Remembering Rev. Dr. Paul Lachance

“Paul Lachance made food safe for all of us.”

By Marc-Andre LaChance 

The scientist responsible for the research and development of aerospace flight food and astronaut nutrition at the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center (Houston, TX) and an internationally recognized professor at Rutgers University died of parkinsonism in the McCarrick Care Center in Somerset, N.J. He was 83. 

The Rev. Dr. Paul A. Lachance, Ph.D, D.Sc., F.A.C.N., C.N.S. became nationally and internationally known for his groundbreaking work at NASA, his role imposing the HACCP Food Management System on the food industry, now used worldwide, and his award-winning work as a 40-year professor at Rutgers University. It is his work as a Permanent Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church since 1977 that may leave his most lasting mark. As St. Paul said, It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Galations 2:20). And surely Christ has lived through the life and work of Rev. Dr. Lachance. 

Paul Albert Lachance was born on June 5, 1933 “on the wrong side of the tracks” in St. Johnsbury, Vermont at 203 1/2 Railroad Avenue. His house was built between the railroad tracks and the Passumpsic River by his father Raymond, a very hardworking and industrious businessman, who expanded his plumbing business to include heating, a retail store, and investment in buildings which he remodeled into apartments. Paul was the oldest child of five children with Raymond’s second wife, Lucienne (Landry). (Raymond’s first wife, Marie-Germain Aline Hebert, died in 1929). Paul’s half-brother, Raymond Cyprien (Colchester, VT), died of Parkinson’s Disease in 2014, and Louise, his half-sister, died in 1993. Two younger brothers (Herbert in 1977 and Maurice in 2007) have died. Paul’s brother Richard, sister Gloria (Bouffard), and his brother’s spouse Elaine Leddy (Herbert) still survive, as do many nieces, nephews, God-children, cousins, valued professional colleagues, friends, and former students.

By the age of 10, Paul was trusted with the management of the retail store when his father, Raymond, was on out-of-town jobs. Life was one of work and little play. He attended several elementary parochial schools and a public school. He graduated from Sacred Heart High School in Newport, 50 miles from his home, in 1951 with his high school sweetheart: Thérèse Coté. His time living and learning with the nuns who taught at Sacred Heart from the Daughters of Charity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is where Paul’s spiritual life began in earnest. Being the top ranked male of his graduating class, Dr. Lachance earned a scholarship to the University of Vermont. Ironically, he did not stay at UVM long because his limited high school science training did not properly prepare him for the rigors of college chemistry. It is a great irony that a man who would later became an internationally recognized scientist began his collegiate career in danger of failing a science class.  

A friend at the UVM Newman House introduced Paul to Dean (and professor of English) Dr. Jeremiah Durick at St. Michael’s College. With Dr. Durick’s guidance and the expertise of SMC biology professor Dr. John C. Hartnett, Paul became a student at St. Michael’s College and a research assistant in the biology department where he conducted his first independent research, presenting at Brooklyn College in 1954. He worked as an orderly, practical nurse, and pharmacy assistant during college at the Bishop De Goesbriand Hospital, often returning to SMC past curfew in his white lab coat, earning him the nickname “Doc.” He was also employed in the SMC biology labs as a laboratory assistant for Dr. Sullivan (S.S.E.) and Dr. Hartnett. 

Paul earned a Bachelor of Science in biology with honors (minor in philosophy) from St. Michael’s College (Vt.) in 1955 where he was also a distinguished military graduate (1st Lt. USAF). In August of that year, he was married to his high school sweetheart, Thérèse Cecile (Coté) Lachance, daughter of Lucien Coté and Emilienne Bolduc, in the St. Mary “Star of the Sea” Church in Newport (Vt.) by Rev. Damase Carrieres. Dr. Lachance and Thérèse have raised four children: Dr. Michael Paul (born in 1956 in Burlington, Vt.); Peter André (1958 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada); Marc-André (1960 in Hull, Quebec, Canada); and Susan Ann (1962 in Dayton, Ohio). 

