Food safety researcher elected to National Academy of Engineering

Juming Tang, Regents Professor in Washington State University’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering, was recently elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Headshot of Tang
Juming Tang

“This is the highest achievement an engineer can get in the United States,” said Tang, who is also WSU’s Distinguished Chair of Food Engineering. “I am honored and it feels very unreal to me.”

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Academy altered their notification process. Tang found out about the award when he received a general email announcing all members. He was just scrolling through the list of the 106 new electees to see if he knew anyone, or could learn about interesting projects, when he saw his name.

“There was no warning,” he said. “It was a total shock.”

Tang’s research focuses on advancing thermal processing technologies and supporting knowledge for control of bacterial and viral pathogens in foods with minimum adverse effects on taste and nutrition.

“Juming’s work is very well-regarded and will have huge impacts in a variety of fields, from homes to the military to outer space, for years to come,” said André-Denis Wright, Dean of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “We’re proud to have him on our faculty and congratulate him on this important milestone achievement.”

Tang, who joined WSU in 1995 and has spent his entire career here, has worked on grants and other project with food companies, the U.S. Army, the Australian government, NASA, and many others.

“We have to provide a scientific basis to show that our novel technology produces a safe product,” Tang said. “It’s been an interesting journey from concept to industrial application.”

Tang’ laboratory has developed two commercially viable technologies based on 915 MHz microwaves for production of high quality ready-to-eat meals with extended shelf-life in different storage conditions. The unique engineering designs allow predictable and rapid heating of pre-packaged food that eliminates food pathogens, replacing the long-time industrial method of canning foods.

“Heating is the most effective method used in the food industry to control bacterial and viral pathogens in prepackaged foods,” he said. “But traditional methods, e.g., canning, may also destroy much of the taste and nutrition as well. It’s mangled, but it’s safe and stores for several months or years. We want to have good food quality that’s also safe, that’s the challenge we’re focused on.”

Tang considers this recognition a milestone in his life-time career on advancing technologies for food safety and quality.

“I hope to move forward and realize my vision for helping society by providing innovative engineering solutions and safe high-quality food,” he said.

Election to the National Academy of Engineering is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer, according to the academy’s announcement. Academy membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to “engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature” and to “the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing and implementing innovative approaches to engineering education.”