Dr. Francisco Diez Gonzalez became director of the University of Georgia Center for Food Safety on July 1, 2016. Image credit: JC Penney

For years, food scientist Francisco Diez studied and admired the work of University of Georgia Regents’ Professor Mike Doyle, but the two researchers’ paths never crossed. For the next year, they will work closely together as Diez transitions into Doyle’s role as director of the UGA Center for Food Safety in Griffin, Georgia. Doyle, a leading authority on foodborne pathogens, came to the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in 1991 to establish the center. As director, he developed a research program that promotes collaboration among the food industry, the university, and federal and state agencies.

A native of Mexico, Diez earned a bachelor’s degree in food technology from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, and completed master’s and doctoral degrees in food science at Cornell University in New York. He comes to UGA from the University of Minnesota, where he was a faculty member and head of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition. His research focuses on the family of pathogens known as enterohemorrhagic E. coli, an important cause of food contamination and foodborne illness.

Now at UGA, Diez sees Doyle as an invaluable resource in his new leadership position. While transitioning into retirement, Doyle will introduce Diez to the network he has built by working closely with the food industry, consumer groups and government agencies, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I can’t even imagine walking into the door without his help,” Diez said. “Close working relationships like the ones Mike has built require a lot of trust and they are critical for the future success of the center.”

Diez plans to reach out to the center’s network of stakeholders in the food industry for advice and recommendations. “I want to know what their hopes and expectations are for the Center for Food Safety at UGA,” he said.

As the new center director, Diez will also be rebuilding the center’s faculty team by replacing current vacancies in virology, epidemiology and microbiology. These new researchers will join experienced UGA scientists Marilyn Erickson, Xiangyu Deng, Ynes Ortega and Tong Zhao.

“The college is committed to refilling these open positions and ensuring that our facilities and laboratories are in good shape,” Diez said. “Then we will develop a long-term strategy to expand our center to the international level. We are already known across the United States. I see the center making a huge impact on solving the problems that exist in food safety across the world. The opportunities are endless.”

For more information on the UGA Center for Food Safety, see the center’s website at ugacfs.org.