After graduation from St. Michael’s College, Dr. Lachance attended graduate school at the University of Vermont while working as an assistant master plumber and heater in Essex Junction (Vt.) with Herve Cardinal. He transferred with his young family to Ottawa University in Canada where he was accepted as a Ph.D. candidate and began part-time teaching: the beginning of a long, esteemed teaching career which would see him later earning a national teaching award and a university teaching award as selected by Rutgers University students. He earned a Ph.D. in Biology-Nutrition in 1960 (Cum Laude) under the guidance of Dr. Q.N. Laham and Dr. André Desmarais. He was appointed to the U.S. Air Force Aeromedical Research Laboratories in the Aeronautical Systems Division on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton where he served as an Aerospace Food and Nutrition Scientist until 1963. He provided support for the preflight feeding of the Mercury astronauts and for the feeding of U-2 pilots. At the same time, he was invited to be an adjunct lecturer (Embryology for pre-medical students) at Dayton University. He served as the USAF liaison to the NAS/NRC Food and Nutrition Board and as liaison to the NAS/NRC Space Science Board. Given his experience with Project Mercury, he was recruited by NASA. He completed his Air Force duties as a First Lieutenant with seven years as officer working in Aerospace Medicine in the U.S. Air Force (active duty, three years).  Dr. Lachance earned the position of NASA’s first Flight Food and Nutrition Coordinator at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, Texas. Her served in both the Crew Systems Division, Space Medicine Branch and in the Biomedical Research Office. All of NASA’s space food programs rest on the foundation that Dr. Lachance created with colleagues at NASA, in industry (especially Pillsbury), and with professionals at the Natick Labs at the Natick (U.S. Army) Base in Natick, MA. During his time in Houston, both Dr. Lachance and Thérèse became parish coordinators of the CYO movement at St. Mary’s Church. 

Early after his arrival at the Manned Space Center, Dr. Lachance determined that potential microbiological, physical, and chemical dangers had to be avoided in the in-flight food system. NASA was finding that many of the ingredients they were purchasing for possible use in space were contaminated with viral and bacterial pathogens. He did not want a late night telephone call from Dr. Charles A. Berry, Chief of the Center of Medical Operations Office, telling him that his astronaut or astronauts were sick and had stomach problems and were having a hard time holding food down. Dr. Lachance led the activity from the Manned Space Center in Houston and contracted with U.S. Army Natick Labs to provide the first food specifications and hazard criteria for astronaut food. He wrote the requirements for the Gemini and Apollo food systems which all contractors had to meet. If food did not meet his standards, it was rejected. Microbiologists began examining each food item and analyzed the potential areas of concern during the manufacturing process and then scoured publications to determine ingredients that were potentially dangerous—possibly containing viral or bacterial pathogens, heavy metals, other hazardous chemicals, or physical hazards. Requirements were more stringent than at any other time in human history because scientific research had indicated that stress might weaken an astronaut’s ability to fight infection. Even the smallest amount of a relatively harmless microorganism on earth could potentially cause an astronaut in orbit to become ill. This was the beginning of the HACCP system that would later be used across the world. The HACCP system received more publicity during the Apollo Program as contractors knew that they were required to develop prediction models for their systems to determine “critical failure areas” and then eliminate those hazards from the system. It was Dr. Lachance’s high standards—well known at both NASA and at Rutgers — that made the system work. 

Before Lachance’s work, food processors did not measure pathogens unless consumers reported bouts of food poisoning. Lachance’s work originating the HCAAP system has been called “the most revolutionary institutional innovation to ensure food safety of the twentieth century” by NASA historian Jennifer Ross-Nazzal  (http://tinyurl.com/nvtopn6). It is regarded as the national and international food safety standard for the food industry. No astronaut suffered from any type of food illness under Dr. Lachance’s watch. The system he developed (with important assistance from Natick Labs and microbiologist Dr. Howard E. Bauman at the Pillsbury Company) was dubbed “the HACCP system” and is used throughout the world by many multinational food conglomerates to protect billions of consumers. The HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) system changed the manner in which food manufacturers and regulators around the world look at the issue of food safety. Of all of NASA’s societal’s impact to society, the creation of the Quality Control CCPs by Dr. Lachance has been cited as one of NASA’s greatest spin-offs because it was the parent to the modern-day use of the HACCP system. Dr. Bauman and Pillsbury, one of 100-plus contractors for the Gemini and Apollo food systems, coined the acronym HACCP. 

