Unilever’s Debbie Meiners was posthumously awarded the NCFST Director’s Award in March 2009, in recognition of her outstanding service to the national consortium and industry.
The National Center for Food Safety and Technology (NCFST), Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), presented the NCFST Director’s Award posthumously to Unilever’s Mary Deborah “Debbie” Meiners at the consortium’s semi-annual meeting March 16-17. Meiners passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on Feb. 7, 2009, at the age of 54.
The NCFST Director’s Award recognizes the contributions of an individual or an organization to the National Center for Food Safety and Technology and its food safety and nutrition collaborative stakeholders in academia, government and industry.
Meiners served as a leader on the NCFST Executive Advisory Board, which she joined when it was established in 2006. As the board’s vice chair, Meiners was gearing up to assist NCFST with its capital fundraising campaign when she passed away. At the time of her death, Meiners was the Director of Research and Development for Unilever in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Her career in the food industry spanned three decades and included experience in quality, product and process development and corporate research.
In accepting the award on behalf of Meiners, long-time Unilever colleague Michael Cirigliano, PhD, noted that Meiners not only had a passion for science and her work in food safety, but that she was a true motivator who took a special interest in the next generation of food scientists.
Meiners received a BS in Animal Science from Purdue University in 1976 and was hired as a quality control technician for Kelling Nuts in Wayne, N.J. She became a Bestfoods employee when Kelling Nuts was bought by CPC and Best Foods and stayed with the company when Unilever and Bestfoods merged in 2001.
During the 1980s and 90s, she worked in a variety of positions within these companies, including microbiology, corporate research technician, member of the Fats & Oils and Dressings Group, group leader and section leader for the Peanut Butter Group, principal food technologist in the Dressings Group and group leader of the Knorr “Mainstream” Group. In the late 1980s, Meiners was the project leader for the development and launch of CPC/Bestfoods cholesterol-free mayonnaise and program manager for CPC’s program to produce a high-quality, no-fat mayonnaise that eventually led to the introduction of Hellmann’s and Best Foods reduced-fat mayonnaise in the early 1990s.
With the merger of Unilever and Bestfoods in 2001, Debbie assumed responsibility for Dressings and Analytical prior to moving to Chicago and heading the company’s R&D Foodservice North America operations. In 2004, she returned to New Jersey and became part of the R&D group in Englewood Cliffs.
Meiners also obtained several patents during her career, including one for mayonnaise and dressing compositions with a glucono-delta-lactone preservative system (1997) and one for a container for microwave cooking of food products containing liquids and microwaveable pasta in a bowl (2001).