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USDA Scientist Recognized for Transforming Food Safety Systems and Protecting the World’s Food Supply

Contact: Autumn Canaday
Email: Autumn Canaday

WASHINGTON DC, November 1, 2023 – USDA scientist Joseph Capobianco, a research engineer for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), has received a 2022 Arthur S. Flemming Award for his innovative research that enhances the ability of lab diagnostics to detect foodborne pathogens and streamline the processes that protect the safety of domestic, imported, and exported foods.

Established in 1948, the award is named after Arthur Sherwood Flemming, a distinguished government official who served seven presidential administrations of both parties, most notably as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Dwight Eisenhower. He was a two-time recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, first from President Eisenhower in 1957 and then from President Bill Clinton in 1994, two years before his death.

Dr. Capobianco is one of the USDA’s lead researchers for the molecular characterization of foodborne pathogens at ARS’ Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pa. He has devised techniques and methodologies that transfer to the fields of agriculture, medicine, pharmaceutics, and energy storage. 

“This groundbreaking research allows ARS to deliver science-based solutions to national and global agricultural challenges,” said ARS Administrator Simon Liu. “Dr. Capobianco has demonstrated a commitment to cutting-edge research that safeguards the world’s food supply from pathogens. The Agency is proud of his achievements and his revolutionary approach to identifying microbial contaminants in food.”

Joseph Capobianco ARS research engineer Joseph Capobianco.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million people contract a foodborne illness in the United States every year, resulting in more than 128,000 hospitalizations, 3,000 deaths and $15.6 billion in economic losses.

Dr. Capobianco’s design and development of a biosensor that detects contaminants within complex mixtures helps public health agencies and USDA prevent foodborne illness from farm to table. This innovative biosensor solves the urgent, unmet need for a rapid, sensitive, and portable biosensor to detect virulent pathogens like Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Cryptosporidium in meat, poultry, and drinking water. The applied technology from Dr. Capobianco’s biosensor can also be retooled and used for the detection of any toxin biomarker.

He also engineered specialized antimicrobial coatings that prevent the adsorption of microorganisms on food contact surfaces. The coatings also have the potential to reduce the quantity of antibiotics needed to weaken pathogens, as well as minimize antimicrobial resistance and residual chemical levels in foods and the environment.

Recipients of the 2022 Arthur S. Flemming Award will be honored at an award ceremony on November 1, 2023. The winners are recognized for performing outstanding service in the fields of applied science and engineering, basic science, leadership and management, legal achievement, and social science.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in U.S. agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.