Office of Regulatory Science
Senior Policy Analyst
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
College Park, MD, USA
Field: Food Science
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne disease occur each year in the United States.” This alarming statistic is what Reginald W. Bennett is trying to decrease as senior policy analyst for the Office of Regulatory Science of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for protecting the public health. Within this government organization, he conducts research on and analyzes food involved in bacterial food poisoning. When asked to describe his duties, Mr. Bennett couldn’t help but to laugh when replying, “I can’t afford to run out of energy. Too many people are counting on me.” It is this light-heartedness in the face of grave responsibility that has kept his work refreshing and interesting after half a century.
More than 50 years ago, Reginald Bennett was sitting in class at the University of Pittsburgh, where he first gained knowledge of pathogens, and realized that he wanted a career in microbiology. Over the years, he has contributed his knowledge on food microbiology to each and every job. Starting as a medical bacteriologist for the Presbyterian Hospital of Pittsburgh, Mr. Bennett also served as a medical technologist and bacteriologist for Braddock General Hospital, a bacteriologist for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and an assistant professor of microbiology for Benedict University before becoming a microbiologist for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1960. His career vision statement, which reads “A good method renders more service to science than the elaboration of highly theoretical speculations,” reflects the philosophy that sound action and practice are the most effective tools in reaching a desirable outcome. In the future, he hopes to contribute to government regulations of food.
A member of the Institute of Food Technologists and the International Association for Food Protection, Mr. Bennett began his conquest of the field of microbiology in 1955 when he received a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from the University of Pittsburgh. Three years later, he earned a Master of Science in Microbiology, also from the University of Pittsburgh. He is a Fellow of The American Society for Microbiology, the American Academy of Microbiology and the Association of Official Analytical Chemists International.
Conversation with Reginald W. Bennett, MS, FAAM
Worldwide Publishing: On what topic(s) do you consider yourself to be an expert?
Reginald W. Bennett, MS, FAAM: Bacterial toxins, particularly the staphylococcal and bacillus toxins.
What characteristics help to separate you from your competitors?
[I work] in very specific disciplines in microbial food poisoning.
What motivates you?
Contributing to public health and safety.
What lessons have you learned as a professional in your field for the past 50 years?
In order to become an international expert, it is necessary to focus on a specific area of research within a scientific discipline. I have also learned career integrity in presenting scientific facts and results as they are.
What short-term and long-term career goals are you currently pursuing?
To remain the expert on staphylococcal food poisoning internationally.
How do you plan to achieve these goals?
I will continue to be productive in my area of expertise through publications and public speaking.
What is the most significant issue facing your profession today?
There needs to be better control of bacterial food poisoning outbreaks, through learning as much as possible about the organism that produces the toxins and then the toxins themselves.
What are some questions that an individual interested in your services can ask to ensure a more productive relationship?
What is your area of interest? For whom have you worked? Do you advise others in your area of interest? Do you publish and speak, nationally and internationally, in your specific area? Who makes the better food microbiologist — a medical bacteriologist or a food science major? I think that the medical bacteriologist views food microbiology from the human disease viewpoint or consequences relating to human safety, while the food science major views food as an abstract entity in the environment.
What do you find to be the most rewarding about your profession?
Helping several hundreds of people through my knowledge of food safety issues.
What is your favorite or least favorite work-related task to do and why?
My favorite areas are immunochemistry and serology. My least favorite is the enumeration and recovery of foodborne pathogens.
What advice can you offer fellow members or others aspiring to work in your industry?
Remain emotionally detached and let pure science be your guide.
Who have been your mentors or people who have greatly influenced you?
My father, Dr. Commodore N. Bennett, and former FDA personnel, Dr. J.C. Olson, and Dr. Ralston B. Read have been my mentors.
What changes have you observed in your industry/field since you started?
The application of new technologies, such as molecular approaches, to explain science-based phenomena.
How do you see these changes affecting the future of your industry?
These changes will provide quicker results to protect public health.
Have you contributed to any publications or to research in your field?
I have published widely [an article on] bacterial food poisoning and developed methods for toxin detection and identification. The article is about the methods for the detection of staphylococcal and bacillus enterotoxins, the organism staphylococcus aureus and serotyping of listeria monocytogenes. There were also four method chapters of the FDA’s “Bacteriological Analytical Manual.”
Do you do any public speaking?
Yes — I primarily teach in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, state health facilities, and federal government health facilities. I also speak at national and international meetings on food safety; I have made over 200 presentations.
Are we missing anything? Is there anything else that’s important to you that you’d like to discuss that we haven’t covered already?
My greatest contribution has been my understanding of the kinetics of heat denaturalization of staphylococcal enterotoxins and developing a procedure for the reactivation of the toxin for serological identification.