“My undergraduate major at Colorado State turned out to be animal science, and then I got to know graduate students at the university,” he says. “I went on to get my PhD in Meat Safety from the Center for Meat Safety and Quality there.”
Carlson has worked in the meat industry for the past 19 months, joining Harris Ranch Beef Co. in Selma, Calif., as director of food safety and quality assurance. And he remains involved with his brothers’ beef farm and ranch in Western Nebraska, helping them when he can.
“We moved to the panhandle because land was easier to acquire than in Colorado,” he says.
Carlson is doing exactly what he loves. “I never really wanted to do anything else but be in the meat industry. The people in it are wonderful, and it’s not just a job or even a career; it’s a way of life. It’s in my blood, and there are new challenges all the time I have to meet and deal with,” he says.
Now at age 29, virtually all of his attention is focused on Harris Ranch and working in the meat industry.
“In his position at Harris Ranch Beef, he has demonstrated leadership in effectively addressing multi-faceted issues unique to a functionally integrated beef company operating in California,” says Dr. Gary Smith, retired professor of meat science at CSU, of this Rising Star. “He has enhanced the company’s microbiological sampling program, as well as successfully designing and implementing a fi nished-grind sampling program to further enhance brand protection.”
Carlson works on regulatory affairs with US Dept. of Agriculture officials, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Food and Drug Administration and retailers. He has major food safety responsibility at the company. Carlson initiated a branded beef program at the company, where every product it made has the company’s name on it, he says. He is also responsible for developing the company’s final stage testing program. “All our ground beef for sale is tested, in addition to our normal trim testing program.”
He believes such testing will be required for all companies soon. His passion is educating consumers.
“With all the information on the Internet, consumers understand where their food is coming from,” Carlson says. “And beef has a great story to tell about family farms and ranches. We need to educate consumers about how we are working to ensure animals are treated well and their food is safe.” This can be achieved by combating negative publicity in the press, bad information and misconceptions many consumers have today about meat.
The industry must face the continuing regulatory oversight by the government on a daily basis, which can be a challenge. “Perception of the industry is a huge factor we have to deal with – the idea there are 37 million people [in California] looking over our shoulders at Harris Beef, watching what we do.”
Carlson plans to stay involved in the industry for the rest of his life. “My long-term goal is to get the production segment of the beef industry more involved in food safety. Our industry is too segmented. Our industry must unite, all of us contributing to food safety, food quality and a positive industry image,” Carlson concludes.