Face-to-Face: Meet Kathryn Boor April 2018

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...

Kathryn BoorKathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and professor of food processing microbiology in the Dept. of Food Science at Cornell University

  1. How did you get your start in the food industry?
    I think it’s fair to say that I was born into the food industry. I was raised on a family dairy farm in upstate New York. We took our responsibility for producing high quality milk very seriously. We also raised and preserved our own fruits, vegetables, and meats. My passion for food led me to study food science at Cornell University and I never looked back! I was enthralled with learning about the science behind the food on our plates, which is what led me to graduate studies in food science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My MS thesis research focused on goat milk utilization among small-scale farmers in western Kenya. My two years in Africa allowed me to directly observe the scale of human illness and suffering associated with an insecure and unreliable food supply. This led me to commit my life to focusing on studies to improve the microbiological safety of our global food supply. I completed a PhD in microbiology at the University of California, Davis, then joined the Cornell faculty as a food science professor in 1994. I’ve been at Cornell ever since.

  2. What do you love about your job?
    The very best aspect of my job is interacting on a daily basis with passionate, brilliant students who are aiming to make the world a better place. Watching our students succeed in their own careers in the food industry, in government, research, business, and beyond is deeply satisfying.

  3. What is the biggest challenge that you face in your job?
    We are facing disruptive forces unprecedented in my lifetime in the food industry, agriculture, higher education, and society, in general. The changes being driven by these forces also create exciting opportunities for both personal and business growth and differentiation. Therefore, my greatest challenge is not enough hours in the day to embrace the opportunities that are coming our way!

  4. What have you learned or been exposed to in the past 12 months that has helped you in your job?
    I’ve learned that if you point those in the millennial generation toward something that they care about, you’ll never find a group that will work harder to achieve an outcome. The Millennials are my favorite group. Ever. They provide me with tremendous optimism about our future.

  5. How do you see the food industry evolving over the coming year?
    I anticipate the demand for convenience will continue to grow, supported by the rapid growth in online capabilities for food ordering and delivery. A comparison of the food products available in grocery and convenience stores—and even in U.S. airports—today versus five years ago suggests that consumers will also continue their push for “fresher” and “healthier” food products. Food industry consolidations will likely continue, but even very large companies are rapidly acquiring differentiating products and labels within their portfolios to meet consumer demand across a segmented public. I also expect to see a growing number of innovative start-ups pushing into the food space. Taken together, I predict that we will have a much more diverse food industry than in the past, which will provide tremendous job opportunities for food scientists.

  6. Fun Fact: What’s your favorite food?
    Anything straight out of the garden. Nothing beats a tomato straight off the vine or freshly harvested sweet corn.

  7. Have you been honored with an IFT Achievement Award in the past? If so, which award did you win and in what year?
    I was honored with the Samuel Cate Prescott Award for outstanding research in 2002 and was named an IFT Fellow in 2008. Recently, I was presented with the 2018 Harold Macy Food Science and Technology Award from the Minnesota Section of IFT.

  8. How has the research you were recognized for progressed since then and what are you currently working on?
    The students and staff in my laboratory have made astonishing discoveries regarding links between the ability of the foodborne bacterial pathogen, Listeria monocytogenes, to sense and respond to environmental changes, such as those encountered in food and in the human body, and its ability to express genes that allow it to cause human infection. In other words, L. monocytogenes actually becomes a better human pathogen after it’s eaten! My team continues to unravel regulatory networks in L. monocytogenes, with the ultimate goal of designing more effective ways to control this pathogen. We also work on developing tools to effectively track movement of unwanted bacteria through food production systems, with an eye toward protecting food products from contamination. The big picture goal of our work is continuous improvement of the microbial safety and quality of our food supply.

If you are an IFT member and wish to be profiled, please contact Kelly Hensel at khensel@ift.org or 312-604-0211.