Kathy Glass grew up in the dairy farm family of Leo and Marietta Michalski, who raised six children in Edgar, WI. Their farm was diversified and had dairy cows, hogs and chickens; and it left an imprint on her. The knowledge she gained in food production as a youth sparked her interest in science, and the work ethic she gained became hard-wired into her methods for building a professional career as an outstanding food microbiologist
After graduating from Edgar High School, she began her collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire. She graduated with a B.S. degree in Biology in 1979 and then proceeded to teach science at high schools in Mineral Point, WI and Rockford, IL. She taught for a total of four years and then recognized her desire to “do” science rather than “teach” science. She undertook a graduate research program in microbial genetics at Northern Illinois University and earned her M.S. degree in 1985. She married Reuben Glass in 1980, they started their family which was blessed with two sons, and they yearned to come back to Wisconsin. She saw a newspaper article which reported that Elmer Marth (Food Science Department) had received funding for a research project, so she sent her resume to Dr. Marth and asked him whether he might have a job for her. Instead, he referred her to the Food Research Institute, which led to an interview with Professor Mike Doyle, who hired her as a Research Specialist. She was back in Wisconsin and this initiated her contact with the Food Research Institute. The year was 1985. Now, she holds the title of Distinguished Scientist and Associate Director of the Food Research Institute.
Kathy’s food microbiology career began with a project for Oscar Mayer which was focused on use of sodium lactate as a substitute for sodium nitrite to control Clostridium botulinum. In 1990, Mike Doyle left UW-Madison and Kathy was left to fend for herself, while in the midst of an E. coli project. Out of necessity, Kathy called her professional network as questions arose, and this networking resulted in beneficial input for her work. This technique of “phoning a friend” became a valuable technique in her professional arsenal. Since the work of the Food Research Institute spanned dairy and meat product microbiological safety, her versatility in food microbiology grew to become a professional asset. The cross fertilization among this array of projects stimulated her passion for and confidence in solving food microbiology challenges. She pursued additional development as a scientist and undertook her Ph.D. program. Her dissertation research centered on safety of processed cheese with regard to Clostridium botulinum and involved the use of lactate from the cheese fermentation.
Outbreaks of human illness caused by food-borne pathogens provided enormous motivation to Dr. Glass’s efforts to understand food product bacterial ecology and pursue intervention strategies for control of the pathogens. Following the “Columbus sausage outbreak”, a parent of two children in intensive care called Dr. Glass and challenged her by asking, “How could you let this happen?” It was a watershed moment for her as a food microbiologist and a mother. It spurred her vigilance to seek insight into food pathogens from wherever knowledge could be gleaned.
Her professional growth and outstanding reputation with corporate clients led to her becoming the director of the Food Research Institute’s Applied Food Safety Laboratory. This lab conducts practical research and testing of food formulations. Results from these studies are used to identify strategies to inhibit microbial growth and toxin production or to enhance the rate of inactivation of foodborne bacterial pathogens. While she has completed projects for client companies and meat industry organizations, her concurrent aim is to generate new knowledge by which food pathogens can be controlled. She and her staff have trained many undergraduate students in food microbiology; numerous students have been able to parlay their student job with Dr. Glass into employment in the food industry, and a few have risen into influential positions. In addition, her outreach efforts resulted in the training of hundreds of food safety professionals in the industry. She is a prolific author of training manuals.
Early in her career, Kathy was the lead in validating sodium lactate as an antibotulinal agent in uncured meat products, evaluated the fate of Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli O157:H7 in fermented dried sausage, and reported the growth potential of Listeria on processed meats without antimicrobials. She and her dedicated staff provided the proof of principle research on the use of lactate, diacetate, propionate, and benzoate as growth inhibitors for Listeria monocytogenes in processed meats, particularly in cured meats. Her studies have application to food pathogen control in conventional as well as clean-label meat products. More recently, she is leading research on developing and validating predictive models for the control of spore-forming bacterial pathogens during extended cooling of meat and poultry products.
Her attitude is that the university is here to help the meat industry react to consumer interests. In the end, the results generated by her lab are beneficial to meat companies, ingredient suppliers and consumers. Her unbiased food microbiological expertise is sought by both the regulated and the regulators. She was a member of the National Research Council FSIS Standing Committee on Food Safety in 2011. During 2007- 2012, she was a member of USDA/FDA National Advisory Committee for Microbiological Criteria for Foods and a subject matter expert during 2013-2015, when she influenced policy on food safety in meat products. She was re-appointed to this committee in 2018 so her influence on food safety policy will continue. Very simply, processed meats in the US are much safer due to the efforts of Dr. Kathy Glass during her career.