Food safety scientists honored for commitment to lab safety, too

Chancellor Gary May and CA&ES Associate Dean Patsy Eubanks Owens (center) join Linda Harris and her team to celebrate their award.
Chancellor Gary May and CA&ES Associate Dean Patsy Eubanks Owens (center) join Linda Harris and her team to celebrate their award.

Turns out, UC Davis food safety expert Linda Harris and her team also excel in lab safety. Harris, chair of the Department of Food Science and Technology, recently received a Safety Services Lab Safety Award by the UC Davis Chemical and Lab Safety Committee

The faculty-led group honors campus labs with a strong commitment to safety procedures.

“Every time we run an experiment, we think about what the hazards are and how to handle them safely,” said Vanessa Lieberman, a laboratory assistant in Harris’ lab who serves as one of the safety “gatekeepers” along with staff researcher Anne-Laure Moyne. 

The Harris lab focuses on microbial food safety in fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. The lab examines how various pathogens survive in foods such as basil, lettuce, onions, almonds, walnuts and pistachios. The biosafety organisms they work with can cause infections in humans and animals. 

Lab personnel conduct a dry run of any new experiment without the pathogens to make sure they will be handled correctly and to identify potential issues. Lieberman also trains nearby labs on how to handle medical waste and biohazardous organisms. She has implemented a department-specific training class on biosafety to help others understand the risks. 

“People are often less concerned about safety when it comes to biosafety than with chemicals or toxins,” Lieberman said. “But the things that you’re working with can be deadly. And if it’s not you who gets sick, it could be your family or neighbor or pets.”

Chemical and Laboratory Safety Committee is charged with continuously improving and fostering the safety culture at UC Davis. The committee evaluates the campus programs, policies and procedures for the safe acquisition, storage, use and disposal of chemicals.

For a full list of winners, see lab safety awards.

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