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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title / January 22, 2004 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

National news release

ARS Awards Scientist for Irradiation Research

By Jim Core
January 22, 2004

NEW ORLEANS, La., Jan. 22–Agricultural Research Service (ARS) microbiologist Christopher H. Sommers has been named the agency's "North Atlantic Area Early Career Scientist of 2003." ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

The "early career" award is given to ARS scientists who have made outstanding scientific contributions, have worked with the agency seven years or less, and have completed their highest academic degree within the past 10 years. Sommers is based at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center (ERRC) in Wyndmoor, Pa. The agency's North Atlantic Area includes research locations in Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Sommers is the lead scientist for food irradiation at the ERRC's Food Safety Intervention Technologies Research Unit. He is being recognized for pioneering food irradiation research that enhances food safety and helps industry and regulatory agencies meet food safety goals.

"Dr. Sommers' ongoing studies of food irradiation are critical as we continue to seek ways to improve food safety," said Edward B. Knipling, ARS acting administrator. Knipling presented a plaque to Sommers and other winning scientists at a ceremony here today during the ARS National Scientific Leadership Meeting and Annual Recognition Program. Sommers will also receive a cash award and additional support for his research program.

Sommers, an ARS employee since 1999, studies ways to use irradiation to improve the safety and shelf life of meat, poultry and ready-to-eat meat products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1997 approved food irradiation to control microorganisms on fresh and frozen red meats. FDA is reviewing the use of irradiation for ready-to-eat meats such as hot dogs, bologna, deli turkey meat and ham.

Sommers identified the radiation doses required to eliminate the food-borne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes from ready-to-eat meat products, and determined the radiation resistance of strains responsible for food-borne illness outbreaks in the United States. He also completed work on food additives that inhibit the growth of radiation-damaged pathogens in food products during long-term refrigerated storage. He also has studied irradiation of food-borne pathogens involving fruits, vegetables and juices.

Sommers earned an associate's degree in surgical technology at the Naval School of Health Sciences in Portsmouth, Va., his bachelor's degree in biology from the State University of New York at Albany (1986), and his master's degree (1989) and doctorate (1993) in biology from the University of Rochester.

Last Modified: 2/19/2014
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