1970 Boettcher Scholar spends career ensuring food safety

1970 Boettcher Scholar spends career ensuring food safety

Robert “Skip” Seward has spent the last four decades ensuring that the food we eat is safe. A 1970 Boettcher Scholar, Skip has led food safety at Fortune 500 companies like ConAgra Foods Inc., Oscar Mayer Foods, and McDonald’s.

Skip attended CSU and later Oregon State University for his master’s in microbiology. Less than glamorous, he got his start in research by studying the growth of algae on pig manure.

“Needless to say, I was not very popular at the greenhouse,” Skip said with a chuckle.

Soon after, he took his first job as a bench microbiologist at Del Monte Corp. 

“I’ve always credited what I’ve done to good mentors, and I had two of them at Del Monte who helped me decide that I needed to go back and get my Ph.D. at University of Wisconsin,” Skip said.

At the time, Skip studied modified atmosphere packaging — placing fresh fish in packaging without oxygen for consumers to purchase — while also preventing the growth of Clostridium botulinum, the cause of foodborne botulism.

He then launched into his career, moving from a bench researcher to directing food safety and eventually to serving as vice president of global food safety at ConAgra Foods.

Skip spent decades working hard and advancing research, but he has kept in touch with his mentors and professors along the way, citing their influence as the reason he landed where he is today.

“You find inspiration in someone, and they set you in a direction,” said Skip. “That’s why I tell people, ‘don’t forget who helped you along the way, and if you’re lucky enough to be able to give back, do it.’”

Along the way he also met his wife, Dee, who ignited his passion for giving back. After receiving her teaching license in six different states as Skip toured the country with different companies, Dee retired from teaching first grade. She and Skip moved to Washington, D.C., where she became very involved with the Capitol Hill Community Foundation, which supports residents and preserves the history of Capitol Hill.

“My wife has always promoted giving back, and has really taught me the value of helping others,” Skip said. “And when you give back, it sure makes you feel good. It makes the world seem a little bit smaller and little more purposeful.”

He’s also kept in touch with the Boettcher Foundation, looking for opportunities to give back and pay forward his scholarship to the next generation, including naming the Boettcher Foundation in his will.

Skip now owns Seward Global Consulting, which helps companies comply with the latest government regulations in food safety. He says that generally, companies want to do the right thing and produce safe food, they just need a little help sometimes.

Skip and Dee in Thailand.

Nominated by his peers, Skip is currently in his fourth two-year term serving on the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods. This committee is sponsored by and works to advise the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Defense.

When he is not working, Skip and Dee enjoy travel. In fact, when a coconut water project recently took him to Thailand for four months, he and his wife took the opportunity to travel throughout Southeast Asia and China where they hiked the Great Wall for several weeks.

Skip has already accomplished so much in his career, but he remains excited by the opportunities still to come.

“I am still stimulated by my job and helping food companies improve their food safety. There are always new challenges associated with emerging pathogens. I have enjoyed going to work each morning because I enjoy what I do and interacting with new and old friends along the way. And it all goes back to the great opportunity that the Boettcher Foundation gave me in 1970.”

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