In Memoriam John Hinton Bassett Christian (9 May 2024)

The ICMSF mourns the passing of John Christian who was ICMSF member (1971-1991), Chair (1980-1991) and Consultant (1992-1994).

Current members of the Commission often remark on how fortunate they are to ride on the ‘shoulders of giants’ of past members and none more so than John who was indeed a true giant in the world of food microbiology.

John’s career in microbiology spanned over 40 years. During his early career in the 1950s and 60s, John was one of the pioneers in research on the influence of water and solutes on bacteria such as Staphlycoccus and Salmonella which led to the development of the water activity concept in food safety. He published numerous papers and reports and co-authored books on food microbiology and food safety. He was Chief of the Division of Food Preservation and Transport at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) during the period 1979-1986 and during his career received many awards including an AO in the 1987 Queen’s Birthday Honours for service to science.

John’s leadership and contribution to ICMSF as Chair was profound. During his tenure, work within the ICMSF led to the advancement and implementation of food safety principles which, without doubt, significantly improved the safety of foods in international trade and led to positive public health outcomes globally.

John took over as ICMSF Chair in 1980 and this was at a time where the amount of food traded internationally was increasing along with difficulties in applying microbiological specifications for food. This was initially addressed through two books that recommended uniform analytical methods (ICMSF 1978), and sound sampling plans and criteria (ICMSF 1974, 1978, 2nd ed 1986).

Through his research and expertise on factors that influenced the behavior of microorganisms in foods, John then led the Commission to develop a book on the microbial ecology of foods (ICMSF 1980a,b). The book was intended to familiarise analysts with processes used in the food industry and microbiological aspects of foods submitted to the laboratory. Knowledge of the microbiology of the major food commodities, and the factors affecting the microbial content of these foods was crucial to help analysts interpret analytical results.

The final major project under his leadership of the Commission was in the development of the use of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points or HACCP in food safety. The Commission recognised that no sampling plan can ensure the absence of a pathogen in food. Testing foods at ports of entry, or elsewhere in the food chain, cannot guarantee food safety. This led the Commission to explore the potential value of HACCP for enhancing food safety a book on the principles of HACCP and procedures for developing

HACCP plans (ICMSF 1988), covering the importance of controlling the conditions of producing/harvesting, preparing, and handling foods.

Importantly, throughout his time as Chair John was an excellent ambassador for the ICMSF within the international standard setting body CODEX ALIMENTARIUS and he was frequently asked as an expert to joint FAO/WHO groups considering advances in food hygiene.

Perhaps more important than all of his technical expertise, it was his engaging and collaborative leadership style which allowed him to impart so much respect, influence and impact. He was extremely generous with his time and was always willing to mentor and share his expertise with others and especially students within the profession.

He was always true gentleman and always a pleasure to interact with, indeed a true gentle giant of food microbiology that the profession will forever be indebted to.

Our sincere condolences go to John’s wife Jacky and family.

Martin Cole, past Chair

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