Historical Time Line

From its inception by Dr. Gail Dack at the University of Chicago, FRI has helped food producers identify problems and develop and validate methods to prevent or eliminate pathogens in various food products. This effort continued after Dr. Mike Foster led the transfer of FRI to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1966. In the ensuing years, FRI has continued to work with its food industry partners to develop and test formulations and procedures that increase the safety of food products.


Dr. Chuck Kaspar became FRI director.

Chuck Kaspar became FRI director on July 1, 2021. Dr. Kaspar has been part of FRI since he came to UW-Madison in 1992 as a new professor after holding positions at FDA and Cargill. His research has largely focused on the transmission and evolution of two zoonotic pathogens associated with foodborne disease outbreaks: Enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) and Salmonella. EHEC is the subset of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) strains that are pathogenic to humans and includes E. coli O157:H7 and other (such as the “Big 6”) STEC strains.


New Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery building opened

In November 2020, the new Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery (MSABD) building opened. The new MSABD program is housed within the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences. The program involves research, teaching and outreach in the areas of meat science, food safety, and the discovery of animal biologics.


Dr. Laura Knoll's research leads to mouse model for Toxoplasma gondii

Research from the lab of FRI executive committee member Laura Knoll elucidated why the Toxoplasma gondii's sexual cycle only occurs in cats. It then used that knowledge to break the species barrier, allowing the parasite to complete its life cycle in mice for the first time.


Deibels donated $1M to establish FRI endowed fellowships in food safety, probiotics.

FRI received a generous donation from Robert and Carol Deibel to establish two endowed graduate fellowships, one in food safety and the other in probiotics. Robert Deibel, a former UW-Madison professor and longtime friend of FRI, and his wife, Carol, committed a gift of $1 million to establish these endowed fellowships.

The gift received a “Nicholas Match,” which doubled its value to $2 million. The Deibel gift, together with the match from the Nicholas Foundation, is used to fund the two graduate fellowships, which are awarded by FRI.


Listeria growth in a caramel-coated apple microenvironment demonstrated.

Dr. Kathy Glass and the FRI Applied Food Safety Lab demonstrated how Listeria can grow in a caramel-coated apple microenvironment.

caramel applesAfter caramel-coated apples were linked to a listeriosis outbreak in 2014, Dr. Kathy Glass and the FRI Applied Food Safety Lab conducted a study that demonstrated the insertion of a stick into a caramel-coated apple accelerates the transfer of juice from the interior of the apple to its surface, creating a microenvironment at the apple-caramel interface where L. monocytogenes can rapidly grow to levels sufficient to cause disease when stored at room temperature.

Alternative curing proven as effective as conventional curing in protecting against Clostridium perfringens growth

Drs. Amanda King Houser, Jeff Sindelar, Andy Milkowski, and Kathy Glass demonstrated that equivalent concentrations of nitrite, regardless of the source, provide similar inhibition of Clostridium perfringens during chilling and that ascorbate enhances the antimicrobial effect of nitrite on C. perfringens at concentrations commonly used in alternative cured meats.


Stable, mutant strains of C. botulinum developed in which the botulinal neurotoxin gene has been inactivated.

Dr. Eric Johnson developed stable, mutant strains of C. botulinum in which the botulinal neurotoxin gene has been inactivated. These strains could be used for challenge studies to validate different food processing conditions and testing new food formulations.


Dr. Chuck Czuprynski became FRI director.

CLA approved as a food ingredient.

On July 24, 2008, the FDA announced that conjugated linoleic acid is generally regarded as safe for use in foods.

Dr. Michael Pariza discovered a number of health-promoting properties in CLA, including the ability to fight cancer and reduce heart disease. Along with animal sciences professor Dr. Mark Cook, Dr. Pariza found that CLA can help reduce body fat. Drs. Pariza and Cook have been awarded several patents on CLA technology, which are among the highest income-generating patents held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

A key mechanism bridging mycotoxin biosynthesis and spore formation in molds was revealed.

Drs. Nancy Keller and Jae-Hyuk Yu, in collaboration with a German research group led by Dr. Gerhard Braus, revealed that certain light-responding velvet developmental regulators also govern biosynthesis of the aflatoxin-group mycotoxins in Aspergillus. This groundbreaking discovery was published in Science and opened a new research field.

This important work was highly appraised by the research community and led fungal scientists to investigate the mechanisms further in other fungi. A tremendous amount of work in diverse fungi has uncovered that the velvet-mediated control of sporulation and mycotoxin biosynthesis is largely conserved in filamentous and dimorphic fungi.


