Face-to-Face: Meet Brendan Niemira
Ever wonder if anyone else is facing the same professional challenges as you? Or just looking to connect with some new people in your field? In IFT's Face-to-Face series, we will be introducing you to a different IFT member every month with a fun, insightful Q&A session.
This month meet...
Brendan A. Niemira, Lead Scientist, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service
- How did you get your start in the food industry?
I started work as a microbiologist at the USDA’s Eastern Regional Research Center in 1999, after finishing my second postdoc on pre-harvest and post-harvest potato diseases at Michigan State University. My job at the time was to research irradiation as a means to control pathogens like E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and L. monocytogenes on fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. In 2006, I was appointed Lead Scientist to run a research project at ERRC that deals with a variety of processing technologies for fresh and minimally processed produce.
- What do you love about your job?
I love that research I do addresses important problems facing consumers. I can’t think of anything that is more central to human society than eating, whether it’s a sit-down meal with family and friends or a quick bite in the middle of a busy day. Anytime that becomes a source of risk or a potential safety concern, it strikes at something pretty fundamental. I’m glad that my work serves to preserve that experience for consumers and protect them from pathogens or other risks.
- What is the biggest challenge that you face in your job?
Food is complicated! Any new means of production or new processing technology has to ensure not only the food’s safety; it also has to preserve the taste, flavor, aroma, nutritional value, regulatory compliance, marketability, and a host of other factors. There are many tools that will do only part of the job. The biggest challenge is take what works in the lab and make it work in the real world.
- What have you learned or been exposed to in the past 12 months that has helped you in your job?
Earlier this year, I met with colleagues in the European Association for Food Safety at a workshop in Bucharest. This was a great overview of food safety research, from outbreak epidemiology to microbial ecology to processing technologies. I’ve also had close contact with industry partners as we work to solve specific research problems. These have been valuable opportunities to compare notes on how food safety research is best conducted and supported.
- How do you see the food industry evolving over the coming year?
As it has with other industries, developing an effective social media presence and maintaining a nimble, responsive connection with customers are going to be significant efforts.
- Fun Fact: What’s your favorite food?
Tough question! If you’d asked me in January, I’d have said savory beef stew and freshly baked biscuits. Now that it’s July, I’ll have to say picnic fried chicken, buttered corn on the cob, and my wife’s rhubarb-custard pie.
If you are an IFT member and wish to be profiled, please contact Kelly Hensel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-604-0211.