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May 27, 2021
By Fred MillerU of A System Division of Agriculture@AgNews479
Download related PHOTOS: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmVNT1eS
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Jennifer Acuff is making a three-tiered effort to ensure food
gets from the farm to the kitchen without contamination.
Acuff joined the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and Dale Bumpers
College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences right in the middle of the COVID-19
pandemic. She is an assistant professor of food microbiology and safety in the department
of food science.
She has appointments as an assistant professor in the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment
Station and the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture’s
research and extension arms, and a teaching appointment in Bumpers College.
“My appointments in research, extension and teaching are very close in terms of percentage,”
Acuff said. “It is meant to create a very integrated program”
“Food science is an ideal place for such similar appointments,” said Jeyam Subbiah,
food science department head. “We want results from Dr. Acuff’s research to be immediately
applied to the food industry through her extension efforts, and also she teaches students
about this very important area.
“She is an excellent teacher,” Subbiah said, “and has been very flexible, coming on
board in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and having to change everything we do
in order to adapt. She pulled it off exceptionally well, to manage her classes and
build a research program.”
Acuff earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Abilene Christian University and
a master’s degree in food microbiology from Kansas State University. She earned a
doctorate in food safety and microbiology from Virginia Tech University in 2020.
She has research experience in food safety, working in areas related to beef, ready-to-eat
foods and low-water activity foods.
Acuff’s research primarily focuses on intervention technologies designed to reduce
pathogen contamination in post-harvest foods. She investigates strategies to improve
fresh and processed food safety and protect products from microbial contamination.
She is currently focusing on microbial contamination in low-moisture food products,
including such things as spices, nuts, dry fruits and powders.
“Low-moisture foods are often overlooked,” Acuff said. “Low-moisture environments
don’t promote bacterial growth. It’s rare, but it does happen.” She cited two cases
— one in peanut butter and another in dry infant formula — that led to recalls and
“It’s a huge deal to make sure dry foods are safe,” she said.
“The Food and Drug Administration says all foods are susceptible to contamination,”
Acuff said. “So, we are investigating what we can do to reduce the risks and how to
prove it works.”
Acuff is currently working on an industry grant-funded project to investigate Salmonella contamination in dairy powders. “I’m looking for routes of contamination and how
long the bacterial pathogen survives. Also, what solutions are available to destroy
She is also searching for effective surrogate bacteria. These would be harmless bacteria
that otherwise behave like Salmonella. They could be introduced into a company’s production
line to verify that detection and inactivation systems are working properly.
Acuff wants to take her research results directly to the food industry, she said.
Also, she will be able to help companies find potential problems in their food processing
systems and take successful action to make their products safe.
“My extension work will focus on consultation and in-plant research to help companies
identify, mitigate and document risks of contamination,” she said.
“We’re doing applied research that can help the food industries,” Acuff said, “and
also to engage our local communities on food safety issues.”
Acuff’s classroom will help prepare students for food safety jobs in the food industry
and prepare the next generation of food safety scientists. She is already teaching
food microbiology lectures and related labs.
“There are many students from other academic programs besides food science,” Acuff
said. “They come from pre-health programs and other disciplines for which food safety
education is important.”
Acuff is also developing an online master’s degree program in food safety.
“The aim is to help people be better educated about food safety, at home as well as
in the industry,” she said.
To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural
Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uark.edu. Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch.
To learn about extension program in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension
Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative
Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas
System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity,
sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran
status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative
Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
Media Contact: Fred MillerU of A System Division of AgricultureArkansas Agricultural Experiment Station(479) firstname.lastname@example.org