Robert G. Cassens, emeritus professor of meat and animal science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has received the Nicholas Appert Award from the Institute of Food Technologists. Cassens received IFT”s highest honor for advancing the field of food science through his research on the use of nitrite as a meat-curing agent, and for his defense of the safety of cured meat. He received the award July 24 at the IFT”s annual meeting in Chicago.
During his 33-year career at UW-Madison”s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Cassens worked to ensure that advances in research and technology were applied at the industrial and production level. Throughout his career, he has been a powerful advocate for the importance of sound science as a component of policymaking.
His early work dealt with the biochemical mechanisms of meat quality, leading to an understanding of how postmortem conditions could be used to control the quality of meat. He then turned to studies of how muscle growth occurs, the safety of nitrite-cured meat, and the importance of preservation activity.
Cassens is particularly well-known for his work on the use of nitrite as a meat-curing agent. During the 1970s, his efforts helped the meat industry to retain and continue to use nitrite as a preservative when concern was first expressed about the safety of nitrite-cured meats. His investigations clarified the mechanism of reaction of nitrite in cured meats, allowing regulatory agencies to make informed decisions about the safety of cured meats.
In the early 1990s, epidemiological studies linked cured meat to childhood cancer. Cassens surveyed the new generation of cured meats, showing an 80-percent reduction in residual nitrite compared with products in the 1970s.
The Nicholas Appert Award is the most prestigious award given by the 28,000-member IFT. It is named after a 19th-century French scientist employed by Napoleon who invented the process that led to modern canning. Other CALS researchers who have won the award include: Conrad Elvehjem, biochemist and later president of the UW, 1948; E.M. Foster of the Food Research Institute, 1969; E. J. Briskey, animal scientist, 1975; Elmer H. Marth, food microbiologist, 1987; and Owen Fennema, food scientist, 1988.
The IFT, founded in 1939, is a nonprofit scientific society whose members work in food science, food technology, and related professions in industry, academia and government.