The 15,000-square-foot, HACCP-certified $6.5m teaching and research plant brings together students from a cross-section of disciplines, giving them hands-on experience in areas including breeding selection, slaughter, butchering, food safety, packaging, and development of ready-to-eat meat products, such as smoked hams, burgers and sausages.
“The way I look at an animal health program is you look at it from farm to fork,” said Dr. Andrew Thulin, professor and head of Cal Poly State University’s animal science department. “…Half our students come from veterinary school or grad school and a lot of them are basically foodies.”
He told FoodNavigator-USA that the facility brings together these disciplines, responding to the concerns of a growing number of foodies in the United States, as more people have become interested in where their food comes from.
“We work very closely with industry,” Thulin said. “…We’ve brought meat science into animal science. The taste and the texture of the pork [for example] is going to be a certain way because of the kind of nutrition.”
The facility has meat and poultry harvest labs, a fabrication lab, processing center, food safety lab, thermal processing kitchen, and a ready-to-eat packaging lab. Thulin said the site is also intended for industry research and product development, enabling collaboration with industry. The concept was to blur the lines between academics and researchers and industry, he said, while also providing a resource for smaller meat processors.
“What this country needs is small to medium sized facilities where a company can take 100 pounds of meat and try out its recipes. You can go in and work with our food scientists or you can rent that room out,” he said.
Thulin explained that many meat processing centers require much larger quantities of meat for new product development.
“There’s a lot of money tied up in 2000 pounds of beef,” he said. “Where can you do product development and do all of that in one step – and do it in small enough quantities that it’s not going to break a company that only has two or three employees?”
Of the $6.5m required to open the new center, more than $5m was from private donors, primarily donated by industry.