Podcast Ep. 87: Purdue Research Series | A Look Into Food Safety, Security and Sustainability With Amanda Deering and Haley Oliver

In this episode of “This Is Purdue,” we’re talking to Amanda Deering and Haley Oliver from Purdue University’s Department of Food Science.

This marks the second episode in our Purdue Research Series, which shares how Purdue provides practical solutions to the world’s toughest challenges.

Amanda, associate professor of fresh produce food safety in Purdue’s College of Agriculture, and Haley, the 150th Anniversary Professor of Food Science and director of the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety, dive into a challenge facing the entire world: food safety, security and sustainability.

Contrary to what some may believe, their work in food science involves very little cooking. Amanda and Haley are addressing urgent questions about food production in a changing climate and a growing global population that hit 8 billion in November 2022.

On any given day, these two researchers may be working alongside researchers from Cornell University in the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety or partnering with women in Afghanistan or Indigenous communities in Peru. As a land-grant institution, Purdue is uniquely positioned to address questions of food production and safety by working hand in hand with farmers across Indiana — and the globe.

Tune in to learn more about their partnerships with organizations large and small, changing attitudes on sustainability, the importance of gender representation in food production and how research done in the heart of Indiana is helping feed the world.

Full Podcast Episode Transcript

Amanda Deering: 

This is Amanda Deering. 

Haley Oliver: 

And this is Haley Oliver. 

Amanda Deering: 

And you’re listening to This is Purdue. 

Haley Oliver: 

And you’re listening to This is Purdue. 

Kate Young: 

Hi, I’m Kate Young and you are listening to This is Purdue, the official podcast for Purdue University. As a Purdue alumni and Indiana native, I know firsthand about the family of students and professors who are in it together, persistently pursuing and relentlessly rethinking who are the next game changers, difference makers, ceiling breakers, innovators, who are these boilermakers? Join me as we feature students, faculty and alumni, taking small steps toward their giant leaps and inspiring others to do the same. 

Amanda Deering: 

Our Department, we really are aligning ourselves to be a major player in that alternative protein space. Think insects, soy, any of those products, and I think that’s the next big thing in food science. 

Haley Oliver: 

The piece of the discussion where food science is going to really play a role looking forward is in sustainability. We have increasing population, we have climate change. How are we going to produce enough food and efficiently? Food science is a major part of that discussion. 

Kate Young: 

Hi, this is Purdue listeners. This is our second episode of our new Purdue research series, which tells the stories of how Purdue provides practical solutions to the world’s toughest challenges. Each episode will give you a firsthand look into a challenge the world faces, and we’ll take you through how world-class boilermaker researchers are working to find the solutions to these daunting problems. By the way, if you haven’t checked out our first Purdue research series episode with Mark Lundstrom discussing the importance of semiconductor education and research, be sure to give that a listen. 

This episode is digging into something we all know and love, food, and really what’s more important than feeding the world? Food holds immense significance to the world on various levels, encompassing social, cultural, economic, and environmental aspects. And food requires global attention and collaborative efforts to ensure food security and promote sustainable production systems. Food is important for providing energy, essential nutrients, supporting growth and development, promoting good health and enhancing physical and mental performance, just to name a few. Simply put, it’s a fundamental necessity that impacts our wellbeing and quality of life. In this episode, we’re talking to boilermakers, Amanda Deering, Associate Professor of Fresh Produce Food Safety, and Haley Oliver, the 150th Anniversary Professor of Food Science, about a challenge facing the entire world, food, safety, security, and sustainability. 

I interviewed Amanda and Haley in the College of Agriculture’s potting lab surrounded by lush greenhouses, plants, fruits and veggies. If you want to experience the full visuals, be sure to check out our full video interview on our This is Purdue YouTube page. We kick things off with these food science experts by discussing their work at Purdue and what made them interested in food at an early age. Here’s a hint. They both grew up in homes that were centered around food. 

Amanda and Haley, we are so excited to feature you on This is Purdue. Thank you for joining us. We’ve got a very unique setup, so we’re very happy to have you both. Tell us a little bit about your research and what you both do at Purdue. 

Amanda Deering: 

My research is mostly food safety related and I really focus on produce, but we do a little bit of everything. I work a lot with Extension, I work with produce stores throughout the state of Indiana and really help with anything food safety related. It can be from produce to other products that emerging food entrepreneurs are doing. You name it. 

Haley Oliver: 

I think we wear a lot of hats and I think that’ll be a consistent theme as we look at what food safety is and how we engage with that here at Purdue. But Haley Oliver, 150th Anniversary Professor of Food Science. I’ve had a lot of history and teaching and really enjoy that, but on the research side, also focus on food safety, we’ll call it historically or in my domestic research program, we focus on food safety at retail or post manufacturing. Anything you need to know about a grocery store, just let me know. And one of my other hats is directing the USAID Feed the Future for Food Safety Innovation Lab, where we take our understanding of food safety and help developing economies, apply those practices where it’s important to them. 

Amanda Deering: 

So we do a lot of the same things just in a little different applications, I guess you would say. 

Kate Young: 

I read that you both grew up on farms too, so you have that in common. Was food always really interesting to you? How did you forge this career path? 

Amanda Deering: 

It’s interesting. Yes, I grew up in a farm in Michigan and we always grew our own food, a lot of our own food anyway, but I went to college to actually work more in the medical field. And I quickly learned that animals and humans were not my forte to learn about or to try to understand. I really found my niche in microbiology and plants in general. I did a master’s degree in plant biology and then I did my PhD in food microbiology. I put those two things together and that’s how I started working in this fresh produce food safety field. And so far it’s been a great ride and working with Extension has been a privilege and I thoroughly enjoy working with all of our Indiana stakeholders. 

