Nov. 13, 2007

Professor Emeritus Keith H. Steinkraus dies at age 89

Cornell Professor Emeritus Keith H. Steinkraus, a specialist in indigenous fermented foods and food microbiology, died Oct. 23. He was 89.

Steinkraus, who joined the faculty of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in 1952, graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota in 1939 and earned a Ph.D. in microbiology in 1951 from Iowa State University. He was promoted to full professor in 1962 and retired as professor emeritus in 1988, although he remained active in his field and at Cornell for many years afterward.

At Cornell, the experience of mentoring international students who had come from Asia, Central America and Africa to study the microbiology of their native foods prompted Steinkraus to study fermented foods, including tempe, tape, trahanas, idli/dosa and the fermented fish sauces and soy products of the Far East, including miso and tofu.

In 1959 Steinkraus was invited by the Interdepartmental Committee for Nutrition for National Defense to participate in surveys of the nutritional status of military personnel, their dependents and the general populations of South Vietnam, Ecuador and Burma. The project was later extended to include Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia.

Over the course of his career, Steinkraus maintained and developed his connections with Asia as a consultant on food processing issues in Indonesia and as a teacher and researcher at the University of the Philippines College of Agriculture. He lectured in Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, London, Germany and Switzerland. His "Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods," published in 1983, was the first comprehensive and authoritative book on the subject.

Steinkraus was the American delegate to the United Nations Environmental Program, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and International Cell Research Organization panel on applied microbiology and biotechnology and worked as a consultant to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization to determine how genetic engineering and biotechnology could be used to help developing countries in Africa. He was honored in 1985 with the Institute of Food Technologists' International Award and was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Microbiology.

A memorial service will be held Sunday, June 8, at 2 p.m. in Sage Chapel.

Elizabeth Keller is a part-time writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.