Getting to Know Gulhan Unlu October 2018

Gulhan UnluBefore heading to the University of Idaho campus to engage her students in the study of food microbiology, Gulhan Unlu begins her day with a cup of coffee from the Moscow, Idaho, Food Co-op. “I enjoy every sip and appreciate the Food Co-op’s efforts in providing healthy food for my community and helping to create a healthier planet,” she says.

Fortified with her morning cup of joe, Unlu, who holds MS and PhD degrees in food science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is ready to challenge her students to stretch their learning and investigative skills. “I try to present food microbiology as a hands-on, inquiry-based, problem-solving activity in which students will learn through active involvement rather than the more traditional approach of memorization,” says Unlu, who is also a faculty member at Washington State University.

Under Unlu’s tutelage, students learn how to work cooperatively to investigate microbiological phenomena, ask relevant questions, construct possible explanations, propose and carry out ways to test their explanations, and present their results to others. “It is critical,” she says, “that our students are well prepared for the job market, in which technical and problem-solving skills are the key for success.”

Unlu’s dedication to promoting a better understanding of food science extends to her volunteer efforts. In addition to being a team member on the IFT Division Championship Team this past summer, she has served as chair, chair elect, and secretary of the Biotechnology Division, as well as in various capacities for IFT at large—reviewing papers, organizing events, judging competitions, and organizing and moderating sessions.

“I believe my IFT volunteering has allowed me to become a better communicator and leader,” she observes. “Also, I have met many food science and technology professionals with diverse backgrounds and learned from them. It has always been fun to attend the IFT Annual Meeting, where I get to visit with old friends, make new friends, and feel part of a strong community.”

Among the volunteer activities that particularly stand out for Unlu is the work she did to organize and moderate the 2015 symposium entitled “Gut Microbiology Ecology Affecting Health: Probiotics and Prebiotics,” which was sponsored by the Biotechnology Division. “The symposium provided attendees with an understanding of the relationship between probiotic dose, changes in the microbiota, and health effect, as well as novel strategies to identify probiotic strains for synergistic symbiotic applications,” she explains. “Consumer interest in probiotics and their benefits has been growing for all age groups for the last decade, so the symposium was very timely and well received.”

When it comes to the future of food science, Unlu is enthusiastic about innovations that are currently taking place as well as new developments on the horizon. “Food microbiology has changed fundamentally in the last few decades,” she says. “The number of well-studied foodborne pathogens has increased. Several changes in food processing as well as consumer preferences and demands have taken place. Significant advances in the development of rapid and automated microbial methods for detecting foodborne organisms have been made.”

In addition, says Unlu, improvements in the safety of the food supply from farm to table have been made by the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point systems and, more recently, the introduction of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. “Nevertheless,” she says, “I believe that the most exciting era for food science, with particular emphasis on food microbiology, lies in its future, because of greater demand for additional, safer food to feed a global population that is likely to double in our lifetime. I feel fortunate to work in the field of food microbiology and excited to have the interest and the ability to contribute to the next era in food science.”

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