Haley Oliver: 

Another thing we have in common is we’re first generation college students. And so I know when I started college, I started off as a communication major, that obviously didn’t work out. 

Amanda Deering: 

You had it all planned out. 

Haley Oliver: 

It was a big plan, but you have these things like university core curriculum, and I needed to take another biology class and that happened to be microbiology, and I fell in love with it. And that’s not common, I guess. But anyway, I wanted to stay connected to agriculture. Yes, did grow up in a production farm in Wyoming. And I think exposure, it’s interesting how you ran away from the human side. What intrigued me was the human pathogen side and how you could make this microbiology relevant, but to humans and that I still wanted to stay somehow connected to agriculture. So food microbiology is the sweet spot for being able to do that. 

Kate Young: 

The two discuss their journeys to Purdue University. 

Amanda Deering: 

I actually came to Purdue to work on plants, more plants. And as I started, I was like, “This just isn’t what I really wanted to do.” And food science just reached out to me, and I wasn’t really even familiar with the field of food science, but everything was so applied and there was so many job opportunities. And that’s what we always tell our undergrads, “Somebody’s always going to have to make food.” People need to eat. And just the opportunities to be in that field. And it worked. I could actually still work with bacteria, I could still work with plants and stay in that field of food microbiology. I think that’s how I came about. And again, it kept me connected to agriculture and it was just a natural fit. 

Haley Oliver: 

I needed a job. 

Amanda Deering: 

That too. 

Haley Oliver: 

We all eventually need one of those it turns out. I’d finished my degree at Cornell in food science. Good point on, what is food science and how do you find that? Because it can mean a lot of things at the surface, but it’s really a huge collection of disciplines from food production, processing, safety, chemistry, sensory. We have many disciplines within the house. But I didn’t have a plan, as many people, I think, finish their PhD still run into that, of the what next. When you have opportunities with industry, government or stay in academia. And I was operating under the philosophy that I’d give academia a try because you can always step away. So there was an opportunity here in 2010 to join the faculty and I was a lucky enough to be selected for that position. 

Kate Young: 

Amanda shares a common misconception on what exactly food science is and what food science researchers really do. 

Amanda Deering: 

But I think people think food science like we cook. 

Haley Oliver: 

We cook. 

Amanda Deering: 

We do cook. 

Kate Young: 

Let’s dig in. What is food science? What do you think is the most important thing for people to know about it? 

Amanda Deering: 

What I love about food science, it’s what Haley just said, it’s chemistry, it’s microbiology, it’s engineering, it’s packaging. All this goes into making a food product. And so we are an interdisciplinary program and we have to be, and that’s the cool part to me. My office is next door to a chemist and then the next door down is an engineer. I love that. And so it’s not like we’re all just working on the same thing, but we all have our specialized areas and it all comes together then to help the food industry in general. 

Haley Oliver: 

And I think the piece of the discussion where food science is going to really play a role looking forward, is in sustainability. We have increasing population, we have climate change, how are we going to produce enough food and efficiently? Food science is a major part of that discussion. We look at how much is lost, how much is wasted from primary production, manufacturing, and retail level. I try not to have my house be the place where fruit goes to die, but it’s a risk. But how do we prevent that? And food science is a big part of that discussion. 

Kate Young: 

Haley has a few important questions there. As the earth’s population continues to grow and natural resources and climate conditions are reduced, feeding people is increasingly harder. I ask Amanda and Haley to dig further into food sustainability. See, it’s not just about the food, it’s about how the food is produced, distributed, and even packaged. A sustainable food system provides healthy food to people and creates sustainable environmental, economic and social systems that surround food. Tell us more about the food sustainability part and why that’s a key initiative within Purdue’s College of Agriculture. 

Amanda Deering: 

I think we’ve been talking about that for a long time. I think that’s on the College of Ag, that’s been on our radar for many, many years. It’s a growing population and we work with the people that are supplying the food for that population. And we need to have enough. Like Haley said, just thinking about efficiency and how we can reuse resources, I think since I’ve been in the college, that’s been key. 

Haley Oliver: 

It has. And I think that the narrative… I would say that the narrative on it has expanded to what sustainability means. If you look at agriculture here at Purdue, it ranges from small growers, specialty crops, which are displayed here, which are human consumption, all the way to commodity, corn, soybean and proteins, chicken and pork. We represent this massive continuum of agriculture. And so the strength of the college, faculty, staff, Extension here, is that we have expertise in that range. And so coming together, especially interdisciplinary like food science, like many of the departments here in the college, it takes that collected expertise to move the needle on more resilient crops, on better food processing. Food processing, that term even gets a bad rep, but we have to process food. This has all been processed by definition. We have to do that in order to actually achieve our sustainability goals. 

Amanda Deering: 

I think that’s what we always… At least when I work with stakeholders, I may not have the answer, but the College of Agriculture as a whole, like Hayley said, there’s experts all over, we can find that answer. And I think that’s always the cool part. It may not be exactly what I do, but I can find somebody in the college that can answer those questions. 

Haley Oliver: 

That’s how you get to be number three in the country, number five in the world. And on our way up, I do believe. 

Kate Young: 

Amanda and Haley discuss what they believe is the next big thing in food science. 

