U celebrates life work of food scientist Ted Labuza

By Ben Wagner

The University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences – St. Paul campus recently celebrated the illustrious 50-year academic and professional career of Ted Labuza.

One of the most influential food scientists of his generation, Labuza officially retired from the U’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition in 2021. Among his many contributions, he is internationally recognized for his research into how packaging can slow down degradation rates in foods.

“He’s leaving a great legacy to our profession in food science… for generations to come,” said Dr. Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, director of the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Georgia.

Labuza graduated from MIT in 1965, earning his doctorate in food science and engineering just two and a half years after earning his bachelor’s in the same field. He then taught at MIT until 1971, when he was hired by the University of Minnesota, where he spent the rest of his career.

Over the course of his career, Labuza has authored or co-authored more than 289 research papers, 18 textbooks and 78 book chapters. In 2002, the International Statistical Institute named Labuza one of the most cited scientists in the agriculture and food sciences area.

Labuza’s peers and colleagues have widely recognized his contributions to the food sciences field. In 1998, he won the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Nicolas Appert Lifetime Achievement Award, considered one of the greatest honors in food science. And in 2003, he was named one of 26 industry innovators in Food Engineering magazine’s 75th anniversary edition.

Even with all of his scientific accomplishments, Labuza’s legacy as an educator and as a leader is just as great. He was president of the IFT from 1988 to 1989, becoming the youngest person ever elected to the position at the time, and in 1988, he received the Horace T. Morse Award from the University of Minnesota Alumni Association in recognition of his contributions to undergraduate education.

Those who studied under Labuza remember him for his natural scientific curiosity and for challenging his students to be similarly curious and pursue their goals with confidence.

“He knew how to correctly engage in a way that was motivating, but helpful,” said Jeffrey Stamp, a professor in the Department of Applied Economics who worked in Labuza’s lab as an undergraduate and graduate student. “Ted was dedicated to making sure we were ready to go out into the real world.”

Labuza’s legacy will continue to be celebrated into next year, with a special session honoring his contributions to water activity to be held at the 2024 International Symposium on the Properties of Water.

A special issue honoring Labuza’s contributions to the field of food science and technology in the LWT – Food Science and Technology scientific journal is also planned for a later date.

“Ted has always been a very giving guy,” Stamp said. “His life has been really full of making sure that people had the right information, that he was the advocate for good science.” 

Ben Wagner is a University of Minnesota journalism intern writing for the Bugle.

Photo Credit: Ted Labuza honored for lifetime achievement. Submitted photo University of Minnesota.

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