Deirdre Schlunegger, STOP Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Dave Theno’s Legacy: Keeping People Safe

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, STOP Foodborne Illness

He steered the industry into the modern era of food safety, never forgetting the stories about the people.

I was putting the finishing touches on this month’s blog post when word came of the tragic and untimely death of Dave Theno, a man whose legacy looms large in the world of food safety.

Just last week I was corresponding with Dave about an honor that STOP Foodborne Illness wanted to bestow upon him at our annual December event that honors our Food Safety Heroes. He had enthusiastically accepted and we were excited to start planning.

Stop Foodborne Illness has a history that is inextricably woven with many of the threads from which Dave’s life was made. In 1993, Dave was called in to help the fast food restaurant Jack in the Box manage the crisis that was the result of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, which eventually killed four children and sickened hundreds of others.

At a time when most everyone working in food hadn’t yet realized that food safety was not just another facet of their operation, Dave Theno stood in the gap and helped usher in what has become the modern age of food safety. As he helped industry get on the right track, he also dedicated his life to learning the stories and sharing the pain of families affected by foodborne illness, foremost among them being Roni Rudolph, whose daughter Lauren Beth was the first to die. Together with other hurting parents, Roni founded what would become Stop Foodborne Illness; and in the words of our good friend Mary Heersink, “transformed isolated losses into something bigger than individual tragedy.”

Dave loved his job and did it well. With compassionate integrity and the heart of an advocate, Dave’s strong leadership was proof that he understood the seriousness of the tasks before him. His clear vision for a safer world where food was concerned was a testament to his calling. If there is anything we can learn from Dave Theno’s life, it is that the story is about people. The bottom line is about people. Dave’s compass was considering all the other “Lauren Beths” in the world, and keeping people safe.

He will be sorely missed . . .

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