FRI moved into the new Microbial Sciences Building.

Microbial Sciences Building
As part of the Wisconsin BioStar Initiative, the Microbial Sciences Building was completed, and FRI joined MMI and Bacteriology faculty in the new building.

The Department of Food Microbiology and Toxicology was dissolved.

The Department of Food Microbiology and Toxicology was dissolved, with FRI remaining as an independent, interdepartmental institute.

The Department of Food Microbiology and Toxicology was dissolved, with FRI transitioning into an independent, interdepartmental institute. Today, FRI remains an interdepartmental entity, with its Executive Committee and Affiliated Faculty having tenure homes in the departments of Bacteriology, Animal Sciences, Food Science, Medical Microbiology & Immunology, Plant Pathology, and Pathobiological Sciences.


Dr. Kathy Glass expanded the FRI cheese spread safe processing strategy to include no-fat cheese spreads.


Cold plasma engineering applied to food safety issues.

FRI scientist Dr. Ferencz Denes applied his pioneering work with plasmas to a variety of food safety issues. Dr. Denes obtained a patent through WARF that employs cold plasma technology to modify the surfaces of food-industry materials, such as processing machines, preparation surfaces, and packaging, to prevent bacterial attachment and biofilm formation.

Techniques developed by Dr. Denes and Dr. Amy Wong, involved two steps. The first changed the surface of materials to incorporate anti-microbial agents in extremely thin layers. The second fused a protective film over the surface to make bacteria incapable of sticking and forming colonies.

Sesquiterpenoids used to keep microbes vulnerable to antibacterial agents.

Dr. Eric Johnson and Dr. Byron Brehm-Stecher devised a way to keep microbes vulnerable to antibacterial agents by using sesquiterpenoids.

When teamed with small amounts of sesquiterpenoids, antibiotics and other antibacterial agents became much better at killing bacteria, including some pathogenic strains. Sesquiterpenoids could also extend the life of antibiotics and antiseptics that might otherwise be vanquished by resistant microbes — a concern that keeps the pharmaceutical, food and sanitation industries constantly searching for new germ-killing agents.


Food safety cluster hire expanded FRI expertise in mycotoxins, food safety engineering, and parasitology.

Dr. Jae-Hyuk Yu, Dr. Nancy Keller, Dr. Frank Denes, and Dr. Laura Knoll were brought on as part of FRI's food safety cluster hire. Drs. Yu and Keller brought expertise in mycotoxins, Dr. Denes explored plasma-aided food safety engineering, and Dr. Knoll brought a focus on parasitology, particularly Toxoplasma gondii.


FRI awarded the first NFPA Food Safety Award.

FRI received the GMA (formerly NFPA) Food Safety Award at the 1998 annual meeting of the International Association for Food Protection (formerly IAMFES).


Dr. Amy Wong purified and characterized the tripartite Bacillus cereus diarrheal enterotoxin.


Algal toxin detection assays developed by Dr. Chu.


E. coli O157:H7 shown to be more acid-tolerant than other E. coli.

Dr. Chuck Kaspar demonstrated that Escherichia coli O157:H7 is far more acid-tolerant than other E. coli and conducted research on the transmission of this pathogen on Wisconsin farms.


First genetic characterization of staphylococcal enterotoxin genes.

Dr. Marsha Betley provided the first genetic characterization of staphylococcal enterotoxin genes, which contributes to our understanding of staphylococcal food poisoning.


Traisman helped initiate research on E. coli O157:H7.

Ed Traisman helped initiate research on E. coli O157:H7, which at the time was a little-known pathogen despite already being implicated in outbreaks of foodborne illness from ground beef.


Dr. Tanaka developed a processing strategy to prevent botulinum toxin formation in cheese spread.


Dr. Pariza discovered CLA inhibits cancer.

Mike Pariza
Dr. Mike Pariza discovered that conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a product of rumen microbial biohydrogenation, inhibits cancer.

Source of histamine-triggered allergic reaction demonstrated.

Dr. Steve Taylor isolated histidine decarboxylase-producing bacteria from fish and cheese, demonstrating the source of the histamine-triggered allergic reaction.


Dr. Bergdoll and Dr. Schantz showed that the diarrheal enterotoxin of Bacillus cereus is a multi-component protein.

Dr. Mike Doyle conducted early work on the survival and growth of Escherichia coli O157:H7.


Causative agent of toxic shock syndrome identified.

A toxin produced by Staphylococcus aureus was identified as a causative agent of toxic shock syndrome by Dr. Bergdoll.