The system was famously implemented by Pillsbury at all its food processing facilities. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assisted the juice and seafood industries to adopt HACCP. In 1993, around 30 years after Lachance began his careful work, the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak occurred which sickened over 700 and killed four children. It was one of the worst food poison outbreaks in contemporary history and brought ridicule to the “USDA Inspected” label. Meat and poultry were then put under HACCP in 1996. Aside from monitoring the critical control points, contractors must also now keep records that document the history of a food product. Records are kept from the moment the raw foods reach the plant. Logs indicate where the raw materials come from or, if the product has been processed, the name of the plant that produces the item and the names of people who work in the manufacturing of that item. Not only does strict adherence to the HACCP system keep millions of people free from food poisoning, the HACCP system’s records can accurately find the source(s) of the problems when issues arise. 

Some sources have incorrectly credited the origins of the HACCP system to the Pillsbury Company; Pillsbury acted within the contractual role assigned by NASA to implement the specifications of Quality Control CCPs and pre-existing hazardous food microbiological specifications. HACCP was a NASA initiative that was imposed by Lachance on food industry and was later labeled HACCP by the contractor, Pillsbury.

While at NASA, Dr. Lachance authored documents that clearly represented the unique leadership he provided to the U.S. Manned Spaceflight efforts. As the only applied nutritionist at the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center, he was the key and principle scientist and administrator of the effort to make possible a food system for both the Gemini and Apollo manned spaceflight efforts. The Gemini effort served as the foundation of the Apollo food system which he also supervised. His work included the initial written protocols for human studies and the food system for Skylab (Orbital Workshop). Lachance started with food that the U.S. military was using and what he had used for the U-2 pilots: tubed foods and freeze-dried squares. Some food highlights included compressed bacon squares (many calories and tons of Vitamin E); reconstituted Tang; dehydrated foods, and freeze-dried entrees. Delivery systems needed to be developed, and with Mary V. Klicka and Herb Hollender at Natick Labs (U.S. Army) and his NASA team (especially Robert A. Nanz), Dr. Lachance explored answers to many questions, including: can a human swallow in space? Can we make the food light in weight? What plastic laminate should be used with the foods?  Specs would be written, and, for the most part, Natick Labs would implement Lachance’s specs. When dealing with the delivery system for food, Lachance found that the laminating NASA had been using before his arrival was de-laminating (failing). He worked with Whirlpool subcontractor Cy Gilbert, director of research for Melapar plastic company (and later professor of Food Science at Rutgers), to develop the accurate mixture of plastics so a delivery system would work without flaws in space. Dr. Lachance was all about accuracy. (Gilbert would later recruit Dr. Lachance to join him on the Rutgers faculty). All of the work Lachance was monitoring was remarkable as the country was committed to landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Other examples he and his associates worked on included the first waste management and recycling program in space. 

It’s important to note that Dr. Lachance had been trained as a nutritionist; the term “food science” is a recent creation. As a result, much of Lachance’s food science training came while “on-the-job,” clearly demonstrating his ability to discover the problems that needed to be solved, the ability to learn through tireless hours in labs, and his consistent strategy to learn through the give-and-take with other professionals. For example, he knew what the USAF did with their U-2 pilots; he needed to know what the Army did for their troops and what the Navy did on submarines. He also had to know what astronauts would need in space and tried to tailor his work with the preferences astronauts stated; for example, astronaut Ed White did not like seafood.  

Dr. Lachance also earned hazardous duty pay while at NASA for completing dangerous experiments in place of astronaut Gus Grissom because they shared a similar physical build. 

