Jeffrey K. Brecht, Ph.D.

Jeffrey K. Brecht, Ph.D.

Professor of Horticultural Sciences

Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

2008 Awardee

For Jeffrey K. Brecht, ensuring that the best produce makes it from the tree to the table is top priority. As a professor of horticultural sciences, Brecht is an expert in every aspect of the post-harvest process, from picking to handling to shipping to retail storage.

The $950-billion retail food industry suffers high losses due to spoilage, and much of the cost can be attributed to packaging, distributing and marketing rather than the actual growing process. Brecht’s research, which earned him recognition as an American Society for Horticultural Science Fellow in 2006, focuses on improving harvested produce and maintaining its safety.

On one of his latest projects for the USDA National Research Initiative, Brecht is turning up the heat on improving produce. By subjecting tomatoes to heat stress, Brecht hopes to alter their metabolism to improve color, flavor and aroma. Heat stress may also keep the tomatoes from damage in low temperatures like those inside a refrigerator. Ultimately, Brecht’s research may be a practical solution for improving all fruits and vegetables.

As director of the UF/IFAS Research Center for Food Distribution and Retailing, Brecht oversees 25 faculty members who are working together to improve the quality of perishable foods. The center partners with food industry leaders, including retail food stores and restaurants, to develop smarter ways to transport, package and store perishables.

Some of Brecht’s latest projects through the center include refrigeration systems that are custom-tailored to certain foods’ physical and biological needs; and radio frequency identification, which would track items in warehouses, en route to their destination and in retail stores. Recently, the center was authorized to conduct a year-long, $4.5-million study on the shipment of perishable foods for the military using environmental and biological sensors for tracking and quality control.

In the last 5 years, Brecht has written 31 articles, 11 book chapters and more than 80 other manuscripts on his research, in addition to more than 40 presentations he’s delivered locally, nationally and internationally.