UACES Facebook Food safety heavy hitters to converge on northwest Arkansas for annual conference
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Food safety heavy hitters to converge on northwest Arkansas for annual conference

Aug. 24, 2023

By Nick Kordsmeier
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Fast facts:

  • Annual conference connects students, researchers, industry to boost collaboration
  • USDA FSIS under secretary for food safety will speak on regulatory updates
  • Registration for the event is open on the AAFP website

(927 words)

Download file photo of Jennifer Acuff

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — With sessions on blockchain, farm-to-fork pet food and “Between the Bun” — a look at food safety in plant-based meats — the 15th annual Arkansas Association for Food Protection conference Sept. 26-28 at Fayetteville will showcase food safety innovation and research.

Jennifer Acuff wearing lab coat and holding pipette in lab
FOOD PROTECTION — Jennifer Acuff, assistant professor of food microbiology and safety, is president of the Arkansas Association for Food Protection. AAFP's 2023 conference is the association's 15th annual meeting to gather food safety professionals and academics from across the U.S. to boost collaboration in the food industry. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Fred Miller)

“We have some of the biggest hitters in the field coming,” said Jennifer Acuff, president of AAFP and assistant professor of food microbiology and safety for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Acuff said this year’s conference speakers include representatives from the food industry, consulting and innovation companies, regulatory agencies and academia.

“The Arkansas Association for Food Protection annual meeting is an educational conference,” Acuff said. “It’s meant to bring the food industry in Arkansas and neighboring states together with researchers from all over the country to try to boost activity and collaboration in the food industry.

“We have a huge, huge food industry here just in our backyard,” Acuff said.

The conference begins with a welcome reception and research poster competition the evening of Sept. 26 at the Don Tyson Center for Agricultural Sciences, 1371 W. Altheimer Dr., in Fayetteville.

The conference continues the next day at the Fayetteville Town Center, 15 W. Mountain St., and features a series of talks grouped into themed sessions: “Setting Standards” and “Advances in Pet Food Safety” on Sept. 27 and “Food Safety Regulatory Updates” and “Looking into the Future of Food Safety” on Sept. 28.

From regulatory agencies, Acuff said that Under Secretary for Food Safety José Emilio Esteban with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will provide an update from the USDA’s Office for Food Safety.

Food industry speakers like Tina Rendon of Pilgrim’s Pride and Michele Sayles of Diamond Pet Food will offer real-world insights on applying food safety practices and policies in diverse industries.

Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas, currently of Smarter FY Solutions, will discuss the role of leadership in food safety culture.

“It’s a really important meeting for collaboration, networking and learning a little bit about what might be going on in your backyard that you weren’t aware of,” Acuff said.

A complete agenda for the event is available on the AAFP website.

Acuff is a faculty member of the food science department with the Division of Agriculture and the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas. She is affiliated with the Division of Agriculture’s Center for Food Safety. Kristen Gibson, director of the center and professor of microbiology and food safety, is the vice president of AAFP.

Student opportunities abound

Undergraduate and graduate students are also encouraged to attend the event, Acuff said. “It’s also a really good opportunity for students, because if you know anything about the food industry, you know that there’s a job for everyone in the food industry.

“It’s incredibly multidisciplinary,” she said. “So, people from chemistry, biology, engineering, nutrition, sensory — there’s a place for everyone. And this is one of the best meetings you could possibly attend to understand what kinds of jobs might be right here in this area.”

Acuff noted that many students who have taken advantage of the conference’s networking opportunities have later connected with members of the food industry for jobs.

Students are also invited to participate in the poster symposium to present their food safety research to attendees. Students can enroll in the poster competition for a chance to win monetary prizes. Abstract submissions are due by Sept. 15. More details about the poster symposium are available on the AAFP website.

Registration details

Pre-registration for the event is not required but is strongly recommended. Acuff noted that attendees must be members of the AAFP to attend the conference. Dues for professional members are $25, while student dues are only $5. The cost to attend the conference is $200 for professional attendees and $135 for students.

“We really want to encourage people to put in the effort and the time to attend this meeting because it is incredibly worth it,” Acuff said.

“The Arkansas Association for Food Protection is an affiliate of the International Association for Food Protection,” she said. “It’s the biggest food safety organization in the world.”

But attending international meetings like those offered by IAFP often comes with a high price tag when travel costs are considered, Acuff said.

“This is an incredible meeting that brings some great science and great collaboration to attendees in and around Arkansas without the associated cost,” she said.

Registration for the event is open on the AAFP website.

Corporate sponsorship

Acuff noted that AAFP sponsors help make the annual meeting registration fees low.

Individual exhibitor booths can be purchased for $450, which includes the cost of the booth, a single conference registration and AAFP membership dues.

Corporate sponsors can support the AAFP at four different levels, each with associated benefits, including complimentary conference registrations, premium sponsor booths and sponsor recognition on the conference website and signage.

Gold and platinum level sponsors are given the opportunity to speak to conference attendees.

“You could give a brief 15-to-30-minute plug about a new technology or some new studies that you have been doing internally with your company,” Acuff said. “This is a really good way to get the word out about some of your innovations without having to try to submit it into a journal or get people to come to a webinar.”

More information about AAFP corporate sponsorship can be found on the sponsorship page of the AAFP website.

To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.

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.

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Media contact:
Nick Kordsmeier