Research on sulfite-induced asthma iniatiated by Dr. Taylor.

From 1982–87, Dr. Steve Taylor evaluated the emergent food safety issues surrounding sulfite residues in foods, allowing FDA to establish appropriate regulations on sulfite use in foods.


Botulinum toxin used in first experiments for therapeutic use.

Ed Schantz
Botulinum toxin produced by Dr. Ed Schantz was used in the first experiments for therapeutic use of the toxin (Botox).


Food allergy research established.

Food allergy (peanut and soybean) research was established by Dr. Steve Taylor.

From 1980–87, Dr. Steve Taylor established collaborations with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Medicine (Dr. Robert Bush) and Mayo Clinic (Dr. John Yunginger) to develop a food allergy program aimed at addressing food industry issues.

Antibodies prepared against numerous mycotoxins.

From 1980–95, Dr. Fun Sun Chu purified and prepared antibodies against numerous mycotoxins, contributing substantially to the detection and control of mycotoxin contamination worldwide.


Dr. Sugiyama investigated Clostridium botulinum in fresh mushrooms and infant botulism.


FRI moved into its new building at 1925 Willow Drive.

1925 Willow Drive

Department of Food Microbiology and Toxicology formed.

Dr. Foster established the Department of Food Microbiology and Toxicology and became its first chair.

The new Department of Food Microbiology and Toxicology was created to complement FRI in that it coincided with the structure and role of the Institute, but it was able to offer tenure-track appointments for its faculty. Dr. Foster served as department chair and FRI director from 1975–82, while Dr. Mike Pariza became chair and director in 1986. Dr. Amy Wong served as chair from October 2006 until the department dissolved in 2007.


Dr. Charles Duncan purified and crystallized Clostridium perfringens enterotoxin.


Botulinum neurotoxins purified and sequenced.

From 1970–72, Dr. Bibhuti DasGupta and Dr. Hiroshi Sugiyama purified and sequenced botulinum neurotoxins involved in the disease botulism.

Sodium nitrite confirmed effective in preventing growth of C. botulinum in hot dogs.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Bob Deibel conducted a study to determine the effect of sodium nitrite, both alone and in combination with sodium ascorbate, on the growth of and toxin formation by Clostridium botulinum in inoculated, temperature-abused hot dogs.

The results of this study confirmed that sodium nitrite was effective in preventing the growth of this pathogen in temperature-abused hot dogs. This information was used by the USDA to defend the continued use of sodium nitrite in cured meat products. Dr. Deibel also conducted important research into the problems with Staphylococcus aureus in fermented sausages.


Food virology program was established by Dr. Dean Cliver in conjunction with the World Health Organization.

Dr. Foster investigated Clostridium botulinum in Great Lakes fish.

Dr. Foster's research was in response to a 1963 outbreak of botulism in smoked Great Lakes fish that was vacuum-packed.

At the time, vacuum packaging was a new technology for smoked fish, and people did not understand that C. botulinum was fairly common in fish, smoking did not kill the spores but did kill spoilage organisms, and if vacuum-packed smoked fish was not refrigerated carefully, spores could grow and produce toxin even if the fish still appeared safe. Dr. Foster's research demonstrated why the 1963 outbreak occurred.


Enterotoxins isolated from Staphylococcus aureus.

Dr. Merlin Bergdoll isolated, identified, and purified enterotoxins A, B, C, and E from Staphylococcus aureus. This led to the development of tests to detect enterotoxins in food.


FRI moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dr. Dack retired and the Institute was moved to UW-Madison under the leadership of Dr. Edwin "Mike" Foster, who became the director.

E.M. Foster
After Dr. Dack's retirement, FRI moved to UW-Madison, where the Institute was established in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Three principal investigators — Dr. Merlin Bergdoll, Dr. Hiroshi "Sugi" Sugiyama, and Dr. Dean Cliver — transferred with FRI from the University of Chicago to UW-Madison along with some of their supporting personnel. Dr. Edwin "Mike" Foster became the director and oversaw FRI's growth from a small research group into a world leader in food safety research.


FRI founded at the University of Chicago.

FRI, the first university-industry collaboration to focus on food safety, was founded at the University of Chicago by Dr. Gail Dack, who served as the Institute's first director.

Gail Dack
FRI was established as "an agency to investigate problems of food processing, nutrition, food spoilage, food poisoning, and food quality." Dr. Dack, the world's foremost authority on food poisoning at the time, and his fellow planners saw the Institute as a vital link in America's system for ensuring a safe food supply.