Food Safety a ‘Labor of Love’ for CALS Alumna
A native of Davidson, North Carolina, Caitlin Boon participated in many 4-H activities in Cabarrus and Iredell counties. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences alumna says her experiences in 4-H, and later at North Carolina State University, helped shape her career journey, including roles with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“I can say, without a doubt, that I would not have found my way to senior leadership roles at the FDA had it not been for NC State,” says Boon. She adds that NC State provided her with a “robust academic foundation.” She earned bachelor’s degrees in food science and poultry science in 2002.
And even before she was a freshman in college, NC State became a second home to her. Every summer as a teenager, Boon traveled to NC State University for North Carolina 4-H Congress.
“I made great friends from across the state and got a chance to focus on the topics I liked best, particularly 4-H foods and health projects,” says Boon.
Boon says growing up in 4-H allowed her to explore food-related interests that weren’t possible in school. She also credits 4-H with helping her develop her leadership, writing and public speaking skills.
“Most importantly, it taught me that my perspectives, even as a kid, were valuable and that I shouldn’t be afraid to speak up even if I was the most junior person in a room – something that has served me well throughout my career,” Boon says.
4-H also introduced her to now-retired professor Gary Davis, who became a great mentor to her and introduced her to the field of poultry science.
“I had wonderful support from the faculty across CALS, particularly in my two departments – Food Science and Poultry Science. I also enjoyed having opportunities to do things I never would have been exposed to otherwise through the Scholars and Caldwell Fellows programs.”
After graduating from NC State, Boon went on to complete a master’s degree in food policy at City University London while on a Fulbright grant to the United Kingdom, and later, she earned a doctorate in food science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Her first post-graduate school job was working at the National Academies in the Institute of Medicine (IOM), where she served as study director for food and nutrition-related consensus reports and directed the IOM Food Forum. In 2010, she joined the FDA as a special assistant to the deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. While working for the FDA, Boon served in various roles, including senior science advisor to the chief of staff under Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and most recently serving as the associate commissioner for food policy and response.
“Throughout my FDA career, I focused on food safety and nutrition policy, often working on the cutting edge of food and nutrition science and policy-making,” says Boon.
And there was never a dull moment in her career with the FDA.
Boon says she worked on an array of issues, including responding to foodborne outbreaks and addressing urgent needs to protect food sector workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also created a novel data system to monitor supply chain challenges in the food industry.
In 2022, Boon was recognized with the FDA Distinguished Service Award. She was also the recipient of a 2022 CALS Outstanding Alumni Award in September.
And although Boon recently left the FDA this past summer, she is excited about what’s on the horizon and plans to stay close to an industry she loves.
“I am passionate about improving the food system for the future and preparing it for the challenges ahead. While we have one of the safest food systems in the world, one illness is too many,” says Boon. “There are many facets to keeping food safe and making it as nutritious as possible, with new challenges emerging daily due to supply chain issues and the growing impacts of climate change. Working with a broad array of stakeholders to address these complex issues is a labor of love for me.”