I first met Dave Theno in 1989 at a Microbiology Advisory Committee meeting sponsored by the Secretary of Agriculture. This was the group that published the first HACCP document, and we both served three two-year terms.

We had a lot in common both historically and philosophically. His father was a Marine Corps veteran; mine was Navy. His father was nicknamed “Bearcat”; my father was a Sam Houston State “Bearcat.” Both of us started our educations to become veterinarians but were more excited about food microbiology and food safety. Our microbiology mentors were good friends and respected colleges. His was Z. John Ordall, University of Illinois; mine, Carl Vanderzant, Texas A&M. These men molded our approach to the practical side of food microbiology.

At one of the micro committee meetings, the FDA was presenting its version of HACCP to the group. Dave and I always sat toward the rear and in close proximity to the exit (for a good reason). At the completion of the presentation, Dave nudged me and asked whether the FDA had presented the seven principles of HACCP. We agreed they had not and raised the question.

It was not well received and we were informed that the Verification Principle (No. 7) would be enforced through FDA inspection. Sometimes it does not pay to disagree with authority. That was our last committee meeting.
I suspect our term might have expired anyway.

We had many opportunities to serve together later on the National Livestock and Meat Board’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on E. coli O157:H7 after the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak and on the National Cattlemen’s Beef Industry Food Safety Council (BIFSCO). Dave was always prepared for any discussion and had a calm demeanor that allowed him to bring his point to the table. If there were opposing views, you knew he had won the debate when you saw his trademark cock-eyed grin.

When the National Livestock and Meat Board merged to become part of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Blue Ribbon Task Force began to lose its original identity. Many useful and effective means of combating E. coli O157:H7 were being researched and implemented, but Dave always said, “When you think it is safe, it is not safe enough.”

So at an International Livestock Congress meeting in Houston, Dave led a discussion with Mohammad Koohmaraie, Bo Reagan and myself (he liked to refer to us as the “usual suspects”) on how the industry could continue the effort to make food safer. Not unusual at the time, we were in the bar of the hotel. The results of the discussion were recorded by Dave on a bar napkin.

As a result of that high-level summit, Bo took the lead and created the very successful Beef Industry Food Safety Council that has sponsored a Safety Summit for the past 15 years. To our knowledge, Dave was still in possession of that napkin and had a slide made of it for some of his many food safety presentations. 

Dave had such a passion for food safety. The driving force for that passion was the loss of young lives because of unfortunate ignorance and gaps in the science of food safety. He carried a picture of one of the victims as a reminder. He also carried a BIFSCO pledge card that industry members signed in 2003. It reads: “As leaders in the beef industry, representing each link in the beef production chain, we reaffirm our commitment to further reduce the risks associated with foodborne pathogens by utilizing scientifically proven production practices and technologies. Our united goal is to produce, deliver and serve wholesome and safe beef for each and every family.”

I joined Dave as a Gray Dog Partner in 2008 and we had a client together from that time until his untimely and unfortunate death. Dave was smart, charming and respectful. He could party hard and work hard. He loved his family and had great respect for first responders and veterans. He loved animals, especially dogs and buffalo. He played golf bare-footed (pretty decent scores) and flew his own plane, and my daughter called him “Uncle Dave.” He strongly believed in backing every thing up with good science.

I have been asked several times “Who will take his place?” Easy answer — no one. I am fortunate to have known and worked with Dr. Log. Respectfully submitted, Ranzell “Nick” Nickelson II, a.k.a. Dr. Lincoln (another story for another time). NP

This article was originally posted on www.provisioneronline.com.