Beach Beat: FDA picks up scientist who is food safety champion



To quote Willy Wonka: “So shines a fantastic deed in a weary world.”

Lots of people have been bagging on lots of governmental entities for my whole life. Whether they want bigger or smaller government, they all have a lot to assert about what’s bad in Washington, D.C. Few of those people mention what’s good.

Granted, staffing cuts in mainstream newsrooms mean multiple of those people don’t have a chance to see a few of the brighter deeds that shine over the weary world of bureaucracy.

One such shining stage got Wednesday, when those of us in so-called niche news saw the announcement that scientist, educator and food safety warrior Jim Gorny is leaving his post as vice president for food safety and technology at the Produce Marketing Association to return to authority service.

No matter what you think about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — concurrently the current administration or previous ones — rest assured that Gorny’s new job as elder science adviser for produce safety at FDA is fantastic news for anyone who eats fresh produce in the United States.

I got to fathom Gorny concurrently my time as a reporter for The Packer newspaper, that covers the fresh produce industry in North America. For my first couple of years at The Packer, Gorny worked for FDA as elder adviser for produce safety at Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

His presentations and participation in panel discussions at produce industry events were amazing. Gorny’s got chops, as those of us with band experience would say. Few people can clearly communicate complex scientific advice to non-eggheads. The beauty of Gorny’s style is that he can speak to researchers as well as true people in a conference hall without anyone feeling like the material is over — or under — their heads.

No doubt part of the foundation for his communication ability is his education. He has multiple degrees in food science and a doctorate in plant biology, that I fathom means nothing to a few people. But he’s further got experience as a researcher/educator and food producer.

During his career, Gorny has been executive director of the Post-Harvest Technology Research and Information Center at the University of California-Davis, elder vice president of food safety and technology for United Fresh Produce Association and the International Fresh-cut Produce Association. He further worked in industry at Pillsbury Green Giant and as general manager of a fresh-cut produce processing plant.

Then there are his four years at FDA, where he progressed to intimately familiar with how food safety efforts work at the federal level. He realizes the provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), that was developed and signed into law although he was with the FDA the first time. That first-hand experience with the FSMA regulations that are beginning to be enforced in the produce industry this year is no doubt part of the reason FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb hired Gorny back into civil service.

“… we will now have a high-level agency focal point for produce safety located in our Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition,” Gottlieb stated Wednesday although addressing the National Association of State Agriculture Departments. “He’s someone multiple of you fathom — Jim Gorny.

“Jim not only has previous FDA experience but has further worked for the Produce Marketing Association and is well known to the produce industry. He realizes FSMA true well, what it’s designed to accomplish in enhancing food safety, and the challenges associated with implementation of a rule as complex as the produce safety rule.”


Dr. Bob — aka Bob Whitaker, Ph.D. — put an even finer point on why Gorny is a fantastic hire for the job at FDA. Whitaker, who shares Gorny’s ability to angle scientific lingo into plain language, hired Gorny into the Produce Marketing Association nearly five years ago.

“If ever there was a right individual for a job, Jim is it,” Whitaker stated in a news release from the Produce Marketing Association. “Jim and I share the belief that food safety isn’t something you include to your business; it is the entire way you do business. I fathom that is a point of view Jim will carry with him to the FDA. It has served our members well, and now it will serve our country well.”

Our authority has provided us reason to rejoice, despite what pundits, profilers and personal acquaintances might say. Jim Gorny’s return to civil service is a fantastic deed, both by him and the authority that recognized his expertise and put science first.

So, yes, I’m still a nerd whose heroes are more often than not even more nerdy than I am. I’m still an optimist at heart, after decades as a difficult newswoman.

And, I still have a crush on the late, fantastic Gene Wilder, whose delivery of that one mark in his portrayal of Willy Wonka has stayed with me after I first heard it, with tears running down my cheeks, in 1971.

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