Food Safety Pioneer

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If you have eaten a steak or a hamburger this week, it likely was produced under quality- and safety-control systems either initiated or implemented by Dell Allen, a former Kansas State University professor who retired in 2009 as vice president of quality assurance and safety for Cargill Meat Solutions. At Cargill, he was recognized as a food-safety pioneer, overseeing the development and implementation of numerous food-safety technologies that benefited not just Cargill but ultimately the entire meat industry.

Many of Allen’s colleagues call him a “giant” in the meat industry for his influence on students and his contributions to the modern meat industry. It was for his lifetime of achievements and his contributions to the livestock industries that Allen was recognized as Kansas Stockman of the Year by the Livestock and Meat Industry Council at K-State at a banquet in his honor. “I am honored and humbled to be recognized by this group,” Allen told the 250 people attending the event in Manhattan, Kan., earlier this year. He says he treasured his time at Kansas State and the many faculty and students he worked with over the years. He also recognized the contributions and support from his wife Joyce, whom he met while as a graduate student at Michigan State University.

Raised on a livestock and crop farm in southeast Kansas, Allen did not stray far from his roots when he headed to K-State, earning a BS in animal science in 1961. He continued his education at the University of Idaho, earning an MS in 1963 and a PhD in meat science from Michigan State University in 1966. He immediately returned to K-State where he directed the meat laboratory. From 1967 to 1979 he coached the meats judging team, winning two national championships. “I loved working with students,” Allen says. “Many of those kids from our judging teams went on to become leaders in the livestock industries and have had a significant impact on our food supply.”

Despite a busy teaching and coaching schedule while at K-State, Allen also led a research project that ultimately changed how beef carcasses are graded in America’s packing plants. As a result of having done a nationwide GAO survey on the accuracy and uniformity of the application of beef grades in 1977 and 78 and observing the error rates of application, Allen and Don Lenhert of the KSU electrical engineering department initiated a research project to develop the first prototype of a video image analysis instrument for grading beef carcass yield and quality grades. This initial project was funded by the KSU Livestock and Meat Industry Council.

Allen departed K-State in 1988 to join Excell Corporation in Wichita, Kan., later renamed Cargill Meat Solutions. As vice president of technical services and food safety, Allen was responsible for the company’s food-safety and quality standards for 20 plants and over 25,000 employees.

His leadership in food-safety issues, including serving on the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Advisory Committee and the industry-sponsored Beef Industry Food Safety Council, helped put Cargill Meat Solutions in the forefront of systems to improve food safety.

Former president of Certified Angus Beef Jim Riemann, who worked with Allen while he was at K-State and Cargill Meat Solutions, says, “Students were challenged and held accountable on commitments made in and out of the classroom. He was a constant source of encouragement.”

While at Cargill, Allen was responsible for coordinating the Total Quality Management program and other company training programs, as well as quality assurance for beef and pork. In the early 1990s, he led the adoption of hazard analysis and critical control point, a systematic preventative approach to food safety, long before it was a federal mandate.

His leader ship in food- safety research and technology made a real and measurable difference in reducing microbial pathogens in the meat industry, according to the American Meat Institute.

“Dell introduced, taught and promoted statistical process control to all management levels of Cargill’s fresh meat businesses with the goal of having superior product consistency,” Riemann says. “He succeeded.”

Allen’s leadership in food-safety issues, including serving on many commit tees throughout the beef industry, put argil in the forefront of systems to improve food safety which has been beneficial for consumers, the cattle industry and the meat industry. Allen was able to use his academic background and experience in teaching and research to be highly successful with Cargill. “He could inter-relate science with real livestock and meat-industry problems and challenges,” says former Kansas State food science professor Michael Dikeman. “He could ‘cut through the chaff ’ and focus on the important issues.”

Overall, Allen has been essential to the present s tat e of the meat industry and ha s taught many students that now help run it. Riemann says Allen trained and influenced a great number of industry professionals. “They are found at local, state and national levels in a wide range of agricultural organizations and businesses, providing sound judgment and excel lent leadership.”


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