ORANGE PASSION: Food safety
Peter Muriana, FAPC food microbiologist, has always been interested in research related to beneficial and inhibiting cultures in food products.
Peter Muriana, FAPC food microbiologist, has always been interested in research related to beneficial and inhibiting cultures in food products.

Progress through professorships

Microbial food safety professorship enables Muriana to research, educate.
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Professor Peter Muriana’s work protecting people from the potentially dire consequences of foodborne illnesses is being facilitated through an endowed professorship.

The food microbiologist recently received the Advance Food Company/S.E. Gilliland Professorship in Microbial Food Safety.

“It’s what I am able to do with the endowed professorship that is important,” Muriana says. “With this professorship, I intend to use the funds to enrich my activities in research, extension and teaching.”

Muriana, an OSU animal-science professor in the Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center, says the long title of the Advance Food Company/S.E. Gilliland Professorship in Microbial Food Safety is indicative of its importance.

“The title of the professorship carries two names: one a large, successful Oklahoma food company, and the other an eminent faculty member of OSU and noted food microbiologist, so to be associated with a title bearing both of these names is an honor,” Muriana says.

The professorship was initiated in 2008 when former FAPC food microbiologist Stanley Gilliland challenged his fellow animal-science faculty and other organizations to contribute to the professorship he created with Advance Food Co., which resulted in donations of $288,500.

Founded in 1973 by Paul Allen and David McLaughlin, Advance Food Co. merged with Pierre Foods Inc. in 2010, resulting in AdvancePierre Foods. It has become a leading supplier of further processed ready-to-eat products such as warm-and-serve hamburgers.

“I have been involved in the center since its inception,” says McLaughlin, a member of the FAPC’s Industry Advisory Committee.

“We have a lot of great employees who graduated from OSU and wanted to support the institution,” McLaughlin says. “Basically, we wanted to give back in some way. We weren’t sure exactly how it was going to end up, but we decided to give the resources to the university and let them decide how to best use it.”

Gilliland died in 2010, but his legacy lives through this gift and its intention for the continual improvement of food safety through research and education.

“Many food companies have supported FAPC through cash donations targeted at specific short-term needs such as seminars or funding to support graduate-student assistantships,” says Chuck Willoughby, FAPC business and marketing relations manager. “Endowments, however, are perpetual. The principal remains in place to generate funding on an ongoing basis and likewise, recognition of the endowment is ongoing.”

Supports Research and Students

Throughout his post-graduate and professional career, Muriana says he has always worked on research related to benefi cial and inhibitory cultures, which was also one of Gilliland’s areas of expertise.

Peter Muriana

The professorship gives Muriana the opportunity to further his research with bacteriocins produced by lactic acid bacteria as potential antimicrobials in foods.

“For more than 25 years, I have engaged in research identifying and characterizing antimicrobial proteins (i.e., bacteriocins) produced by lactic acid bacteria that could have potential use as food preservatives,” Muriana says. “I know this is one subject that was close to Dr. Gilliland, as he too was involved with benefi cial microbial cultures.”

Another piece of his research includes applying these bacteriocins to raw and processed meats as antimicrobial interventions to inhibit pathogens and spoilage organisms, Muriana says.

“Perhaps some of my work may be applied to ensuring the safety and quality of AdvancePierre Foods’ products,” Muriana says.

He says this professorship allows for more student opportunities.

“I would like to apply some of the donation to fund a student summer internship in food microbiology for an undergraduate who may be undecided in (their) career paths,” Muriana says.

As there is a big push for the advancement of food safety, McLaughlin said additional programs and student opportunities are important.

“The big area we would like to focus on is to get some things done, as far as curriculum at OSU, is food safety,” McLaughlin says. “I hope this will entice young people to continue to be interested in the area of food and agriculture. I think it has a great future, and I think OSU is a great place to find out about it.”

Food-Industry Benefit

Willoughby said these types of monetary opportunities to support research benefi t not only FAPC, but also the entire food industry.

“Endowed professorships and chairs provide supplemental funding to FAPC’s budget,” Willoughby says. “Interest earned from the endowment is available to be used by the faculty member appointed to the professorship. These funds, when added to other sources of funding, such as appropriated budgets or grant awards, enhance the faculty member’s opportunity to conduct research meaningful to the food industry.”

Muriana’s expertise and accomplishments extend past the borders of OSU. In January, Muriana was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

“This committee is used by the USDA, FDA and other regulatory agencies that interact with and regulate the food industry to provide scientifi c input on issues,” Muriana says.

The committee is made up of scientists from academia, industry and government.

“Each member of the committee brings their unique area of expertise to the team,” Muriana says. “I hope that my experience in food microbiology will help to contribute something substantial along with the other members of the committee.”

Muriana said he is grateful for the new opportunities presented to him this year as they allow him to extend his expertise by investing more research in the area of food microbiology.

“I am familiar with Dr. Muriana and his work and think he is exceptional,” McLaughlin says. “From his background and experience, I think any research he conducts would be practicable.”

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