Amanda Deering: 

Alternative proteins, that’s the next big thing. And I think our department, we really are aligning ourselves to be a major player in that alternative protein space. We just got a new extruder that we can actually use to produce some of these alternative protein products. Think insects, soy, any of those products, and I think that’s the next… In my opinion anyway, that’s the next big thing in food science. 

Haley Oliver: 

And the space that we’re working in now is maybe integrated systems. One of our colleagues has a program looking at fruit and vegetable production and aquaculture. So how do you do nutrient cycling, energy cycling, life cycle assessment for those types of systems? Food safety, I think the way I boil it down and how it fits into the discussion of food security, sustainability, if it’s not safe, it’s not food, end of story. We can’t have our food doing harm from a chemical or microbiological standpoint. As we move into new foods, or it could be even cellular agriculture, so lab grown products, that still has to be safe. But we also need, as we try to increase and shift the narrative of what the American or Western diet looks like, more fruits and vegetables, those also have to be safe for us to actually achieve some of those nutritional outcomes. 

Kate Young: 

That Coperion extruder Amanda mentioned was donated by Hillenbrand in June 2023. It’s valued at more than $900,000 and will expand testing capabilities within that alternative protein food category you just heard about. It also provides Purdue students with hands-on opportunities. And speaking of students, I ask Amanda and Haley what it feels like leading the next generation of food science students and researchers at Purdue. 

Amanda Deering: 

That’s the exciting part. You are training that next person to go in the industry, to run the Kellogg’s, to run the Pepsis, to run the Nestles of the world. I still even work with a lot of students who want to go into small farming operations. That’s exciting too. Their dream is to farm in five acres and they’re going to do that. We’re here to help that. We do everything from the small scale up to these big corporate companies of the world. And I think that to me is exciting. 

Haley Oliver: 

It’s always fun to start off the fall by reading what parts of our lived experience the freshmen haven’t had. What year would they have been born this year? 

Amanda Deering: 

[inaudible 00:15:00] internet. 

Haley Oliver: 

We were probably in college. They’ve had the internet and we were in college, not good for anybody those years. But it’s a nice benchmark, I guess personally, who is your client? What do they know? What is their lived experience? What are they interested in? And sustainability we know is a big theme around what our current students are excited and interested in. And alternative proteins. If you’d rewind the clock, I think back to when we became faculty members, 10 years ago, that narrative was slightly different. Our students were headed for what I would call big food, but the bigger companies that are established, and I think Amanda made the point, the narrative’s changed. We still have students… We have 100% placement of our domestic students out of food science when you graduate within six months, you have a job. But the range of their jobs and what they’re doing has changed in the last 10 years. And I think the nice part about that, one, we have to change as a society, but it helps us keep up too. We’re not stuck. Food doesn’t let you be stuck in a space, I think. 

Amanda Deering: 

People in general, they want to know more about their food, they want to know the ingredients that are going in there, they want to know where it was processed. They’re asking those questions. And so that makes us then, have to step up our game to make sure that those consumers know that information. 

Kate Young: 

We’ve heard about food sustainability and how alternative proteins could transform our food system, but how is the research being done right here, at Purdue University, impacting the entire world? 

Amanda Deering: 

I think as part of what we do is get that information out and Haley and I do a lot of international work, and so it’s education, it’s doing trainings, it’s doing workshops, it’s working with different stakeholders and different industries throughout the world. And that’s how you do change it. Like she said, that’s how you move the needle, is getting that information and just being good at disseminating it. And I think, us as a college in general, we’re very good at that. 

Haley Oliver: 

We are, I think, a prime example of what a land grant university is and how it operates. And Amanda and I’ve had the pleasure of traveling all over the world to look at agriculture systems, food production systems, but what remains uniquely American, we’ll call it that, and the moral act is the creation of the land grant system. Where you bring together teaching, research and extension and engagement. So yes, you have the investment in the infrastructure to ask the hard questions that may not be funded otherwise. So how do you improve safety? How do you improve production, resiliency, breeding, all the way to forestry, obviously, here in the college. You can do that research, but it has to get to the end user, and that’s the importance of Extension. And of course, we’re the land grant of state of Indiana. So teaching, developing next generation investigators and employees. It’s what we do. And I think it, again, uniquely American, but I think one of the most important investments and pieces of policy that was ever written in this country. 

Kate Young: 

One example of how Amanda and Haley are spreading the word in their international work was helping to build a food technology department at a university in Afghanistan. And Haley is the director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety, which was established with the goal to improve food safety in Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nigeria, Kenya, and Senegal. We’ll hear more about this innovation lab later in the episode. Amanda is also currently working on the PERU-Hub project, part of a $15 million United States Agency for International Development Grant that involves helping farmers in Peru find alternatives to growing coca, the raw material for cocaine. Amanda and Haley discussed the economic side of food science and how that impacts food safety. 

Amanda Deering: 

Some of the work we’re doing in Peru is, they’re trying to change or make a shift from coca production that a lot of, especially this is in the Highlands of the Amazon jungle, they’re trying to get them away from coca production and turning to alternative crops. One thing that we’re doing, one, is to train them how to grow these crops safely, following good agricultural practices, but then also how to transform them into something they can actually make value selling, so they’re adding value to it. Instead of just selling cocoa beans, they’re going to turn it into chocolate. 

And so they’ve had some success already doing that, but we’re working on a lot of… Just trying to help them make more money. We’ll see, we’re in year two. We have a few more years left. But I think it’s things like that. Education is huge and people will do exactly what you train them to do, they just don’t know at the time what are some of those food safety issues. So I think that’s one thing that you and I have been doing for many years in different countries working with food manufacturers and growers and everything in between just to help improve food safety. 

