Auburn University professor helps ensure food safety for Olympics

Auburn University assistant professor Yifen Wang prepares to analyze slides of food samples in his biosystems engineering laboratory. Wang has served on the Beijing Olympic Food Safety Expert Committee since 2005.
AUBURN – With more than 10,000 athletes and 22,000-plus international journalists in Beijing, China, for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, an Auburn University biosystems engineering assistant professor has played a pivotal role in helping ensure that the foods they are served are safe.

Auburn’s Yifen Wang is one of 15 food safety authorities on the Beijing Olympic Food Safety Expert Committee. This international group has been working since 2005 in establishing safety standards and setting up systems for food testing and monitoring, including a mobile laboratory.

“A huge amount of food will be served during 60 days, starting prior to the opening of the Olympic Village through the Olympic Games,” said Wang. “In addition, the Olympics will be held in summertime, a peak period for the outbreak of food borne illness,” Wang said.

The volume of food being prepared for the Olympic Village and for the concessions includes 330 tons of fruits and vegetables, 130 tons of meat, 82 tons of seafood, 21 tons of cheese and 19 tons of eggs.

Wang, who traveled to Beijing twice to meet with the committee, says global positioning systems and radio-frequency identification technology are being used to monitor and track all Olympic food products through the production, processing and distribution processes. Wang was instrumental in the committee’s adoption of the radio-frequency identification system in 2005.

“There is great pressure on us to ensure that all foods that enter the athletes’ village, media villages, main press center and international broadcasting center at the games are safe,” he said. “We are confident that the security program that has been established is a very good, highly effective system.”

Wang, a Shanghai, China, native who joined the Auburn faculty in 2004, has focused his research on food safety issues for 15 years. The Beijing Municipal Food Safety Committee and the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2008 Olympic Games sought him out as a board member based on his area of expertise and his fluency in Chinese and English. He is one of four U.S. representatives on the panel and is the board’s designated liaison for the English-speaking members.

The organizing committee invited Wang to the Olympics’ opening ceremony, but he planned to watch it and the games from his home in Auburn.

“I am honored to serve on the food safety committee, but it would have been very difficult and expensive to take my family because of the number of people attending,” he said. “We are happy to watch it here together.”

Wang earned a bachelor’s degree in food engineering from Shanghai Fisheries University in 1990 and worked as a food scientist in China and as a fisheries processing plant director in Senegal. He came to the U.S. in 1998 and five years later earned his master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Washington and a doctorate in food engineering and a master’s in business administration, both from Washington State University.

(Written by Jamie Creamer and Charles Martin.)

Contact: Yifen Wang, (334) 844-8051 (wangyif@auburn.edu),
Jamie Creamer, (334) 844-2783 (jcreamer@auburn.edu),or
Charles Martin, (334) 844-9986 (marticd@auburn.edu)

HIGH-RES PHOTOS

Auburn University assistant professor Yifen Wang prepares to analyze slides of food samples in his biosystems engineering laboratory. Wang has served on the Beijing Olympic Food Safety Expert Committee since 2005.

Auburn University assistant professor Yifen Wang displays a certificate presented to him for serving on the Beijing Olympic Food Safety Expert Committee.

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