There are famous names that immediately come to mind concerning certain food-industry matters. Upton Sinclair and meat-inspection reform go together like NASA and HACCP, for example. Then there is IBP and the development of boxed beef. Gustavus Swift is remembered for his contributions concerning insulated refrigerator rail cars and Temple Grandin for her groundbreaking work on animal welfare. There are many industry innovators and movers and shakers whose impact on the business of food manufacture, distribution and marketing is legendary. That is a good thing.

There are others on the infamous side of the equation, to be sure, who found themselves caught in acts of major consequence. Such was the case concerning the situation involving Foodmaker Inc., now named Jack in the Box Inc.

In the early 1990s, Foodmaker was practically a synonym for tainted ground beef given that its restaurant hamburgers contaminated with the deadly O157:H7 E. coli strain were ultimately blamed for the deaths of several children and the sickness of hundreds of other consumers. It was the worst of times for the company, to be sure, including bad press, lawsuits and huge sales losses. The Clinton administration initiated an overhaul of the nation’s meat-inspection system.

It seems unreal that a situation that went horribly awry would not only turn into a tipping point for food-industry reform, but would also galvanize Jack in the Box’s efforts to the point of recovery — nay more than that, to becoming a better business than before the tragedy. Today the Jack in the Box system comprises 2,132 restaurants and 42,500 employees. Other businesses failed for lesser offenses. Remember Hudson Foods?

You get the idea. Here is the point of this message. Effective Sept. 28, 2008, David M. Theno, Ph.D., will retire as senior vice president and chief product safety officer of San Diego, Calif.-based Jack in the Box. Theno, 56, has been senior vice president, quality and logistics since May 2001. He was vice president, technical services, from April 1994 to May 2001.

Theno was the linchpin in Foodmaker’s campaign that not only reversed its bad fortune, but also positioned the operation as an exemplary advocate and pursuer of safe-food practices.

Under Theno’s leadership, the firm took charge of its own destiny in 1993 by pursuing a smart course including disposing of meat in its restaurants (slightly more than 1,000 units at the time) and initiating an extensive review process. The result was a comprehensive program focusing on quality control and food safety, with the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) system as the cornerstone. That was a groundbreaking move given that USDA’s HACCP mandate destined to apply to meat processing and slaughter plants was still in the works.

Theno brought an impeccable pedigree to the job, having been a well-known food-safety specialist with his own consulting business for several years prior to his Jack in the Box recruitment. Besides his formal education focusing on animal science — undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from Iowa State University and the University of Illinois respectively — Theno spent time in the trenches working for several meat-processing companies plying his food-safety expertise.

Now, the man credited with redefining standards and food-safety procedures for foodservice is turning in his badge. While we do not begrudge him a chance to ride off into the sunset, he must know that his expertise will not retire. Wherever life takes him, however, he deserves a big thank-you from a grateful industry on both sides of the aisle concerning food manufacture, distribution and marketing. The right person for the job does make a difference.