The American Society for Microbiology honors I. Kaye Wachsmuth

June 6th, 2012
June 6, 2012 I. Kaye Wachsmuth, Ph.D., International Public Health Consultant, DeLand, Florida, has been presented the 2012 Gen-Probe Joseph Public Health Award. This award, established in honor of J. Mehsen Joseph, honors a distinguished microbiologist who has exhibited exemplary leadership and service in the field of public health. Wachsmuth earned this award "for almost forty years of implementing state-of-the-art microbiological science practically to assure food safety both at home and globally," describes her nominator, Tanja Popovic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An expert in global public health, she has received awards for benchmark epidemiological investigations of Legionnaire's Disease, cholera in Latin America, drug-resistant tuberculosis, Hantavirus in the western United States, and diphtheria in the former Soviet Union.

Wachsmuth received her B.S. in Biology from Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, and her Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In 1972, Wachsmuth joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. While at the CDC she served as Deputy Director of the Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases and Chief of the Enteric Disease Laboratory Section. Wachsmuth conducted studies and developed programs in the areas of molecular epidemiology and bacterial virulence, and also worked in Latin America and Southeast Asia to establish laboratory support for diarrheal disease surveillance programs. She then became Deputy Director for Programs at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition for two years before becoming the first Deputy Administrator of the Office of Public Health and Science in USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service—a role she remained in until 2002. During that time, she earned the Presidential Ranks of Meritorious and Distinguished Executive for ground breaking work in quantitative microbial risk analysis and in strategies to prevent contamination of foods by Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Listeria monocytogenes.

Popovic continues, "Wachsmuth has made sure that younger generations of scientists also focused on linking science to practice." She has been a doctoral research advisor through adjunct faculty appointments at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, Emory University, and Georgia State University, and has mentored postdoctoral students through the National Research Council, WHO, Fogarty, and Fulbright Fellowship Programs. During her time at the CDC in the early 1990s, she coordinated the summer research program for students enrolled in the University of Tuskegee Veterinary School and Morehouse University Medical School.

Since leaving the Federal Government in 2002, Wachsmuth has been an independent consultant, primarily to the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome and the WHO in Geneva. "Wachsmuth has provided food safety leadership internationally by bridging her strong scientific background with her understanding of how public and private institutions work in the food safety arena," says Michael Taylor, FDA. From 2004 through 2009, she was Chief Technical Advisor for the FAO/WHO project to improve food safety management in Vietnam, Lao PDR, and Cambodia (incorporating available microbial and foodborne disease data into risk management decision-making). She drafted international guidelines for food safety emergency response planning at the national level and helped implement planning in Vietnam and Lao PDR. Additionally, she coordinated three international expert workshops for FAO/WHO to reduce the global risk of bacterial contamination in powdered infant formulae.

"She is really one of a kind in her ability to work across disciplinary lines, which is why she has been such a positive force in all of the arenas in which she has worked," explains Taylor. Wachsmuth has served the field in many capacities, both nationally and internationally. She chaired the Codex Alimenterius Committee for Food Hygiene (which sets international food safety standards) for seven years, and the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods for eight years. She has also served on many other boards and committees, including the Board of Trustees of the International Centre for Diarrheal Diseases Research in Bangladesh, the Board of Directors of the International Child Health Foundation, and the International Health Regulations Roster of Experts, and served on the WHO Expert Panel on Food Safety for twelve years. She has been a Fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the American Academy of Microbiology. She has also edited a book on cholera and published over 160 peer-reviewed articles in scientific literature.

In 2011, Wachsmuth worked with the state of Delaware to address and implement many of the public health policies developed during her time at FDA and USDA, e.g., preventive, science-based strategies for the microbial safety of fresh fruits and vegetables. During this time, she worked closely with local producers, state officials and dedicated microbiologists in university extension services.

"I can think of no one who has been more committed to advancing public health nationally and globally than Wachsmuth," says Robert Buchanan, University of Maryland. "She has been the inspiration for a whole generation of food safety scientists in the developing countries of the world."

Provided by American Society for Microbiology

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