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The Agriculturist

Meating & Exceeding in Life

Mai Lee Holmes

Meating & Exceeding in Life

Waking up before the sun has a chance to shine, she puts on layer after layer of clothes to stay warm. Steel-toed boots, a red hard hat, ear plugs and a clean frock completes the stylish outfit. She walks into a room that is 30 degrees Fahrenheit, filled with loud machinery noises and beef carcasses as far as you can see. She takes a deep breath and smiles. Meat science is her passion.

For KatieRose McCullough, a senior animal science major with a meat science option, her hours are neither spent in a classroom nor office. Her time is spent in meat packing facilities and labs. As if school and working part-time is not enough for her, she has taken an extra step to further her learning horizon. She has exceeded her student requirements and signed up for an undergraduate research project.

McCullough, a Colorado native, developed a love for the meat science industry while in high school. She was a member of her county"s 4-H meat judging team. Her interest in the meat industry led her to Texas Tech University to judge meats and further her knowledge.

"I have always had a passion for meat science but I initially became interested in undergraduate research by helping out with other peoples" projects," McCullough said.

While assisting with research on various projects, her curiosity and need to improve meat quality for consumers began to increase and she decided she wanted to start her own research project. McCullough approached Dr. Chance Brooks, associate professor of meat science, about pursuing a research project.

Brooks said McCullough had a project already in mind in which she wanted to follow further. She wanted to conduct an extensive research project over extending ground beef shelf life Brooks said.

"Ground beef is our "problem child" so to speak," Brooks said.

He said because of the way ground beef is manufactured, it has the shortest shelf life. He said it was discarded the most at retail stores because of the obstacles incorporated with its time kept on the shelf. In the meat industry and retail market, they often experience losses in excess of five percent due to the product deteriorating to the point of being devalued or discarded.

He said McCullough"s project deals with manufacturers that ground produce beef for retailers. McCullough said it is very common to utilize technologies in packaging as well as the use of natural anti-oxidants to try to extend the shelf life of meat.

"There are three different treatments using one specific antioxidant and we are testing different methods of applying the antioxidant to the ground beef," McCullough said. "We are looking at differences in color and shelf life."

While conducting the research, McCullough will identify the most effective method to apply the anti-oxidant. The anti-oxidant will either be sprayed on the surface after the meat has been portioned or applied directly to the product. The direct addition will have the anti-oxidant mixed in throughout the ground beef then portioned.

McCullough said in order to evaluate these characteristics, she will analyze the pH, bacteria, and conduct color panels. The color panel participants must go through training in order to correctly evaluate the color of the various treated samples. By using commercially available antioxidants, McCullough said this research could potentially create a drastic difference in the industry.

"This is an excellent program that gives future scientists and future researchers a head start in their graduate program," Brooks said. "It also allows them to learn the process of objectively approaching a problem or a question and identifying a solution or a way to answer that question."

At the conclusion of her research project, McCullough will present her findings in two poster competitions. Prior to the conclusion of the semester, she will compete in the Bob Alvin Poster Competition. This competition is a department contest held every year supported by an endowment. This will be the first year for undergraduate-level research to be offered to students.

In the summer, McCullough will find herself in Fargo, North Dakota, for the Reciprocal Meat Conference to display her poster and abstract, as well as present her findings to the judges through a five-minute presentation.

Countless hours spent in the lab with a pipette and antioxidant solution, analyzing results will be a daunting task to say the least. Her frock and hard hat are far from being removed and placed in a closet. Early mornings and more efficient solutions are sure to come.

© 2012 Texas Tech Department of Agricultural Education & Communications