Since opening last year, the JBS Global Food Innovation Center has helped expand CSU’s leadership and expertise in food production research, education and discovery.
After more than a decade of planning and fundraising, the JBS Global Food Innovation Center in Honor of Gary and Kay Smith at Colorado State University opened its doors last spring.
Since then, the $20 million facility, made possible by many generous alumni and industry partners, has helped spur CSU’s leadership and expertise in food production research, education and discovery.
Prior to the construction of the GFIC, the Department of Animal Sciences’ facilities were small and outdated. With 900-plus animal science majors and growing, the department needed a designated area on campus for students to access state-of-the-art facilities for classroom and hands-on learning. Thanks in part to the GFIC, the CSU Department of Animal Sciences can now better compete with peer institutions such as Texas A&M and Iowa State University.
“[The center] is designed for almost any food production,” said Keith Belk, professor and head of the animal sciences department. “The focus on the science is obvious, but it’s structured so that people could use it for almost anything. By far, most of the space that is included in the building is dedicated to the design and development of new foods. This includes everything — all the way to culinary development.”
Jason Ahola, professor of beef management systems, said: “For me, the big technologies that the GFIC provides could be viewed as simple technologies by many, including the low-stress Temple Grandin-designed animal handling facility, meat processing floor technologies in place to maximize food safety, and methods of evaluating meat for sensory characteristics via shear force and other analyses.”
The GFIC operates under a USDA Food Safety Inspection Service grant of inspection, which allows CSU to process meat inside and sell products on an interstate basis.
The Department of Animal Sciences offers courses that allow students hands-on work in the GFIC.
The GFIC has what’s referred to as a RTE, or “Ready-to-Eat” food processing area, and the building was designed to allow students to learn how things are done in the real world.
Belk compares the RTE facility to a surgical room in a hospital, meaning sterility is a priority and only specific individuals have access. Students prepare raw ingredients in the processing rooms that then go through oven systems. The ingredients come out the other side, cooked, then packaged and ready to eat.
“The problem with ready-to-eat foods is that because they’re exposed to the environment before they’re packaged, and they’re extremely vulnerable to bacteria that can not only make you sick – they can kill you,” Belk said. “Listeria is our big concern. So, we designed the building to control environmental listeria and develop an RTE product that can not only teach students how to do it correctly, but the product can be sold in various markets.”
The department offers courses that allow students hands-on work in the GFIC, added Bob Delmore, professor of meat quality and safety and faculty advisor for the GFIC. “We have classes in there multiple times during the week. We do a lot of teaching in the facility. And then, we have research projects with graduate students; we have about 20 graduate students in our program. They do a variety of research in there like analyzing cuts, carcass yield, and tenderness.”
Mahesh Nair, assistant professor of meat quality and safety, said: “We have the full gamut. Starting from animal harvesting to processing to chemical evaluation. We don’t have to say ‘no’ to anybody who’s doing any kind of research, as there’s no shortage of facilities.”
The new facility allows students to experience and understand meat processing from start to finish, Delmore continued. “You can teach students from animal handling, all the way through the processing through how it gets converted to meat products,” he said. “In my courses, we explore the process of how bacon is made, how sausage is made, and how jerky is made.”
Collaboration and community
The GFIC has a retail market, which features beef, pork and chicken products processed onsite and offers hands-on learning for students in sales and customer service.
The Department of Animal Sciences uses the GFIC for extensive collaboration with industry and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, as well as other departments within the College of Agricultural Sciences.
The facility also has a space called “Where Food Comes From Market.” Merchandise sold is produced by students in animal sciences courses and includes fresh meats and other packaged items.
Tours, FFA activities and short courses for the community are offered at the GFIC year-round, and the facility routinely attracts visitors from partner organizations including the National Cattleman’s Beef Association and the U.S. Meat Export Federation. The GFIC has also hosted various companies, national commodity groups and associations for research and training purposes.
“The GFIC is a world-class facility that is unlike similar facilities at other universities — mostly due to its size, inclusion of technology, age… since it is brand new… and reflection of industry practices,” Ahola said. “Having access to such a facility is a great example of hands-on and experiential learning – which is sought by students but often challenging to provide due to costs, lack of facilities, etc. It provides the perfect environment for student and producer learning.”