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Food safety guru Dave Theno dies at age 66

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Dave Theno, one of the restaurant industry’s most prominent authorities on food safety, drowned Monday off the coast of Hawaii while swimming with his grandson, according to media reports. He was 66 years old.

Theno shot to national prominence in 1993 when he was brought into Jack in the Box after 732 people had been sickened in the Pacific Northwest by burgers contaminated with E.coli 0157:H7 bacteria. Four children died and more than 170 other victims were permanently injured in the outbreak.

Theno was recruited to put safeguards into place at Jack in the Box to ensure the chain was a safe place to eat, a message Theno himself often delivered to the public. His authority and the sweeping protective measures he instituted were widely viewed as the measures that saved the chain from losing its customer base. Almost instantly, Jack in the Box was recognized as one of the safest places in the industry to eat.

Among the measures Theno adopted was NASA’s approach to safeguarding astronauts, Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points, or HACCP. Instead of blindly striving to avert risk on all fronts, HACCP calls for looking at where a system or process is most vulnerable and focusing action on those junctures.

HACCP has since become the standard food safety strategy of the restaurant industry.

Theno stayed with Jack in the Box until 2009, when he left to start a consultancy. He continued to speak at industry events.

Local media say Theno was snorkeling off the shoreline running in front of the Four Seasons Lanai when he was hit by an unusually large wave and disappeared. Bystanders saw him floating facedown and pulled him onto the beach, but were unable to resuscitate him. 

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