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Steven Ricke, microbiologist and food safety expert, named director of Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery program at UW–Madison

The University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) has named Steven Ricke as the new director of the college’s Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery (MSABD) program, which is housed within the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences. The program involves research, teaching and outreach in the areas of meat science, food safety, and the discovery of animal biologics.

Ricke comes to CALS from the University of Arkansas, where he was hired as a professor of food science in 2005. At that time, he was named director of the university’s Center for Food Safety and designated the inaugural Donald “Buddy” Wray Endowed Chair in Food Safety. Considered a leader in the field of microbial food safety in poultry, Ricke is well-known for his research exploring how Salmonella and Campylobacter survive in food animals on the farm and during processing as well as interventions to reduce the risk these foodborne pathogens pose to consumers.

“I have always been motivated to apply a vision of interfacing fundamental academic science with agricultural industry interests to develop cutting edge research that has immediate practical applications or helps address urgent needs of the industry,” says Ricke. “My vision for the MSABD program is to continue developing it into a world-class program that utilizes our first-rate research facilities to conduct innovative research to help solve practical problems.”

Ricke’s responsibilities as MSABD director include assessment, strategic guidance and oversight of the research, teaching and outreach efforts of the program. He is eager to develop collaborations—across CALS, UW–Madison and the meat industry— that utilize UW–Madison’s research expertise to enhance meat products and discover molecules from meat animals that can be used to improve human and animal health. Other priorities include recruiting highly talented students and postdoctoral researchers and providing training to industry professionals, to help ensure the industry has the leaders and personnel needed for the future.

This is an important time for the MSABD program, which is currently in the process of moving into a $60 million state-of-the-art facility. The new building will enable the program to expand and explore more avenues of innovation—including new processing technologies, novel meat products, and biological compounds derived from animal processing—to help open new commercial markets for the meat industry. One of the key features of the new building is a Biosafety Level 2 processing facility, which will allow industry to test pathogen control measures directly on carcasses as they are being processed.

“We will be able to use this facility to rapidly respond to the urgent needs of the industry. This includes using the facility to ‘beta test’ new meat processing technologies, pathogen detection systems, or pathogen intervention strategies that the industry is considering,” says Ricke. “One of my top priorities is to get familiar with the research being conducted in the program and simultaneously get to know the meat industry in the state—and begin to develop potential matches between the research being conducted and the needs of the meat industry.”

Ricke, a microbiologist and food safety expert, plans to continue his research program at UW, which focuses on foodborne pathogen ecology—from farm to processing plant—and the genetic mechanisms employed by pathogens to survive in these highly variable environments. His research looks at a variety of pre-harvest factors, including how prebiotics can reduce pathogen levels in an animal’s gut, as well as multiple post-harvest factors including microbiome mapping of the microbial community inside meat processing facilities. While his research program has focused on poultry, Ricke plans to expand it to other food animals at UW–Madison.

“We are extremely excited about bringing an internationally recognized food safety expert like Steve Ricke to UW–Madison,” says Kent Weigel, chair of the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences. “He is an incredibly prolific scientist, and he has been a leader in integrating new technologies into his research program, which has had a significant and widespread impact on the safety of food production systems in the U.S. and abroad. Steve will bring tremendous energy, enthusiasm, experience, and vision to MSABD, and his proven ability to develop impactful relationships with a broad array of research collaborators and industry partners will serve our stakeholders very well in the coming years.”

Ricke grew up on a dairy and grain farm in Illinois and received his bachelor’s degree in agriculture and his master’s degree in ruminant nutrition from the University of Illinois. He received his doctoral degree from UW–Madison, where he completed a joint major Ph.D. program in bacteriology and animal science in 1989. Ricke was a faculty member at Texas A&M University in the Department of Poultry Science before going to the University of Arkansas.

Ricke’s position starts on Oct. 5, 2020. The position was previously held by Dan Schaefer, who retired from his faculty position in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences in late 2019.