Reginald W. Bennett

Reginald W. Bennett

(Article taken from The Minority Microbiology Mentor Newsletter, February, 2011, Vol. 6, No. 2)

Reginald W. Bennett is Senior Policy Analyst, Office of Regulatory Science, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  He received the BS and MS degrees in 1955 and 1958, respectively, from the University of Pittsburgh.  Bennett’s career in microbiological research and policy has spanned over 54 years.  He began his career in 1956 as a medical bacteriologist at Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA.  Following a brief stint as Assistant Professor of Microbiology at Benedict College in Columbia, SC, Bennett joined the FDA (Washington, DC) in 1960 as a microbiologist in the Microbiology Division. From this point, he rose through the ranks to Acting Chief, Food and Cosmetic Microbiology Branch, to Chief, Microbial Methods, Development Branch, and to his present position in the Office of Regulatory Science. With this position he is also section leader in microbial toxins, with primary interest in: Staphylococcus and Bacillus species toxins, and serodiagnosis of Listeria monocytogenes. 

Bennett’s long career at the FDA has been stellar. He has authored or co-authored over 150 peer-reviewed journal articles or book chapters and has presented at many academic institutions, professional organizations and microbiological venues in 14 different countries.  Bennett’s scientific contributions have been many.  Chief among them are his “methods development for the serological identification of heat-altered staphylococcal enterotoxin in canned foods” and “for development of methods to detect heat-altered staphylococcal enterotoxin and their use in assuring food safety of canned foods.”  He has also been a trainer in the application of analytical methods for the microbiological examination for foods to FDA District Laboratories, state and municipal laboratories, industry and foreign government laboratories.

The recipient of many awards and honors, Bennett received the 1991 Association of Official Analytical Chemists (AOAC) International’s Harvey W. Wiley Award “for outstanding contributions in the area of Food Microbiology Methods Development.”  He received the Public Health Service Superior Service Award in 1995, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service (Counter/bioterrorism) in 2003, and  the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Association for Food Protection in 2004, to name a few. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, Fellow of the AOAC International, member of the American Society for Microbiology and member of the Institute of Food Technologists International Association of Food Protection. 

At ASM, Bennett has been a member for over 50 years. In 1984, Bennett was a member of ASM’s Executive Board.  An active member of the Food Microbiology Division, he has served on or chaired several standing or ad hoc committees.  As an example of his expertise, leadership and how he is viewed by his peers, he was elected to chair his division from 1985 – 1986.

When asked his thoughts on the need for more African-American microbiologists, he notes that there is a need in both industry and government. He believes that teaching the fundamentals of science should start very early in life because this will help drive young minds towards science-based careers. He acknowledges that proper mentoring was very helpful in shaping his career.  As such, he was afforded the opportunity to expand his horizons in both the medical area and as a food microbiologists and both were challenging and interesting.  However he emphasizes that self-motivation is a key requirement for success.  Furthermore, the increase in the acceptance of all minorities in our society forms the basis for advancement in this and related fields but not without perseverance.

His advice to future microbiologists: “It’s ideal to specialize in a specific area to become an expert rather than being a generalist” and “a good method renders more service to science than the elaboration of highly theoretical speculations.”

For a more detailed description of Reginald Bennett’s career path, see the following link which is a PowerPoint draft that he will donate to the National Museum of African American History and Culture  He summarizes it all in the last slide - “From 1960 – 2010, the band plays on. My heart for food microbiology never skipped a beat.”