Haley Oliver: 

I think you bring up a good point of what drives a lot of what people will do or what they can do. There’s no escaping the economics piece of it. If it doesn’t make financial sense, if changing a system of production or processing, if those costs can’t be either absorbed by the producer or transferred to the consumer, that’s going to be a barrier. As we work internationally, I think you see it too, that actually the biggest barrier to behavior change, which is what this is all about at the end of the day, is awareness. If we step outside of the United States, the vast majority of consumers and concerns are founded in what we call chemical hazards, pesticide residue, affluent toxins, things that are rightfully a concern, heavy metals as well. However, if we look at what the data say in the United States and globally, the greatest risk are microbiological hazards. 

Why do I think that is? You can see people apply pesticides, you can see application of some of these products, heavy metal, metal’s a tangible thing. Guess what’s not so tangible? Salmonella, you can’t see that thing very well unless it’s on a plate. And so without education, it becomes more leap of faith in a way, that you have some invisible thing on maybe produce X or in poultry that can actually do serious harm. Elevating awareness of what’s actually causing the vast majority of disease globally is hurdle number one, at least from my lens in that Food Safety Innovation Lab. 

Kate Young: 

Amanda shares an example of how something as simple as a training course can drastically improve food safety practices. 

Amanda Deering: 

When we worked with a company in Chicago that was importing saffron from Afghanistan, and so they were rejecting about half of the shipments because they were all contaminated with human pathogens, E. coli, salmonella, things like that. What we did was actually go and train their workers. So it was their harvest crews and the people doing the processing. We train them, just to training, on good agricultural practices and good manufacturing practices. In the following year they didn’t reject one shipment. So it just goes to show that training goes a long way, and it’s not that people don’t want to do the right thing. 

Haley Oliver: 

It’s awareness. 

Amanda Deering: 

They’re not aware what the right thing is. 

Haley Oliver: 

As long as it’s economically viable. 

Kate Young: 

Another interesting takeaway from their trainings in other countries, such as Peru and Afghanistan, include the importance of gender representation in food production. Amanda and Haley expand on this. 

Amanda Deering: 

We’ve really worked hard to include women in indigenous populations with the trainings that we do. They are like sponges. They just want to learn. We’ve worked with a lot of chocolate manufacturers in that area, and it’s very interesting to see other developmental projects have been around there and help them get to where they are now. But it’s very interesting, they all produce exactly the same looking chocolate bar, the same recipe, the same packaging. So we’re working on the marketing side to help them make a fancier package that you can- 

Haley Oliver: 

How do you differentiate? 

Amanda Deering: 

Be different. And so I think that’s been the cool part, just working with that and literally just trying to figure out what are some new products we can make. So we have people working at Purdue in food science, how to turn passion fruit into something that’s not currently in their market. So we’ve been working with students to do passion fruit butter. What can they make that’s different and new that even the Peru people would support and purchase those products, or could it be for exports? Both of those things have been probably the most interesting and fun part of that project. 

Haley Oliver: 

I forgot, as I do, as I age here. Gender, it’s a big part of the innovation lab as well. And why do we think about that? It’s because in many cultures, women make the decisions around food and even production or a big part of production. If they haven’t been included in the discussion or continuing education, you’re leaving out the labor force and deciders, and that’s not how you move the needle. 

Kate Young: 

I would’ve never thought about that. 

Amanda Deering: 

That’s how Afghanistan was too. When we started working there, we were training all men. Yet the men did not grow any of the food they didn’t harvest any of the [inaudible 00:24:53]. 

Haley Oliver: 

Or cook any of the food. They ate the food. 

Amanda Deering: 

They ate the food, but yet that’s who we were training. And so during that project time, we increased the number of women about 80%. We were doing then women only training. And that was when you could really have those discussions with women, because if they were in a group with men that were present, they wouldn’t talk. They wouldn’t say anything. But when they were by themselves, they would ask questions, they were involved, they were engaged. And so that’s a huge part, targeting that right population, and in most countries, it’s surprising the amount that women do related to food. 

Kate Young: 

Part of fully understanding the global food system and moving the needle, as Haley said, is being able to visit these countries for in-person trainings and programs. Amanda and Haley discussed the importance of studying abroad within the food science department and the ample opportunities Purdue provides for students. 

Amanda Deering: 

When we’re in the classroom, we tell these stories, we talk about what we do in these countries. And I teach this, it’s for incoming freshmen, just women in agriculture class. It’s their first semester at Purdue, they’re in the College of Ag, there’s usually about 40 some women in there. And the first thing I do is say, “You need to do a study abroad. Here’s how you apply for the scholarships for the study abroad. And here’s the places I’ve worked and what we’ve done.” And I think they’re all fired up to do, and I think most of our students in the department all do some sort of study abroad, most of them anyway. 

Haley Oliver: 

Pre-pandemic, I think, the College of Agriculture undergrads, it was almost 40% that study abroad. And I know we’re working hard to get students back to that level, because it is important to have a more global perspective. We do not just live within the confines of Purdue, of Tippecanoe county of Indiana, or even the country. Getting out there, taking risk, helping people take that leap or what might be perceived as risk, help them get through that, I think is important. And I guess I would even say part of that, being first generation college students, we know what that first dipping your toe into academia looks like. So I haven’t forgotten. 

Amanda Deering: 

But it takes 45 minutes to an hour from the nearest Walmart. I grew up in the middle of nowhere. 

