Faculty Spotlight: Byron Chaves-Elizondo

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Faculty Spotlight: Byron Chaves-Elizondo

About Byron

I am originally from Costa Rica, where I completed my undergraduate degree. I came to the U.S. in 2008 and completed a master’s degree at Clemson University in food science/experimental statistics in 2010 and a doctorate degree in applied microbiology at Texas Tech University in 2015. During my doctorate degree, I did research internships in Ireland and France, which were amazing learning and cultural opportunities. After I received my doctorate degree, I moved to Philadelphia and worked in food safety consulting. That consulting brought me to Nebraska and South Dakota often, and in 2017, I joined the faculty at UNL. I love to travel, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to live in and visit amazing places.

What is your position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?

I am an assistant professor and food safety extension specialist. I have a deadly three-way appointment: teaching, research and extension. It gets pretty chaotic, but I love everything I do. I teach one core course in food science, food quality assurance and a couple of graduate microbiology courses. My research focuses on risk mitigation for foodborne pathogens in foods of animal origin and in the processing environment. I work with Salmonella in poultry, pathogenic E. coli in pork, Listeria in food processing environments and viruses in food contact surfaces and food packaging materials. Everything we do in my lab is geared towards finding practical solutions to industry food safety problems that will eventually result in fewer people getting food poisoned. Last but not least, I do Nebraska Extension working closely with the Nebraska food manufacturing industry. I provide training and technical assistance in food safety, sanitation, food regulations and food safety management systems. I visit food facilities often to conduct audits of their food safety practices and provide advice to increase compliance with state and federal regulations, which will also result in fewer people getting sick and keeping the business afloat.

What drew you to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?

I needed a job! Honestly, reputation. My doctorate degree advisor’s first academic position was at UNL. Funny enough, I have the position she had 25 years ago, with another faculty in between. Our food science and technology program is top in the nation and we do high quality, pertinent research in many areas of food science, so I’ve known about the department for a long time. I even applied to UNL for my doctorate, but sadly they couldn’t find the funding for me at the time. I was destined to end up in Lincoln, though! I knew when I came to interview that UNL was the school I wanted to work at.

What aspect of working in an educational setting do you enjoy the most?

Learning. I went into academia because I love to learn and know things. The fact that we have so much talent on campus is fascinating. I can email or call or walk down the hallway and get answers from experts in so many fields doing innovative and revolutionary work in their areas. Another aspect that I truly enjoy is transferring practical experience to my undergraduate and graduate students. I teach very practical courses and the experience I gain working with industry through my extension projects has allowed me to provide real life examples in the classroom and talk about challenges that the food industry faces as well as how companies are overcoming those challenges.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Impact on my students. There are six graduate students in my lab and one postdoc researcher. Helping them grow as scientists is really rewarding. My former students (grad and undergrad) are very good at staying in touch with me, which makes me think I did something right as a mentor.

What is something that most people don't know about you?

Tough question! I am very transparent. Being a food safety expert, people often assume I am very picky eater, but honestly, I eat everything!

What is your life like outside of work?

I love to travel! 20+ countries and 40 states in the U.S., and counting. I recently went to Lake Tahoe and loved it. I will hopefully travel more once some travel restrictions are lifted. I love the beach and mountains alike, so I am good anywhere. The gym is my way to decompress and disconnect. Running on a treadmill brings my stress levels down (I know, it’s weird!) but helps me stay sane. I love to dine out and spend time with friends and my partner.