Meat Science Lab takes learning to a new level




The new Meat Science Laboratory at Garden City Community College provides hands-on training that this year's freshmen and sophomores say will serve them well in their chosen careers.

Freshman Nichole Seibel, 18, said having access to the meat science lab and other resources in the area gives the GCCC meats judging team a leg up, in a lot of ways.

"Our college has given us a good opportunity by having the lab, and then we're also in a good location because we just have Tyson just a couple of miles away, so we can go practice there," Seibel said. "So we have a lot of other advantages that other teams don't, just based on the location."

Heather Harper, 18, freshman, said that the experience she has gained from using the on-campus lab will translate well into her chosen career path, preventive veterinary medicine.

Freshman Christopher Orozco, 18, who plans to get his bachelor's degree in parks and conversation management, also believes the experience he is gaining through the meats program will help him in his future endeavors.

"It's not directly applicable, but knowing the inner workings of the animals, seeing which ones are healthy, which ones aren't, thinking from a park ranger sort of view, it will definitely help," Orozco said.

Prior to August, students traveled to Tyson or other facilities to inspect meat, but with the new meat science lab, meat inspections can be performed on campus, which 20-year-old sophomore Sammie Leeds said has made a big difference.

"Just with having this meat lab alone, my question score has increased by at least 40 points, so that has really benefitted me because I used to be at around 170 to 190, and this last contest, I got a 210 on questions and I was second overall in that category," Leeds said.

She also placed second in the high individual overall category, total beef and pork judging category and third in the beef judging category at the American Royal Contest, Oct. 20 in Omaha, Neb.

Going against Fort Scott Community College, Clarendon College, Tarleton State University and Texas A&M, Kingsville, the GCCC meats judging team placed first overall.

The team's next and final contest this year is the national contest, scheduled for Sunday in Freona, Texas.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture certified GCCC's meat science lab as an official food establishment in August, after it underwent a stringent inspection.

"We have a thing called HACCP, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points. Every food operation in the country has one," said Dr. Clint Alexander, animal science instructor and meat judging coach. "You have to do a hazard analysis of what potentially might happen, so you have things like standard operating procedures, standard sanitary operating procedures."

All of these procedures are contained in a thick notebook, which Alexander said also contains such information as how they calibrate their thermometers; the temperature of their freezer, which houses the cow, lamb and pork carcasses; and procedures for preventing E. coli contamination.

According to a press release from GCCC, the meat science laboratory includes a processing room with a packaging machine, meat saw, mixer/grinder and stuffing machine, a cooked packing room with packaging machines, a smokehouse, a cooler with rails to hold beef, pork and lamb carcasses and a retail freezer.

Funding for the renovation of the Meat Science lab, which is located in the John Collins Vocational Technical Building, was provided through the U.S. Department of Labor's Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant, locally known as TRAC-7 (Technical Retraining to Achieve Credentials).

The facility enables students to take courses that teach them theory and applications of food safety, and the state-inspected laboratory will have guidelines for cleaning and sanitation, which provides students with the opportunity to acquire hands-on learning about food industry cleaning, sanitation and microbiology.

Elements of carcass evaluation, meat cookery, packaging and merchandising will be incorporated into most animal science courses on campus using this facility.

"In the meat lab, we look at carcasses of pigs, lambs and we've been looking at some beef rounds, some beef short loins and some beef full loins," Leeds said.

She also said that they are learning how to properly cut and skin the carcasses, and that they can form questions.

"Questions is a big part of meat judging, so that's really helped us improve," she said.

Leeds, who plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in animal science, said that so far this semester, with access to the Meat Science lab, she has learned much more than she did her freshman year.

"I've learned so much from this three months of being in this cooler than I ever did last year," she said, adding that she is better able to see how the concepts she has learned fit together. "The freshmen are going to have it good."

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