History Still in the Making: IFSH Celebrates 35 Years at Illinois Tech
Thirty-five years ago, Darsh Wasan, then the interim dean for Armour College of Engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology, was approached by Fred Shank, who was the director of the United States Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and was in search of lab space in the Chicago area with pilot plant facilities.
At the same time, the FDA had an increasing interest in collaborating with academic and private institutions to combat food contamination and other threats to food safety. Wasan recognized this as a great opportunity for collaboration and set out to find a facility that would help them in conducting their research. The pieces began to fall together as CPC International (now Ingredion) was looking to sell its research facilities located at its Moffett Technical Center in Bedford Park, Illinois.
Wasan saw the great benefit that these facilities would be to the research efforts of the FDA and Illinois Tech, and connected with CPC International’s George Hoff, an Illinois Tech alumnus, to inquire about the possibility of CPC donating these facilities to Illinois Tech. The idea was brought to James Eiszner, the CEO of CPC at the time, who recognized the value of the collaboration and subsequently donated the facilities to the university.
Through a vigorous review process, the FDA awarded Illinois Tech a grant of $3.7 million creating the first FDA-funded center of excellence in September 1988, establishing the National Center for Food Safety and Technology.
Today, this research hub is known as the Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH) and is the only FDA center of excellence in the country that features a division of the FDA in the same building and collaborating with IFSH researchers and industry partners on important food safety and health questions. On April 12, 2023, IFSH celebrated 35 years of success as an institution, as a collaborator with the FDA and industry partners, and its impact on improving food safety and nutrition for all.
The evolution of food health and safety in the United States since 1988 highlights a thriving industry—but, as with any industry, still has its opportunities in the development of new innovation and technology. For IFSH, this will include continuing these developments to protect the consumer from exposure to potential food safety hazards along the entire life cycle of food.
Wasan retired from his role as vice president for international affairs at Illinois Tech in 2022 after 58 years of service. During his time at Illinois Tech, Wasan worked as a professor and held nearly every leadership position, including interim dean of Armour College, department chair, vice president for research and technology, and provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. His legacy and vision of securing FDA-funded research facilities for the advancement of food safety continues to live on at IFSH.
On September 1, 2022, Brian Schaneberg was appointed as the executive director of IFSH. Before joining the institute, Schaneberg worked as a director within the Global Food Safety, Quality, and Regulatory team at Starbucks Corporation.
Before coming to IFSH, Schaneberg had acquired more than 20 years of experience working in natural products and the food industry, with experience in food safety, quality, regulation, and science. He has also worked closely with trade groups, industry, academia, and government leaders as part of his goal to address important food safety and health challenges.
As executive director of IFSH, Schaneberg keeps this same goal in mind, asserting that ensuring safe and nutritious food for people is of the utmost importance. Since the inception of IFSH, Illinois Tech, the FDA, and external collaborators have authored more than 600 publications to date.
“Through translation research and the assessment of new technologies, there is a better understanding of how some potential bacterial, chemical, and physical food safety hazards move through a specific supply chain,” says Schaneberg. “There have also been significant regulatory updates to the U.S. food safety system with the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, with prevention as the top focus.”
While these factors play a large role in how food safety researchers understand what makes safe and nutritious food, Schaneberg emphasizes that the collaboration with the FDA has helped advance food safety prevention practices.
“The collaborative research agreement with the FDA is of the utmost importance to IFSH and the university,” Schaneberg explains. “The research consortium between FDA, Illinois Tech, and the food industry is a proven collaborative model for improving public health and reducing disease risk through science. Having the FDA Division of Food Processing Science and Technology co-located allows IFSH researchers to work side-by-side with their FDA colleagues. This also allows our industry partners to engage and propose areas of research that benefit all.”
As students, faculty, and staff of the institute and university reflect on the accomplishments and advancements of IFSH on its 35th anniversary, Schaneberg is also looking toward the future of this institution and food safety overall. He sees many opportunities to continue sustainable practices and expand collaboration.
“We must continue the great collaborative nature of working to help ensure safe and healthy food,” he says. “As sustainability in packaging and agriculture grows, we must understand how this will impact the growing, harvesting, and packaging practices of food. Building a campus for the future that creates an experiential learning and training experience designed to give hands-on education to the south and west regions of Chicago and its collar counties will help build the next generation of food safety and nutrition experts, in support of one of the Illinois Tech missions to help lift students from families in the bottom 20 percent of income to the top 20 percent.”