Ted Labuza Obituary

It is with deep sorrow that we share the news of the passing of Dr. Theodore P. Labuza, a luminary in the realm of Food Science and Technology. A distinguished figure in both academia and industry, Dr. Labuza left an indelible mark on our community, serving as our MNIFT President in 1980 and later as the National IFT President in 1988.

Theodore Peter Labuza Obituary

Dr. Theodore Peter Labuza, 83, passed away in his home in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota surrounded by his family on December 4, 2023. Throughout his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Minnesota, Professor Labuza served as an internationally recognized leader in research, teaching, and service for the food and agricultural sector.

Labuza was born on November 10, 1940, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey to Theodore Labuza and Catherine Stychek. He was the oldest of four children in a traditional Ukrainian Catholic home. Ted, as he was known, was deeply involved in the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Perth Amboy, serving as an acolyte and playing the drums for various events. Beyond the church, he was active in the local Boy Scout Troop and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. As a child, he loved and played sports and yet was also known as the “Science Whiz” of Perth Amboy High School. In his 1958 high school yearbook, a full-page dedication was given to Labuza with the Mayor of Perth Amboy displaying his induction into the National Honor Society. It was apparent from a young age that he had a strong work ethic and manner of discipline, receiving a Rotary Scholarship that enabled him to attend MIT. Labuza was initially interested in the emerging field of nuclear science but found part-time work at MIT’s food irradiation laboratory, which opened his eyes to the field of food science and technology. After earning his Bachelor of Science degree in 1962 and a doctorate in 1965 from MIT, he accepted a faculty position at the institution, achieving the rank of Associate Professor. In 1971, he joined the University of Minnesota to help build out the Department of Food Science and Nutrition. With over fifty years of contributions, he became one of the university’s top scholars and retired as an Emeritus professor in 2021.

In 1985, he married Dr. Mary K. Schmidl, also a food scientist, at the Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Sausalito, California. Together they dedicated themselves to raising their three children, their science and engineering careers, and their fifth-generation family ranch located in Live Oak, California. His children were always foremost on his mind, nurturing them and providing them with opportunities to achieve their dreams. While traveling the world teaching and being a keynote speaker at scientific and engineering conferences, his children often accompanied him, so they could also experience all cultures and the humanity of the world, which he embraced. All of their children attended universities, and some went on to obtain advanced degrees e.g. master’s and doctorate degrees.

Labuza’s contributions to the field of science and engineering are immeasurable, helping develop numerous modern food safety and preservation techniques. His publication record includes over 600 articles, eighteen books, 80 book chapters, and eight patents. His work has been used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Defense (DoD), Homeland Security, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), not to mention numerous governmental agencies throughout the globe.

In 1988, Ted was elected the youngest President of the Institute of Food Technologists. As a mentor, he advised over 200 undergraduates, Masters, PhD, post-doctoral candidates, and visiting professors, many of whom have become top faculty and industry leaders across the globe. As a researcher, teacher, and mentor, Ted’s recognitions and awards are unmatched by any other scientist or engineer in his field, including the achievement of the Nicolas Appert Award, the highest award given by the Institute of Food Technologists for preeminence in Food Science and Technology. Ted was skilled not only in research but also in the communication of science, making regular guest appearances on local, national, and international broadcasts to cover issues related to consumer food safety and health concerns. Labuza designed a core course for undergraduates examining ethics and law by debating contemporary controversies in food culture, which has been highly in demand by thousands of students.

Turning down numerous offers to remain in Minnesota, Labuza loved biking, skiing, boating, canoeing, dog sledding, fishing, gardening or simply attending one of the many “Golden Gopher” sporting events in the area, always with family, friends, colleagues, and students. He enjoyed all that Minnesota had to offer including the sunset on the lake at his home. On October 14, 2023, the University of Minnesota held a celebration honoring Professor Labuza. It was attended by individuals from throughout the United States, and from Europe, Asia, and Africa to show their deep admiration and respect for a remarkably talented, gifted, generous, caring, and loving individual. A video recording and materials covering the event can be found on this webpage: https://fscn.cfans.umn.edu/events/labuza-2023

He is survived by his spouse, Dr. Mary Katherine Schmidl Labuza of Vadnais Heights, Minnesota; their son, Theodore Labuza of Vadnais Heights, Minnesota; their son Peter Labuza of Los Angeles, California, their daughter Katherine Labuza of Boston, Massachusetts; their grandchild, Jayden Labuza; his brother, Gregory Labuza of Morganville, New Jersey and his sister, Loretta Keimel of Piscataway, New Jersey. He was preceded in death by his parents, Theodore and Catherine Labuza, and his sister, Kathleen Haedrich.