Other important work by Dr. Lachance while at NASA that continues to be cited in present-day literature includes a calcium study of the astronauts: how to measure what is their food, how much they ate, and how it all impacts the lost mineral mass in flight; work on the astronauts’ electrolyte and nitrogen balance; loss of bone mineral density in their feet and hands; the effect of prolonged bedrest on the human body (not studied since WW II); the nutrition and stresses of short-term spaceflight; and total energy expenditure during spaceflight. In addition, Dr. Lachance was among the first scientists to explore the idea of recycling astronaut urine for drinking water. It is estimated that astronaut Scott Kelly may have consumed about 730 liters of recycled urine and sweat during his yearlong mission in the International Space Station.

Dr. Lachance had set aside an offer to teach at Rutgers University while serving at NASA; after the deadly Apollo I fire and after having signed off on all food specifications for the Apollo program, Rutgers added a teaching position with a goal to aid developing countries. In 1967, the Lachance family of six moved to South Brunswick, New Jersey, and Dr. Lachance joined the faculty of the Food Science Department of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and Rutgers – The State University. He earned full professor status in 1972. He served as the major Advisor to over 60 Ph.D. and Master Degree recipients. 

Dr. Lachance traveled over a million miles with different airlines working on improving nutrition throughout the world. He was often ahead of his time with his thoughts. He proved that the Food Guide Pyramid was nutrient deficient, and major changes finally came about in 2011 when the Food Guide Pyramid was redesigned http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1043452605490014. He forecasted the obesity epidemic early on as he observed more and more people consuming empty calories. He forecasted that there would be a link found between food and cancer. On a personal note, Dr. Lachance saved his granddaughter’s life by recommending that she immediately begin a gluten-free diet in 1992 (years before the diet was respected by medical professionals) after her granddaughter’s family was told that she would continue to lose abilities and die by physicians at the Boston Children’s Hospital. He was unable to convince them that there was a connection between the gut and brain…now, almost 25 years later, that connection has been proven. 

Along with other scientists, Dr. Lachance helped millions of babies be protected from neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida by helping to convince governments to fortify flour with folic acid. He was a person who challenged the “fad” diets that continued to become popular. With his students, he traveled to Guatemala and fortified the flour used in tortillas, lowering the number of children who died. The result was a 45 percent reduction in infant mortality (Vitamin A, three B vitamins, and iron). Dr. Lachance conducted the leading study of the nutritional value of fruits, identifying kiwi as the top choice. School food has been examined by the Obama administration in recent years, but Dr. Lachance’s work in the “School Feeding Effectiveness Research Project” improved nutrition in Rye, New York and in the North Carolina school system by fortifying Wonder Bread and adding nutrients to the pastry, breads, soup, cookies and brownies. His was a common sense approach: improve the nutritional value of what students were being offered at schools. 

Lachance and his students carried out a diverse variety of research projects during his tenure at Rutgers. Examples of research contributions include: protein quality measurements in rodent models, development of nutrient analyses techniques, effects of various carbohydrate sources on spontaneous activity and brain function, evaluation of nutrient retention in processed and stored foods, impact of retinoids (vitamin A-like molecules) and carotenoids on lipid metabolism and the nutritional value of foods meant for developing countries.  He was a great proponent of fortified foods to enhance health.  For example, he promoted meat extenders and micronutrients for child feeding programs.  He coined the term, “Nutrification” meaning “to make completely nutritious” and urged both federal food programs, including school foodservice and the food industry, to adapt this approach. His work  (and the work of his talented students) with B-6 and neurotransmitters and B-6 in relation to obesity was foundational; the work on the stability of five forms of B-6  and his work on blood cholesterol depression effect of beta-carotene in three species of animals is renowned, as are his studies on obesity. His work famously challenged and evaluated different diet plans, and Rutgers received international recognition through his work identifying kiwi as being the most nutritious fruit. For his lifetime of work, he was elected as an original member of the St. Michael’s College Academic Hall of Fame in 2002. He was selected as being among the Two Thousand Men of Achievement in 1972.

