Bruno Xavier

Bruno Xavier is associate director of the Cornell Food Venture Center at Cornell AgriTech.

Ed. note: This is the first article in a monthly series the Finger Lakes Times is doing on the faculty and staff at Cornell AgriTech, and how their work impacts our way of life.

GENEVA — When people do their grocery shopping and pluck their favorite food items from the shelves, they may not give much thought to whether it’s safe to eat.

Well, Bruno Xavier and his colleagues at the Cornell Food Venture Center put plenty of thought — and work — into it. And because they do, the consumer doesn’t have to worry about it.

“We analyze products to make them safe,” said Xavier, the center’s associate director. “We work with people and companies of all sizes, from the mom-and-pop operations making recipes in their kitchen to sell $500 worth of product per year ... to the big companies such as Wegmans, Goya and Nestle.”

It’s the kind of work Xavier — now a nationally recognized food scientist — seemed destined for growing up in Juiz de Fora, Brazil, a town about 100 miles from Rio de Janeiro. Both his parents were involved in farming, his father with coffee and his mother in the dairy industry.

Xavier worked on a dairy farm during his youth and became a dairy technician at the age of 17, part of a high school program that required graduates to have a technical degree as well. In college, he earned a bachelor’s degree in food engineering and a master’s in microbiology, both in Brazil.

His college advisor connected Xavier with James Russell, then a top U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher at Cornell University. Russell encouraged Xavier to attend Cornell to get a PhD in microbiology, which he did in 2008.

“That is how I first came here. Dr. Russell was the key for that,” Xavier said. “It just wasn’t on my merit. He supported me to come here.”

Xavier later earned a post-doctoral degree in food science, working in Cornell’s Milk Quality Improvement Program.

“That is a pretty big program, one of big distinction,” he said. “New York has one of the best milk supplies in the country, and that program is a huge part of it.”

Xavier returned to Brazil to become a professor of biotechnology and industrial microbiology at Brazil’s Federal University of São João del-Rei, his alma mater. He did that for six years.

“I realized that I managed to get my college education in Brazil for free, while many students in the U.S. are racking up $200,000 in student loans,” he said. “I felt I had to give back a bit.”

Xavier returned to the United States in 2016, when he joined the Cornell Food Venture Center. Part of the center’s work is acting as a liaison between government agencies like the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration, and the company or person making a product.

“If you want to bring a product to market in the U.S., there are safety regulations — also in Europe and other countries, but the U.S. is a leader in this field,” he said. “It’s like a person growing strawberries who wants to make jelly with their grandmother’s recipe. How you do know if that food is safe? We are the middleman between the government and producer.”

The Food Venture Center is the biggest processing authority in the country, helping bring thousands of products safely to market each year. About 60% are New York state products — the rest in other parts of the country and overseas.

While much of the work done by Xavier and his team is with documentation and the science of product development, he enjoys working with entrepreneurs — big and small — to help bring their product to market.

One of those is Paul Guglielmo, who founded Guglielmo’s Sauce — the company produces high-end pasta sauces — in 2014. Guglielmo also owns Craft Cannery in Bergen, Genesee County, a co-packer for other companies. In addition, Guglielmo was well-known as a “sidekick” to Rochester radio personality Brother Wease for many years before starting his business.

“Bruno is the kind of guy who really likes helping people,” Guglielmo said. “I talked to him at a Grow-New York event in Syracuse, and I had about a thousand questions. He gave me his complete, undivided attention.

“He lives for this stuff. He’s also a genius, although he would never say that. We wouldn’t be here without Cornell and Bruno specifically. He’s got a great team there. He was instrumental in helping us figure out some things, some complicated recipes, and how to make them shelf stable.”

Xavier and the Food Venture Center work closely with the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at AgriTech, a hub connecting businesses and entrepreneurs with the services they need to succeed. The latter largely was conceived by Jan Nyrop, AgriTech’s director.

“I tell people we are the Disneyland for food product nerds,” Xavier said with a laugh. “I love working with people who are passionate about their products. The sense that we are helping people succeed is very fulfilling — and Cornell pays me to do that!”

Trending Food Videos

Recommended for you