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Food Science and Safety program grows

Thursday, October 1, 2015   (0 Comments)
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     Chris Guyer looks at his dinner plate a little differently than the average diner. A perfectly grilled steak is not just a piece of prime Angus beef: it¹s a portion-sized sample of the Mailliard reaction, with evidence of denaturation and coagulation, mycoglobin reduction and ... you get the idea. 

     "I still think steak is delicious," said Guyer, the Food Science and Safety Program Specialist who instructs students in the college¹s youngest STEM program. "But, like all people who eat food, I want mine to be safe and of good quality."

     The difference between Guyer and the rest of the steak-loving world is that he understands the chemistry and microbiology that play a role in food safety. After he completed graduate studies at Iowa State University, Guyer worked for eight years in food industry quality assurance. 

     "I did a lot of microbiological testing on products like baker¹s yeast and Krusteaz dry mixes," he said. "I also did production line quality checks, sanitation inspections, and baked more batches of brownies, cookies, breads, cakes and other foods than I can count."

     Guyer¹s most impressive work took place at the Institute for Environmental Health, which performs independent testing for beef processing plants. 
      "I set up labs in Iowa, Idaho, and Nebraska, and trained employees to test meat for coliforms, generic E. coli, E. coli 0157:H7 -- the bad one that makes the news -- salmonella and listeria,² he said. 

Now, Guyer¹s focus is to build the FSS program at the College. 

     "Protecting the safety of our food is an awesome responsibility, and it¹s been great being in a career where I did exactly that," said Guyer.  "Teaching others to do the same... how awesome is that?"

     Guyer¹s enthusiasm for the program intensified this summer, as the college constructed a completely new lab, an addition to the Hobble Academic Building. 

     "That¹s a big step forward," he said. "I think the new food lab will increase the sense of ownership students feel in the program, as they see a space dedicated to their needs."

     What will happen in that space is partly culinary and partly hard science. Guyer enjoys nothing more than introducing students to the processes by which milk becomes yogurt or hamburger becomes deadly. He¹s worked for two years teaching classes during the regular college semesters, then setting up summer academy sessions for students from junior high to high school age. 

     This year¹s FSS Summer Academy introduced students to the chemistry and biology used to study food properties, food spoilage, food processing and foodborne diseases. What that meant in practical terms was yogurt-making, Amish friendship bread and even a cookout -- after students learned the science of meat safety by injecting E.coli bacteria into raw hamburger, preparing slides, and observing what happened over time.

     "This is fun," he exhorted a few reluctant middle-schoolers during a second summer session. "The acid is going to cause the milk you¹re stirring to form curds, and separate from the whey." Students might have wrinkled their noses a bit at the process, but they were clearly interested in the transformation process.

     Guyer, too, finds change fascinating. 

     "I really enjoy talking to high school students who are good at the sciences and math, but haven¹t really figured out how to use those strengths in choosing a career," he said. "Everyone needs food. so there are so many job possibilities for FSS."  Those include quality control, lab work, education, food production and inspection, plant sanitation, technical sales and lab design of new products. More familiar to local residents: pork, beef and dairy processors need inspectors and lab workers, Guyer pointed out.

     "My hopes this year are to continue to spread the word about our program, generate interest, and strengthen ties with area food industries," he said. "I¹d like to get them more involved in the program, such as by speaking to students in classes and permitting student tours of their facilities."

     For information about the FSS program at SCCC/ATS, contact program specialist Chris Guyer, 620-417-1504, or email chris.guyer@sccc.edu.

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