Haley Oliver: 

I’m with you. 

Amanda Deering: 

We didn’t grow up in a place where you went to India, you worked in Peru, you worked in Cambodia. That wasn’t our every day. 

Haley Oliver: 

This Wasn’t my plan either. It wasn’t on my radar. 

Amanda Deering: 

But that’s the opportunities that coming to a place like Purdue gives people, those opportunities are there. Whether you want to take them or not is up to you, but we certainly encourage everyone to take those opportunities and give it a try. 

Kate Young: 

But what would happen if people like Amanda and Haley weren’t doing this research at Purdue? What if they weren’t visiting these various countries and doing these trainings? Well, it could result in truly worst case scenarios, people getting extremely sick and even dying. The two researchers discussed the listeriosis outbreak of food poisoning across 28 US states that resulted from contaminated cantaloupes in 2011. 33 people died and there were 147 cases confirmed in the aftermath. It was the worst foodborne illness outbreak in America measured by the number of deaths since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began tracking outbreaks back in the 1970s. 

Amanda Deering: 

We had the outbreak with the cantaloupe and salmonella that devastated the industry. And the industry basically as a whole said, “We need someone at Purdue that does produce food safety”. And that’s how my job came about. And so I’d like to thank anyway that our growers in Indiana would have… They wouldn’t have that support. 

Kate Young: 

They’d have more risk. 

Amanda Deering: 

There’d be more risk and less support because we’ll do anything with them. We come out and do farm visits, we work one-on-one with them. If there’s some research that they want, like looking at a new sanitizer treatment, we’ll do that research for them, do those experiments to see how well this sanitizer kills bacterial pathogens or not. We try to be everything to the industry that we can be. And so I guess I would like to think there’d be more risk if we weren’t doing what we do. 

Haley Oliver: 

When I was hired at Purdue in 2010, I was hired as a primary teaching appointment, which was a big leap actually for me, coming from a background of sequencing genomes. But being able to teach and have that knowledge transfer piece, I think over time that that was something that I could do at least moderately well. But our opportunity, so where does Purdue benefit maybe from what we do or how are we reducing risk? Because we do so much research for development or international development and have both a very domestic presence and experience of what is going on here in the Midwest, but also in some of the remote corners of the world, in economies that are up and coming. We can bring those experiences together. Learned experiences in Indiana agriculture is translatable to production in Cambodia. There is translation there. But what we can then do with those experiences to bring back to the classroom, I think, makes us much more effective. 

So probably bottom line, the utilities in the classroom of true measurable difference, because that’s how we can really spend a lot of quality time with our clients as students and share or affect how they think about food safety going forward. 

Kate Young: 

Part of Amanda and Haley’s work within the food science department at Purdue is tied to prevention. Amanda works with Purdue Extension to prevent things like that 2011 tainted cantalope case from ever happening again. The two expand on this notion of prevention through education. 

Amanda Deering: 

Like I say, we always try to be the one-stop shop. And so you come to us. We always say, “This is our job. This is what we get paid to do, use us.” And we do trainings, so we train a lot of growers in good ag practices. And that last thing we always say is, “This shouldn’t be the last time we talk.” Really, we’re a resource and they take us up on it, which is great. We just keep going. We just pray we have no outbreaks. Produce in Indiana, that’s our- 

Haley Oliver: 

That’s the thing. Amanda works in a preventive space. We try not to have reactions to contamination. And that’s really at the heart of everything you do with growers. 

Amanda Deering: 

Through education. Prevention through education, it’s a lot of it. 

Haley Oliver: 

And if you look at foodborne disease trends for the last 10 to 15 years, it does look like that produce has really increased in the number of outbreaks. That may be true, but it also is complicated by the fact that our technology for detection, time to detection, ability to define an outbreak, has improved dramatically through technologies like whole genome sequencing. Have the problems always been there? Probably, but does it look like we’re having, whether it’s emerging pathogens, emerging disease associated with produce? 

I remember, in a grant review of mine, we had a vested interest, submitted a USDA proposal several years ago, a lot of years ago, like 12, that was proposing to update the likelihood of listeria, which is a pathogen I’ve worked on for a lot of years, listeria monocytogenes and produce. One of the comments from the reviewers back literally said we were on a witch hunt. That was nice to see as a new faculty member, you’re like, “So we’re crazy. Good.” And then what happens in 2011? Cantaloupe is at the heart of one of the most deadly listeriosis outbreaks in the country. And what do we see things changing over time? Not necessarily change, but because we have technology and more information and able to synthesize that information, we see that disease is attributed to produce. 

Amanda Deering: 

When Haley and I are both members of the Center for Food Safety Engineering that’s here at Purdue, and that’s really what the center does. We’re the microbiologists, but we work with engineers that they’re developing these new, better detection methods, again, it’s all how few bacteria can you detect and how quickly can you detect it? That’s [inaudible 00:33:18]. 

Haley Oliver: 

Fast time, time to detection. 

Amanda Deering: 

We’re the support team. We’re not the engineers. 

Haley Oliver: 

We’re the boots on the ground of the micro team. 

Amanda Deering: 

We help them test out what they design. But I think that is a partnership that has helped develop these detection methods for the industry. 

Kate Young: 

The Purdue Extension Food Safety Training Hub is located at the Vincennes University Agricultural Center near one of Purdue’s research farms. Amanda manages produce safety trainings there. She discusses how her boilermaker persistence ultimately led to the creation of Purdue Extension. 

