Lead Dawg: Darlene Cowart
Darlene Cowart (MS – Horticulture, ’91; PhD — Food Science, ’93) is a proud member of the Georgia peanut industry and uses her role at Birdsong Peanuts to ensure food safety measures are enforced at one of the largest peanut shellers in the state.
“I do feel quite an obligation to the industry. The obligation is to protect our product. You want to protect the consumer first, and in so doing you will protect the industry, which is a huge industry here in Georgia,” said Cowart, corporate director of Food Safety and Quality at Birdsong Peanuts.
“Whatever has happened to me in my professional career, I’ve always been able to go back to a class or think about a professor or something I learned and say, ‘I may not be an expert in that but I’ve been exposed to that.’ I think that level of exposure allowed me to be a more well-rounded student and more well-rounded professional,” said Cowart.
Cowart was hired at Birdsong in 2009 after a salmonella outbreak from a peanut plant in Blakely, Georgia, spurred major manufacturers to make improvements in food safety, which included the supply chain.
Peanut shellers were ready to hire professionals like Cowart, who specialize in food safety, with the goal of revamping and improving food safety in the shelling industry. Georgia leads the country in peanut production, and Georgia farmers account for more than 45% of the U.S. peanut crop every year.
“I’m really proud of the industry for stepping up and doing the right thing in a really tough situation. The peanut industry has done that, whether it’s with the farming segment, the shelling segment or with the manufacturers and the buying points. Everybody has pulled together to do the right thing and I am honored to be part of such an amazing industry,” Cowart said.
By Clint Thompson
Darlene Cowart protects peanut consumers through food science. (Photo by Clint Thompson)