Catching Up with Carl Winter

This week we’re catching up with our 2012 Borlaug CAST Communication Award winner, Dr. Carl Winter. His research and outreach work focus on pesticide residues and naturally occurring toxins in foods, food chemical and microbiological risk assessment, and food safety education using music. Winter commented, “My selection as the 2012 BCCA recipient has been the top honor of my career. I appreciate the recognition of CAST that communication of science and agriculture is critical to the public good and have been humbled to be recognized as a BCCA winner.”

What were your interests and background growing up?

As a child, I really enjoyed science, math, and sports. My mother was a piano teacher, so music was everywhere and stealthily made its way into my life as well, for which I am now grateful.

What’s your favorite research?

I have always appreciated practical, big-picture research that addresses broad societal concerns. As a result, much of my research has involved studying how risks of pesticides in food are measured, managed, and communicated. I served as primary author for a Scientific Status Summary for the Institute of Food Technologists on organic foods where organic and conventional foods were compared in terms of risks from pesticides, natural toxins, microorganisms, and environmental contaminants, and this work has been cited more than 500 times (Winter, C.K. and S.F. Davis  2006. Institute of Food Technologists Scientific Status Summary on Organic Foods. Journal of Food Science 71(9): R117-R124).

Specific to pesticides in foods, one of my favorite publications is one that did a risk assessment of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables and demonstrated that the risks to consumers were negligible (Winter, C.K. and J.M. Katz. 2011. Dietary exposure to pesticide residues from commodities alleged to contain the highest contamination levels. Journal of Toxicology.  doi: 10.1155/2011/589674). It took a while, but this paper is now featured prominently in the pesticide/food safety debate.

A wonderful benefit from having an academic career is the freedom to try new and different things. My music parodies started spontaneously back in 1996 and I had little expectation that they would help define my career. They continued to grow in popularity to the point where my YouTube page has reached more than one million views and I have given nearly 300 live musical presentations. I received a large USDA grant to study the effectiveness of incorporating music into food safety education and have published three papers demonstrating how music helps improve understanding of food safety among many different targeted groups.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

When my academic career started in 1987, several colleagues urged me to be very selective in choosing projects and approaches so as to not get overwhelmed. Another colleague, however, said that I should try to say “yes” to as many opportunities as possible to broaden my experiences and to help me best understand and identify my own passions. I took this colleague’s advice to heart and feel that it contributed greatly to a rewarding career by opening up the door to new experiences and interactions with interesting people.

Winter’s YouTube channel contains all of his food safety videos. You can also learn more about his research, publications, and honors on this UC Davis website.

Carl Winter playing music at a conference.

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