Amanda Deering: 

This is where persistence gets you somewhere with the Food Safety Training Hub. I had this idea for years and years before, and I would work with all these growers, and I said, “If I just had a space where I could show this equipment, I could do these demonstrations with them, show them how to use this equipment, it would be fantastic.” And so it’s like the little mat at the barbecue, just kept it up. 

Haley Oliver: 

Like a sugar aunt. 

Amanda Deering: 

I just kept saying it, saying it, and saying it. And sure enough, [inaudible 00:34:28] what year was that, 2019? 

Haley Oliver: 

COVID years. 

Amanda Deering: 

The year before the pandemic. I think November. Before, so maybe 2018, because when all the stars aligned and we worked with VU, Vincent’s University, and they were building a building and it just worked out. And we got money through FDA and the Department of Health to build that facility. That’s one example of where persistence pays off, or being annoying, I don’t know. 

Haley Oliver: 

There’s a lot of words we could use. 

Amanda Deering: 

But I just kept saying it. And finally insisted, “Yes, we need to have this.” It’s an amazing space down there, we’ve worked with a lot of growers. We’ve hosted trainings from the North Central region, so the 13, 14 states that make up the North Central region have come there, regulatory people from FDA, their Department of Ag, their Department of Health, Growers, Extension people. We’ve hosted trainings there. This has been a great collaboration and something I’m very glad it happened and we’re very appreciative of our collaboration with VU. 

Kate Young: 

While Amanda focuses on prevention and leads efforts with the Purdue Extension, Haley focuses more on food safety and serves as the director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Safety. As you heard earlier in the episode, USAID awarded Purdue a $10 million grant to establish the Feed the Future Lab with the goal to improve food safety in Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nigeria, Kenya, and Senegal. And food safety is vital when it comes to the growing global population. Here’s Haley. 

Haley Oliver: 

I think the first thing we have to demystify is that it’s not a lab. It makes it sound like we have a facility, it’s not. And what it is, it’s a collective, researchers domestically in the United States and then their global university and industry partners coming together to work on food safety challenges, usually in a specific commodity or sub-sector of the food industry where they want to see improvements. And so, as director, I have the pleasure of directing and guiding the research portfolio for the Food Safety Innovation Lab, which is a US State Department investment in food safety. Why do we do that? Food safety ties back to food security. It’s a part of the fundamental definition of it, it has to be safe, nutritious, you have to have enough of it, it has to get to the population that needs it. And if it’s not safe, it doesn’t matter. 

So those four things coming together are really the foundation of the research that we work on. And the more we get into it, the more we continue to focus on awareness. This is a taxpayer dollar investment. And so what I care about is that we’re using it, one, for good, do no harm, but elevate awareness in the challenges that are the greatest, and in this instance, when it comes to food and food safety, it’s microbiology. 

As unfun and underwhelming as that might seem to many populations, bacteria are a big challenge. And so we invest in elevating awareness, which, to the long game, what does it do? You have more people that better understand the challenge, which can then fundamentally affect policy because in most instances that you have to have regulations and policy in order to affect some change. They’re called push-pull models, but on the industry or private sector side, you can have an interest in food safety because you’re trying to reach higher value markets. And so other people’s regulations may be stopped. That example with the saffron, you couldn’t import because it didn’t meet quality and safety standards. We work at that interface of US researchers partnering with in-country researchers, 14 US universities, 14 in-country universities and private sector partners coming together to work on my favorite topic, food safety. 

Kate Young: 

And microbiology was the class you fell in love with? 

Haley Oliver: 

It was. I had to work so hard in that class. I have my notes from it still. It was hard. It was a challenge, but you’re like, “This is fascinating.” Because they were unknown to me, and it was a little still leap of faith, if you will, until you got into the lab. Why active learning, experiential learning is so a big theme at Purdue and why we do it? Because I needed to see those. And it was, it was the biochemical test and memorizing all of that. If you asked me to memorize that today, it would take 16 years. But back then when it was all sharp and fresh, that was my joy, that was my love. Do we do it anymore today? No. All the joys died from that, but it was motivational at the time. It changed every decision I made about a career from there forward. I’ve got my green, Dr. Isaac, can’t forget. 

Kate Young: 

I asked Hayley what she’s most excited about as the director of this Innovation Lab, which her colleague Amanda and several other Purdue professors are part of as well. 

Haley Oliver: 

We have a lot of things that I can be excited about, but I think, one is that we began the Innovation Lab it became Purdue contracted, it’s in partnership with Cornell. We do things differently in our Innovation Lab, and I think part of it is because we are not lifers of international development. We’re relatively new to it, so we bring a different lens. We don’t have historical approaches, which I think actually contributes to our innovation. So it’s not just at Purdue, it’s not just at a single university like most innovation labs, we partner with Cornell, so we have joint management, which means we can tap into the resources of both institutions. Shocking. It’s a good idea to be able to bring that kind of bench to the table. I like that we do things differently. 

We started in August of 2019, which means we have done all of this work through a pandemic, and we’ve still been able to meet our goals, we’ve still produced meaningful research, but it’s about having the right partnerships, people that know how to navigate trans-Atlantic transpacific relationships. And oh my gosh, thank goodness for platforms like Zoom. 

Kate Young: 

Cornell is where you went to school, right? 

Haley Oliver: 

It is. 

Kate Young: 

So what is it like working hand in hand with your alma mater? 

