career History

University of Tennessee Professor and Department Head 2005-Present
University of Tennessee Professor 1999-2005
University of Idaho Professor 1991-1999
University of Tennessee Professor, Assoc. Prof., Asst. Prof. 1979-1991

Leadership Experience

  • IFT Board of Directors Member: 2009-2012
  • IFT Food Microbiology Division Chair: 1996-1997
  • IFT Intermountain Section Chair: 1995-1996
  • IFT Volunteer Section Secretary-Treasurer: 1983-1986
  • IFT Lewis & Clark Section Member-at-Large: 1994-1996
  • IFT Food Microbiology Division Chair, Graduate Paper Competitions: 1985-1987
  • IFT Food Microbiology Division Newsletter Co-Editor: 1986-1995, 1999-2003
  • IFT Committee on Divisions Chair: 2003-2004
  • IFT Committee on Sections and Divisions, Committee on Divisions, Work Group on Divisions, Task Force on Divisions, Division Transitions Task Force Member: 1999-2012
  • American Society for Microbiology, Food Microbiology Division Chair: 1993-1994
  • University of Tennessee, Department of Food Science and Technology Department Head: 2005-Present
  • University of Tennessee, Department of Plant Sciences Chair, Department Head Search Committee: 2008-2009
  • University of Tennessee, Agricultural Experiment Station Chair, Assistant Dean Search Committee: 2009-2010

Professional and Community Recognition

  • Fellow, American Academy of Microbiology
  • Fellow, Institute of Food Technologists
  • Fellow, International Association of Food Protection
  • Outstanding Alumni, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Idaho, 2011
  • President’s Recognition Award, International Association of Food Protection, 2005
  • Member, USDA-Cooperative States Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) Review Team, Department of Food Science and Technology, Oregon State University, 2003
  • Distinguished Service Award, Institute of Food Technologists Food Microbiology Division, 2000
  • Distinguished Lecturer, Distinguished Lectureship Series, Institute of Food Technologists, 1999-2002
  • Team Award, as member of University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, Agricultural Development Center, Omega Chapter, Epsilon Sigma Phi, 2001-2002
  • Co-Scientific Editor, Journal of Food Protection, 2001-present
  • Editorial Boards, Food Biotechnology, Probiotics and Antimicrobial Proteins, Journal of Food Safety (1990-2003)
  • Editorial Advisory Board, Taylor and Francis (Marcel Dekker) Publishing Inc., 1999-present
  • Associate Scientific Editor, Journal of Food Science, 1994-2000
  • Reviewer, National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, 2002, 2003
  • Distinguished Fellow, 14th International Workshop on Rapid Methods and Automation in Microbiology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, 1994
  • Outstanding Teaching Award, College of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, 1991
  • W.F. and Golda Moss Outstanding Teaching Award, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, University of Tennessee, 2008