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Food Science: What is that?

Oklahoma State University students pursue degrees in food science, a field covering various areas from farm to fork. How does safe, nutritious food get to the shelves at the store? Why is some coffee decaf? How was rocky road ice cream invented? Why are chicken nuggets shaped like ovals? The answer to each of these consumer questions is food science.
Food Science: What is that?

Dr. Ranjith Ramanathan teaching students in his food science class (Photo by Todd Johnson)

How does safe, nutritious food get to the shelves at the store? Why is some coffee decaf? How was rocky road ice cream invented? Why are chicken nuggets shaped like ovals? The answer to each of these consumer questions is food science.

Food science is offered as a major in the Department of Animal Science with options including industry, safety, science, and meat science. Currently, 34 undergraduate students major in food science at Oklahoma State University.

“The food science major is multidisciplinary,” said Dr. Ranjith Ramanathan, OSU assistant professor in animal science. “It encompasses food chemistry, food microbiology, and the business, mathematics and communication behind these concepts.”

“I was exposed to food science and food chemistry at the University of Connecticut,” Dr. Ramanathan said. “Then I saw a position open at Oklahoma State which allowed me to teach food science, which I am very passionate about.”

Dr. Ramanathan currently teaches Fundamentals of Food Science, Food Chemistry I, Food Chemistry II, Analysis of Food Products, and Advanced Food Chemistry. Other classes offered to food science students include Quality Analysis, Food Microbiology, and Introduction to Food Science. Introduction to Food Science focuses on the food industry from the producer to consumer and the current U.S. and world food situations.

Charley Rayfield, a food science junior, said, “Intro to Food Science was just one of those classes that really opened my eyes to what is really out there for food science and how the industry truly impacts everyone’s lives.”

Abby Bechtold, a food science senior, said outside of the classroom, students can participate in the Meat Science Association and Food Science Club, two animal science student organizations which focus on food science. Her favorite memory as a student in the Department of Animal Science is judging on the 2016 meats team, she said.

“Had food science not been a major offered in the animal science department, I don’t think that I would have taken the class to be on the meats team,” said Bechtold. “Some of my best friends and favorite college memories have come from being a part of that team.”

Rayfield said students across campus and prospective students can have misconceptions about her major.

“Most of the time they think that I want to be a chef, work in nutrition, in the restaurant industry or in the health field,” Rayfield said. “I explain to them that food science is more of the production of food.”

Dr. Ramanathan said when prospective students have misconceptions about food science, he tells them, if they like food and are passionate about the food industry, then food science might be the right major for them.

“Food science focuses on the science behind baking, nutrition, and other things like foodborne illnesses, food waste, obesity, and other problems that affect the livelihood of the consumers,” he said.

As a prospective student, Rayfield decided to become a food science major after taking a tour of the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center (FAPC.

“Before I came to campus, I thought that I wanted to be a pre-vet major,” Rayfield said. “But, after Dr. VanOverbeke gave me a tour of FAPC, food science was a major that was really weighing on my mind, and I haven’t looked back since.”

Dr. Ramanathan said the students are lucky to have FAPC on campus because it gives them access to projects and industry professionals most schools do not have. Students also have the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom by participating in research projects and attending educational workshops in FAPC.

“Food science students are more science-based thinkers, and they are curious to learn new things like product development and other parts of the industry beyond just meat science,” Dr. Ramanathan said. “They are eager to be involved in different projects and opportunities for hands-on experiences.”

Food science students can conduct research through various programs offered on campus, including the undergraduate research scholars program offered by the Department of Animal Science.

“I have been involved with the undergraduate research scholar program since my sophomore year,” Bechtold said. “The research that we do is very prevalent in the industry. Some of the research has even been published.” Rayfield said her research opportunities have helped her make industry connections.

“I have worked with Dr. Jadeja in the food microbiology lab on some particular meat grinder contamination studies,” Rayfield said. “Dr. Jadeja conducts these projects for different Oklahoma companies.”

The OSU food science faculty have links to places and people across the country, she said.

“Dr. Jadeja is traveling constantly doing audits at other companies,” Rayfield said. “This networking gives us an advantage over students from other universities when looking for jobs or internships.”

OSU’s food science program offers certification and training, like Food Safety Modernization Act and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points.

“FSMA and HACCP training and certification are built into the curriculum of the courses that students have to take,” Dr. Ramanathan said. “Most companies require their employees to have these certifications, so companies really like that our students are already certified.”

One of the benefits of working in the food industry is job security, said Dr. Ramanathan. For each food science graduate, there are around six to seven job opportunities.

Dr. Ramanathan said, since everyone eats food, there will always be a need for good food science professionals.

“The demands are growing in what people need from food,” Dr. Ramanathan said, “like a growing population of older people, a rise in obesity, and a growing population that needs a safe food supply with little food waste.”

Rayfield said studying something that impacts everyone in the world is rewarding.

“I can do my part in feeding a growing population by ensuring that everything we put out is to the highest standards and is safe for every person,” Rayfield said. “Food scientists can truly make a difference in the world.”

REPORTER: Julianna Albrecht

SOURCE: Cowpoke News - Fall 2017 Edition

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