Haley Oliver: 

It’s a lovely thing. It’s the land-grant university of New York as well. And so we have common goals. And when I look… I don’t have any hard facts for you, but if we look at the distribution of agriculture in New York and Indiana, they’re different. And I think it contributes to a non-competitive space. Our colleges are different, but so complimentary. And I suppose we joke, but not really, why did we include them on their team so they wouldn’t compete? No, bring together to the most influential, productive colleges of agriculture together. Why not? It’s just good resource management, but also joy. Faculty that I knew as a student to be able to then work in a relationship with them as colleagues, there’s just no better joy. And I think, like most things in agriculture, it’s a lot about who and who’s in your network. And I think communicating that to our students is so important. 

Kate Young: 

The team members of the Food Safety Innovation Lab have experience in more than 25 countries tackling health and food safety issues. And Haley explained we can have nutritious food and get it to the population that need it, but if it’s not safe, that food security piece is lost. Purdue’s College of Agriculture is one of the world’s leading colleges of agriculture, food, life and natural resource sciences and research being done right here in the heart of Indiana is helping feed the world 

Haley Oliver: 

World food prize winners. 

Amanda Deering: 

That’s true. We have two world food prize winners. That’s kind of the Nobel Prize in the food world. And we have two of them in the College of Agriculture. And again, most of it was how to transport- 

Haley Oliver: 

Innovation and food. 

Amanda Deering: 

How to transport food better, how to grow different varieties better. 

Haley Oliver: 

I think that’s part of the legacy of the College of Agriculture, to your point, on alternative proteins and in joint interest across many colleges, but primarily agriculture and engineering. We have an increased interest and definitely an increased presence in what’s called cellular agriculture. So cell based, I hate to call it lab grown, because it’s not much of lab, it’d be food processing really. But how do we grow more food using different food systems because protein demand is going to remain the challenge? I don’t see it at odds with our traditional conventional agriculture because the number of the inputs that we already produce are going to be inputs into systems like cellular agriculture. Purdue’s at the edge of the next thing, but also has this amazing track record of how we continue to get to do the next big thing. 

Amanda Deering: 

But I think we’re always encouraged too, through different funding opportunities within the college, we’re encouraged to try new things and look for different solutions just from the college in general. So I think it’s a very supportive atmosphere. 

Haley Oliver: 

It is, and you can see this across the university, but our commitment to innovation that’s rooted in the College of Agriculture, very much a part of how we operate as well. It’s valuing that like we value fundamental research or excellence in teaching, and Extension is a great thing. And I think it sets Purdue apart from a number of institutions of our land grant colleges, where we put innovation really as a part of our thread, as a part of what we value. 

Kate Young: 

That’s what this research series is all about. And speaking of innovation, there’s a reason Purdue has been named in the top 10 most innovative schools in the US for five years running. Amanda and Haley reflect on the boilermaker community and what persistence means to that. 

Amanda Deering: 

The whole boilermaker spirit is you don’t give up, you find a way. I do believe if there’s a will, there’s a way. It might be a weird path and it might not look like a traditional path, but if you want to do it, you can do it. And I think, at least in our department and the College of Ag, we are encouraged to find that path. And if you have an idea, go for it. And I think that’s what persistence, to me, is. Don’t accept the failure until it’s really a failure, because you can fix a lot of stuff. 

Haley Oliver: 

We break some stuff. I think the value, again, comes back from the strength in our diversity of the topics that are so deeply researched here at the level of commitment that faculty staff have. It’s kind of surreal. Doesn’t mean academia always lives like the private sector, but it’s a really special place. And it is because of that diversity of thought, diversity in what we study that allows the overcoming hurdles to not seem so challenging. Yes, we persist. Yes, we’re resilient, but it comes from the strength of the network 

Amanda Deering: 

And you bring up staff. I think we have some amazingly dedicated staff. And a lot of what we do, we couldn’t do it on our own. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I do think, at least in the College of Ag, it is almost a family atmosphere, in our department, things like that, for the most part, people are very supportive of each other. And like I said, that’s part of the reason why I wear Purdue shirts when I travel around. I want to meet those other boilermakers out there and talk to them and hear their experience. And I love when they’re like, “Food science? Does that mean you cook?” And then I get to have that conversation of what food science really is. So it’s just a good opportunity to connect. I don’t know, it means a lot. And just going out in the state, the alumni that we have are amazing. 

Haley Oliver: 

38,000 living alumni from the College of Agriculture 

Amanda Deering: 

[inaudible 00:46:36] demonstrates that. You tell people that and they just are shocked at how much money can be raised. And that’s just because there is that Purdue spirit. It’s amazing. 

Haley Oliver: 

Because people genuinely benefited from their investment or time here. We’re relevant. And I think keeping all three of our missions relevant has to be one of our major focuses. Because then it makes the return on it just so much more enjoyable and easier. 

Amanda Deering: 

But I think the administration is very supportive of all three missions. It’s not like one is put ahead of the other, everything is important. It’s like all the teaching rewards you received and is well deserving, but that’s celebrated just as much as any recent award you got or Extension award, I think it’s excellent. 

Haley Oliver: 

I will say at least personally, I feel valued here. 

Kate Young: 

For Amanda, she got her PhD from Purdue and has been here for almost 20 years now. Here’s what Purdue means to her. 

Amanda Deering: 

I was from an agricultural world. I grew up in a farm, small town. I spent however many years in a lab, doing research on my degrees. 

Haley Oliver: 

In the dark with no sunlight. 

