Catching Up With Emefa Monu

Finding Alternative Intervention Strategies

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We conducted this interview with Emefa back in 2020 when she was still doing research and teaching Food Microbiology with the Department of Poultry Science at Auburn University .

Today, Emefa Monu is a Food Scientist at the Ontario (Canada) Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

How did you come to be in the field of food or animal science and food safety?

When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to do something in science, and was considering chemistry. A friend of my father’s was a food scientist working at Kraft and suggested that food science was a good career that involved chemistry in a very applied way.

I started as a freshman in the food science program, and when I took a food microbiology class I loved it and decided that I wanted to go to graduate school and continue learning more about the subject.  I went on to obtain an MS and PhD in food science, specializing in food microbiology for both degrees.

Is there a foodborne illness story that hits close to home for you?

The Peanut Corporation of America recall that occurred in 2009. The reason it sticks with me is that here we have an incident that was completely avoidable. It affected thousands of products, caused hundreds of people to become ill with salmonellosis and the death of 9 people. All of this was solely due to the company cutting corners and trying to make a profit.

We do all of this work to try to improve the safety of our food supply through research and better regulations, and this company threw it all out the window and knowingly allowed Salmonella contaminated peanut products to enter the marketplace.

In a nutshell, what is your research about?

My research is about finding alternative intervention strategies to control bacteria and fungi in food to increase safety and shelf-life.

This includes natural antimicrobial from plants and bacteria, and novel technologies such as cold plasma.

What is most challenging about your work and why?

The most challenging thing about my job is probably the constant search for funding. As an academic, we need to find the funds to pay the vital graduate students and purchase laboratory supplies for our research.

We want to do all of this exciting research, but there are limited sources and so many academics are all competing for money from the same organizations.

What is a “day in the life” like for you?

On a daily basis I work on writing publications and participate in various meetings. I serve on committees at the university that oversee student academic honesty and various departmental functions. I also serve on committees with the Institute of Food Technologists.

A big part of my job (which I love) is working with students. I teach 2 classes and also supervise several graduate students. This supervision involves frequent one on one meetings to help guide them in their research.

What is the biggest obstacle you face?

The biggest obstacle is lack of time. Being an academic involves a myriad of duties at different levels of the university, and in professional organizations.

It seems like there’s never enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I need (and want) to do!