He served as Scoutmaster for Kingston Boy Scout Troop 84 in Kingston for seven years. He continued working in ministry, serving as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist at St. Paul’s in Princeton, guided by Fr. John Iverinci. In 1974, Dr. Lachance and Thérèse discussed the new Catholic Permanent Diaconate Program which had been reestablished by the Second Vatican Council after 1200 years of inactivity.  Before entering the program, he inherited the job of scheduling lectors and Extraordinary Ministers and beginning a hospital ministry so that the priests could concentrate on the emergencies and other needs of the parish. Rev. Dr. Lachance was ordained on May 14, 1977 in the Cathedral of St Mary (Trenton, NJ) by Bishop George W. Ahr and served the St. Paul’s Catholic Church (Princeton, NJ) community. He was the very first Permanent Deacon at St. Paul’s, served for over 35 years, and was among the first deacons in the Diocese of Trenton. He officiated at hundreds of baptisms, weddings, and funerals including the baptism of all nine grandchildren and all four of his children’s marriages. He also officiated at funerals for his parents, Thérèse’s mother, and for both of his younger brothers. He regularly proclaimed the Gospel on Sundays and often was tasked with delivering homilies while still organizing the lectors, Ministry of the Eucharist, and Ministry of the sick programs while helping to guide the CCD program.  He was trustee of the religious ministry committee for the Princeton Health Care Systems and an on-call chaplain. He began the coordination 40 lay ministers to the sick program at the parish level in the 1970’s that covered units of the Princeton Medical Center as well as nursing homes and the homebound. His model was adopted by other parishes, including an inquiry from Alaska. He served on Religious Ministries Committees in the Princeton Healthcare System. He ministered at Princeton House, a psychiatric and drug abuse unit. He advocated for those who were sick because “their healing needs the grace of the Eucharist.” He was honored by the Loyola Retreat House in Morristown (NJ) with the Companion of Saint Lanatius Loyola. He also worked in the pre-marriage counseling, marriage counseling, and was an annulment advocate while serving as St. Paul’s first deacon. 

Lachance was the Founding and Emeritus Director of the Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods Institute of the Center for Advanced Food Technology. He was Professor Emeritus of Food Science at Rutgers University since 2005.  He served as Chair of the Department of Food Science, Director of the Graduate Program in Food Science, Faculty Representative to the Board of Trustees and Board of Governors, and was Chairman of the University Senate. His work as the executive director of The Nutraceutical Institute was a groundbreaking partnership between Rutgers and St. Joseph’s (PA) University. 

He was a Fellow for the American College of Nutrition (1985), the Institute of Food Technologists (1982), and the American Association of Integrative Medicine (2005). He has scientific association with the American Institute of Nutrition/American Society for Clinical Nutrition; the American Dietetic Association; the American Public Health Association; the American Association of Cereal Chemists; the New York Academy of Science; and the Society for Nutrition Education. 

He earned the William V. Cruess Award for Excellence in Teaching (IFT, 1991); Professor Endel Karmas Award for Excellence in Teaching Food Science, Rutgers Dept. of Food Science (1987-88); the John C. Hartnett Award for Distinction in Science, St. Michael’s College (Vt.) 1982; Meritorious Achievement in Cereal Chemistry Award – New York Section – American Assoc. of Cereal Chemists (1972); the Sustained Superior Performance Award (NASA, 1967); the Gemini Support Team Group Achievement Award (1966); Certificate of Appreciation, American Institute of Baking (1978-91); Certificate of Appreciation, Dairy Research, Inc. (1973); the Phi Tau Sigma Award (Food Science Honor Society); and the Delta Epsilon Sigma (National Catholic Scholastic Honor Society), 1969.  He was elected as a Fellow by the Institute of Food Technologists, and earned a certificate in Pastoral Counseling from the New York Theological Seminary (1981). St. Peter’s Medical Center (New Brunswick) recognized him as a Chaplain after completing the Hospital Chaplaincy Training Program. Students in the Rutgers Food Science Club awarded him a plaque for “tremendous support of the students of the Food Science Department” while he was Department Chair (1991-97). He was selected for the alpha nu chapter of the Delta Epsilon Sigma Honor Society in 1969 and was elected to be a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition in 1985. He was a speaker at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health in 1969 and was a leading speaker for fortifying and improving school lunches. In recognition of “Outstanding Service to the Cause of Human Rights and Equal Justice,” he was honored by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1984. In honor “of a distinguished career in the Science of Nutrition”, he was elected a Fellow by the American Society for Nutritional Sciences (2000) and the American Association of Integrative Medicine (2005).  He earned appreciation for effective leadership as first the acting Chair and then as Chairman of the Department of Food Science, recognizing that the Department “earned the highest status possible within Rutgers, The State University.” He has been recognized in Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the East American Men and Women in Science, International Who’s Who of Professional Educators, and Who’s Who in Technology Today