Amanda Deering: 

No sunlight. But then I came back. So when I came here to do my PhD, and especially after I graduated, I came back to agriculture. I think it was always destined to happen. It’s like I almost tried to get away from agriculture in a sense, but then it just pulled me right back in. And so it’s totally been a pleasure working with all the growers throughout the state. We go around and give talks. I love going to meet alumni. Even when I travel internationally, I almost always wear a Purdue shirt and it is amazing. I think pretty much every country I’ve been in, someone will come out to me and say, “I did my undergrad at Purdue.” I was even in India, in Bangalore, and was invited, they found out I was there and was invited to do alumni event, because it was a whole bunch of computer science, because Google has a- 

Haley Oliver: 

Major hub. 

Amanda Deering: 

… major hub there. And it was all these computer science grads from Purdue, and it was this huge… Just tons in this restaurant, but Purdue banners everywhere. And I was the guest speaker. I was like- 

Haley Oliver: 

Oh Lord, what did you say? 

Amanda Deering: 

[inaudible 00:49:00]. But it’s amazing how wherever you go in the world, you’ll find somebody who has a connection to Purdue. And I think that’s truly the cool part of being… And especially in the college bag. 

Kate Young: 

Haley agrees and wears her Purdue apparel proudly, especially on those long travel days. 

Haley Oliver: 

I’ve definitely taken notes from you on wear more Purdue Magic. One, it’ll get you out of a bind. People remember, or definitely believe you when you’re a professor or teacher, they’re like, “I could see that.” Because you’ve got the credentials on you, which is helpful, but I don’t know how many times, and I’m an aisle seat sitter, Amanda, we have some frequent flyer miles these days, of how many times you’ll be just at the edge of sleep, because you’re exhausted and you’ll just hear, “Boiler up.” And you’re like… It’s lovely. It really is. 

Amanda Deering: 

That is true. 

Haley Oliver: 

It never feels far from the Midwest? 

Amanda Deering: 

Nope. 

Kate Young: 

And what are Amanda and Haley’s next giant leaps? 

Amanda Deering: 

In the food safety world? I think some of what we do, it is preventative, but we’re also responsive to what the next thing is. Food is ever… It’s changing all the time. And I think what we always have to do is just keep up with those trends and stay on top of that, listen to what the industry wants, what consumer wants, and we have to then modify what we do to answer that demand. I think my next giant leap is just listen. 

Kate Young: 

I love that. 

Amanda Deering: 

And see what I have to do to help our stakeholders, help our students and help the people of Indiana. 

Haley Oliver: 

I think really staying relevant, that’s key. And it does happen through listening for sure, but from multiple angles, like you mentioned, private sector, industry, but also the consumer. If you produce something that nobody wants to buy, it doesn’t matter. I think from a researcher science perspective, two things on my mind. One is, the Food Safety Innovation Lab is a five-year contract, and I’d love to see that reach 10 years. And I think we’ve positioned, we’ve demonstrated we can work in some challenging conditions like a pandemic. We’re also the leaders among the Innovation Labs in minority serving institution engagement. That’s probably the one thing that I am the most proud of about what we do, is not only do we focus on gender and getting information to the deciders in developing economies, but domestically, we have made sure that we are bringing along our institutions, that are also land grants, that may not have historically had the same opportunities that large institutions like Purdue has had. So I’m committed and excited about exploring how to keep moving in that direction with the Innovation Lab. 

And then the other, we were putting together a big team or there’s a lot of momentum building around, you can call it alternative proteins, but my specific interest is in cellular agriculture. Again, I don’t see it as competition for commercial or traditional food systems, but yet a new food system. And while a lot of the investment has been done through venture capital private sector, there is a spot for academia at the table because you’ll have your regulators, you’ll have your innovation drivers, but academia has the unique space of sitting in between where we can explore the safety, we can explore nutrition, we can explore sustainability, efficiency, how we use commodities that we already have. How do we make that a truly viable food system that consumers accept? There’s so many questions around that emerging system. I’m excited about it. There’s not too many, I think, jobs in the world that allow you to engage with a new food system. 

Amanda Deering: 

It is scale too. We work with emerging food entrepreneurs that they’re just starting out to the big industry and everybody has a place at the table. I think we’re really going to tackle sustainability and making sure that we can feed this growing population. 

Kate Young: 

Remember, if you want to check out our unique interview set up with Amanda and Haley, head over to our podcast YouTube page, youtube.com/@ThisIsPurdue. And if you are curious about picking out that perfect fresh produce at the grocery store, we have exclusive bonus content on our podcast YouTube page where Amanda and Haley dive into food quality at grocery stores. Be sure to stay tuned for our additional Purdue research series episodes. We’ll be dripping two more out throughout August and September. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts so you never miss an episode. This is Purdue is hosted and written by me, Kate Young. At this special podcast shoot for our second Purdue research series episode our videography was led by Ted Shellenberger in collaboration with Jon Garcia, Thad Boone and Zack Robinson. We also had production assistance from Delani Young, Carly Eastman and Sophie Ritz. 

Our social media marketing is led by Ashlee Shroyer and Maria Welch. Our podcast photography is led by John Underwood and Rebecca Robinos. Our podcast design is led by Caitlyn Freeville. Our podcast team project manager is Emily Jesalitis. Our podcast YouTube promotion is managed by Megan Hoskins and Kirsten Boris. Our podcast research is led by Sophie Ritz and we had additional writing help from Joel Meredith. Thanks for listening to This is Purdue. For more information on this episode, visit our website at purdue.edu/podcast. There you can head over to your favorite podcast app to subscribe and leave us a review. And as always, Boiler Up! 

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