Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety: Who Is Mindy Brashears?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Mindy Brashears

Mindy Brashears, a professor of food science at Texas Tech University, was nominated May 4, 2018, to lead the Food Safety and Inspection Service in the Department of Agriculture.


Brashears grew up on a cattle and cotton farm in Wheeler, Texas, not far from the Oklahoma state line, daughter of Gary and Becky Hardcastle. Brashears graduated from Wheeler High School and went to Texas Tech, where she majored in food technology, thanks to a Future Farmers of America scholarship. She graduated in 1992 and then left for graduate school at Oklahoma State University. There, she earned an M.S. (1994) and a Ph.D. (1997) in food microbiology.


Brashears’ first job after leaving college was as an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska, where she was an extension food safety specialist. She returned to Texas Tech in 2001 as an assistant professor, moving up to associate professor in 2004 and a full professor in 2009. As early as 2004, Brashears was director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech, a position she still held when she was nominated to join the Trump administration.


Brashears has been a prolific author and researcher, publishing more than 100 scholarly articles. She has also received more than $20 million in research grants over her career. Many of them came from government agencies, but a significant portion came from entities such as the Texas Beef Council, the American Meat Industry Foundation, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and drug maker Pfizer. Brashears will be regulating the industry that supported her academic career.


In 2006, she announced that a new line of products, Bavomine Meat Cultures, would make beef and poultry products almost completely free of salmonella and E. coli bacteria. The product was distributed by the Nutrition Physiology Corporation, which helped fund the research and agreed to provide Texas Tech with royalties.


In 2008, Brashears and two colleagues at Texas Tech watched 49 episodes of programs on the Food Network with an eye for food safety practices. They found 118 positive food safety examples and 460 poor food handling incidents. The most important lesson was to remind cooks to wash their hands frequently.


That same year, Brashears founded MicroZap to market a microwave process to purify food and water.


Brashears holds at least 17 patents, some of which are for food decontamination processes. Unless Brashears gives up the patents, she could benefit financially from those her agency is supposed to regulate.


In 2017, Brashears was an expert witness for Beef Products Inc. (BPI) in its lawsuit against ABC News. ABC had reported on BPI’s “lean finely textured beef” product, referring to it as “pink slime.” Lean finely textured beef is made from beef chunks and trimmings. It’s shot with bursts of ammonium hydroxide to kill E. coli and other contaminants. ABC and BPI settled the suit during the trial, with ABC paying a reported $177 million, but not retracting its story.


Brashears has spent quite a bit of time in Honduras, helping its cattle ranchers improve nutrition for their animals and working on food safety issues there.


Brashears and her husband (and high school sweetheart), Todd, also a professor at Texas Tech, have three daughters: Bailey, Reagan and Presley.

-Steve Straehley, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

Texas Tech Professor with Close Ties to Big Ag Nominated by Trump to Regulate the Industry (by Christopher Collins, Texas Observer)

Brashears will Eventually be the Next Under Secretary for Food Safety (by Dan Flynn, Food Safety News)

ABC TV Settles With Beef Product Maker in “Pink Slime” Defamation Case (by Timothy Mclaughlin, Reuters)

Five Minutes With Dr. Mindy Brashears and a Happy Life Being Lived Well (by Chuck Jolley, Drovers)

Curriculum Vitae—Mindy Brashears (pdf)

Official Announcement


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