Dr. Lachance was the winner of the 2001 Babcock-Hart Award from the Institute of Food Technologists (2001) recognizing his achievements for improving public health through nutrition research. He was a member of the Nutrition Advanced Committee for Whitehall-Robins/Centrum Consumer Division; Member of the Science Advanced Board for Roche Chemical Division of Hoffmann LaRoche, Co.; Member of the Nutrition Policy Committee for Beatrice Food Company; Member of the American College Nutrition, Certified Board Nutritional Sciences; Member of the Board of Directors for the J.R. Short Milling Co.; consultant for Nutritional Aspects Food Processing, Nutraceuticals; Member of the editorial Advisory Board from 1963-1983 for Nutrition Reports International; Member of School Food Service Research Review, Professional Nutritionist; member of the editorial advanced board of the Journal of Medical Consultation and editorial boards of the Journal of Medicinal Foods, Food and Chemical Toxicology, Journal of Nutraceuticals Functional and Health Foods, and contributed hundreds of articles to professional journals. 

He was an interviewee or a speaker in print, radio, and television in many countries. He was awarded a D.Sc. (Honoris Causa) from St. Michael’s College (Vt.) in 1982, and he and Thérèse established the Dr. John C. Hartnett Endowment in 2000 to honor Professor Emeritus John C. Hartnett (’43) for his dedication to excellence in teaching and his outstanding influence on biology and other students at Saint Michael’s College for 44 years. The endowment provides funds to support student-faculty research opportunities, and when the endowment was first established, there were very few funding sources to support student research at St. Michael’s—especially full-time research for the summer. Therefore, the Hartnett Endowment has become a very important means of supporting summer research for many students. 

For his lifetime of work, Dr. Lachance was honored with the 2008 NSF Food Safety Lifetime Leadership Award in Education and Technology.  

Dr. Lachance served as the Consulting Editor for the Journal of the American College of Nutrition; Editor of the monthly newsletter Food, Nutrition, and Health; Member, Board of Consultants, Journal of Medical Consultation; Board of Associate Editors, Nutrition Reports International (1963-83); Member of Editorial Advisory Board, Health Magazine (N.Y.), 1984-88; Member of Editorial Advisory Board, Professional Nutritionist, 1977-80; Member of Editorial Policy Board of School Food Service Research Review (1977-82). An oral biography of his work with NASA can be read at: https://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/LachancePA/lachancepa.htm

He leaves his sweetheart of over 61 years, Thérèse C. Lachance, his four children and their spouses/partners (Carole Lachance, Patti Malinowski Jensen, Amy LaChance, and Philip Shih). He leaves nine grandchildren he adored: Marcel Phillipe, Elijah Timmothy, AnnaGrace Thérèse, Beau Pierre, Joelle Nicole, Aline Jolie Dias (wife of Joel), Michaela Thérèsaline, Zoey Maleekah, and Paul Thomas (Shih). He was predeceased by his father, Raymond, and mother Lucienne, and his brothers Raymond, Herbert, and Maurice. He leaves a sister Gloria and brother Richard, his Cote family, his Landry family, as well as many other relatives and friends.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the John C. Hartnett Endowment which was established in 2000 by Paul and Therese to honor Prof. Emeritus John C. Hartnett (’43) for his dedication to excellence in teaching and his outstanding influence on biology and other students at St. Michael’s College for 44 years: St. Michael’s College, Box 256, One Winooski Park, Colchester, VT  05439. Gifts can also be made online: www.smcvt.edu/giveback

 

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