I never met Dave Theno. I saw him speak a few times at IAFP (International Association for Food Protection), and other places; he had a fantastic story to tell. He had the experience of cleaning up after a tragic food safety mess. Stories like that are compelling — especially when the storyteller is earnest and candid — and Dave was.
The food safety world lost another star, albeit quietly.
My introduction to the real food and agriculture world was driving around Ontario — that’s in Canada — with Doug Powell and Amber Bailey.
In the summer of 2001, we went on a trip to Leamington, Ontario, to spend some time in vegetable greenhouses where Amber was collecting wash water and tomato samples for analysis and talking to the growers about hazards and risk reduction.
These trips were part of a program that Doug, Amber and Denton Hoffman, then general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, had created.
On that trip, Denton told me that what kept him up at night was the thought of a customer in Pittsburgh or Cleveland getting sick from one of his industry’s 200+ members’ products. Such an incident could close the border to the hundreds of thousands of pounds of tomatoes and cucumbers that were being shipped all over the Eastern U.S.
I think the story is that Denton approached Doug sometime after following a Cyclospora outbreak linked to Guatemalan raspberries. Initially California strawberries were fingered for the illnesses. Denton saw how an outbreak, even if the industry wasn’t the source, could cost millions. So he wanted a robust, science-based and defendable food safety program to protect his members.
I took over Amber’s role as food safety coordinator and worked alongside Denton from 2001-2005. After declining health over the past few years and a stroke in 2015, Denton passed away last week.
I can’t find the words to describe how my experience with Denton shaped me. I have to steal Doug’s words: “This guy was a champion of on-farm food safety, long before it was fashionable.”
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