When Wenqing Xu was a child in Chengdu, China, she saw the man who delivered her family’s milk putting river water into his milk tanks. It was then she realized how vulnerable our food system can be.
Xu serves as the LSU AgCenter food safety specialist and is an assistant professor in the LSU College of Agriculture. She said that day near the river inspired her to study food microbiology and work to protect consumers against pathogens.
Xu earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Nanjing Agricultural University School of Food Science and Engineering. She came to the U.S. in 2010 to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Delaware.
“China is 20 years behind the U.S. in terms of food safety research, so I wanted to study in the best country in the world for this type of research,” Xu said.
In 2014, Xu finished her Ph.D. and made the move to Louisiana.
“I like the spicy food here. It reminds me of my home,” Xu said.
Xu has a three-way appointment at the AgCenter and College of Agriculture – doing extension work, conducting research and teaching in the classroom. Her first priority when joining the AgCenter was to identify food safety needs in the state and work with agents and educators to create a food safety culture.
Part of her extension work includes training community food handlers such as disaster response teams, festival volunteers and faith-based organizations on safe food handling processes.
“When you cook for groups, it is much different from cooking at home,” Xu said.
Xu also is collaborating with Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge to help prevent the foodborne illness listeriosis in pregnant women.
With an outgoing and friendly attitude, Xu is well-suited for extension work, but she enjoys being in the lab as well. She has several research projects, including one on norovirus, its survival on different surfaces and the decontamination of surfaces. She is also studying the microbial safety of strawberries after a flood.
“I like the idea that I can use what I learn in the lab, implement it and see behavioral changes,” she said.
Xu teaches a food safety class in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, and she is advising one doctoral student and two master’s students.
“I keep emphasizing to my students that when they graduate, they must remember to do the right thing. People’s lives are at stake. They must make the right decisions to protect consumers,” she said.
Xu said she has enjoyed traveling across Louisiana and meeting with diverse groups. Being from a different culture has helped her understand the unique needs groups can have. One of her favorite experiences since coming to Louisiana was working with shrimpers in Terrebonne Parish.
“I added an important piece of knowledge to my professional practice – culture comes first and food safety education follows. Taking time to learn the culture has guided my work with home food preservers in northern Louisiana, small food purveyors in rural communities, as well as food handlers in faith-based organizations who feed the public during natural disasters,” she said.
Xu has found a niche at LSU. She enjoys the friendly nature of people, the beauty of campus and the food and culture that make Louisiana unique. One of her of favorite spots in Baton Rouge is the top of the state Capitol.“I like going up there. All of my problems seem very small up there,” she said.
Tobie Blanchard is the assistant director of LSU AgCenter Communications and communication coordinator for the College of Agriculture.
Wenqing Xu. Photo by Tobie Blanchard
Wenqing Xu, third from left, explains the different media for growing bacteria cultures to her graduate students Dorra Djebbi Simmons, Shifa Shiraz and Austin Wong. Photo by Tobie Blanchard