Nominated for fresh food focus

Professor Thomas McMeekin
Professor Thomas McMeekin

WORLD-RENOWNED food microbiologist Thomas McMeekin has made sitting down to a meal safer for millions.

But it took some convincing to get authorities around the world to adopt his groundbreaking models.

Tasmania's nomination for Australian of the Year has spent 40 years making food safer.

His most significant work at the University of Tasmania could well be the development of the system that ensures our meat stays fresh.

The refrigeration index, developed by a team including Professor McMeekin, revolutionised Australia's meat export industry and has been adopted around the world.

"It gives great confidence in the way our export meat industry works," Professor McMeekin tells AAP.

"Meat And Livestock Australia had to convince the international buyers in the States, in Korea, Japan and so- on that this was a fair dinkum system that really would work and they were able to do that.

"In fact this sort of technology's being used all over the world at the minute, particularly by the big food companies."

Instead of the time- consuming process of testing and waiting for results, a temperature logger calculates the number of times an E.coli cell, if it were present in a sample, would have doubled.

"If you get above a certain figure, there needs to be remedial action," Prof McMeekin says.

"You're actually predicting ... if there will be a problem."

The model forced the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service to change its rules for meat exporters.

Described as the founding father of UTAS's globally recognised Food Safety Centre, Prof McMeekin has written an influential book on predictive microbiology and contributed to more than 200 publications.

The 68-year-old father of two, who also has two grandchildren, arrived in Hobart from Northern Ireland in 1974 intending to stay three years.

"I was actually surprised that I left and didn't go back," he says.

"What kept me here (was the) people, great people, that I worked with over the years."


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