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Animal sciences senior gains first-hand research experience during FRI summer undergraduate program

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Nicole Baker presents her research.

The Food Research Institute (FRI) Undergraduate Research Scholars presented their final research projects on Thursday, July 31.

FRI Research Scholar Nicole Baker, a senior Animal Sciences major, conducted her summer research on the “Effect of prolonged cooling on Clostridium perfringens growth in a cured, ready-to-eat ham.” Baker’s research was sponsored by the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors.

“It is an honor to be able to contribute to improving food safety in the meat industry with my summer project,” Baker said. “The results of the project are expected to have an impact on the design of some processors’ HACCP plans, which is very exciting for me.”

Each summer, the FRI Summer Undergraduate Research Program supports talented UW–Madison students seeking a B.S. degree. The students work full-time on a food safety project in the laboratory of an FRI mentor, learn about food safety issues through weekly tutorials, and visit food processing facilities. The program culminates with the students’ final research presentations.

Baker’s project focused on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service Appendix B stabilization guidelines for cured meat products. Baker used five cooling profiles that extended the time in which a ham containing 200 parts per million (ppm) of the antimicrobial sodium nitrite and 547 ppm of cure accelerator sodium erythorbate remained in phase one (130 to 80°F) or phase two (80 to 45°F) of Appendix B cooling guidelines. C. perfringens growth was tracked throughout each cooling curve.

FRI Associate Director Kathy Glass acted as Baker’s laboratory mentor, and Executive Committee members Jeff Sindelar and Andy Milkowski were research mentors throughout the project. Many full-time FRI staff also helped train techniques Baker used to carry out the research.

“Working with my mentors and the other staff at the lab was a very positive experience. Everyone was so helpful in taking time out to teach things that were completely new to me. They were always up for discussing my data with me and were immensely helpful every step of the way,” Baker said.

Baker’s research found that when 200 ppm sodium nitrite and 547 ppm sodium erythorbate were used to cure ham, the growth of C. perfringens was prevented, regardless of the amount of time phase one or phase two cooling was extended during her experiment. Baker noted, “One overarching theme of my research was that sodium nitrite is a powerful antimicrobial, especially when used with a cure accelerator.”

The opportunity to present her findings to an audience also provided Baker with a unique learning experience. “A huge part of the process was learning how to effectively communicate my results to others. Learning to present data in a clear way was a challenging, yet growth-promoting opportunity,” she said.

Baker said the entire research process — from planning the details of the research and conducting the experiments to reviewing the results and presenting the final project — was all part of an educational journey that she will value long into her future.

“My favorite part was the sense of accomplishment that was felt after successfully organizing an experiment and achieving clear results,” Baker said. “I learned so much about food safety by just being around experienced food microbiologists, and I have taken a lot of knowledge home with me.”

About the Food Research Institute

The Food Research Institute (FRI), a part of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, operates its own laboratories and administers its own research and service programs. The mission of FRI is to catalyze multidisciplinary and collaborative research on microbial foodborne pathogens and toxins and to provide training, outreach and service to enhance the safety of the food supply. To fulfill this mission, FRI conducts fundamental and applied research, provides accurate and useful information and expertise, delivers quality education and training, and provides leadership in identifying and resolving food safety issues to meet community, government, and industry needs.

For more information, please contact Lindsey Jahn, associate outreach specialist for FRI, at ljahn2@wisc.edu or 608-263-4229.

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