Historic photos lining the hall at the Andrew Boss Laboratory of Meat Science show scientists wearing suits and ties when handling carcasses, using wooden tables in their preparations and conducting their work out of barns and other bygone facilities.
Fortunately, the science of meat and related food safety has seen huge advancements since the turn of the 20th century, and the University of Minnesota has played a central role in moving “farm-to-fork” science forward. In fact, the U of M’s Meat Lab was the first in North America: Established in 1901, the lab is now a modern processing facility for both red meat and poultry.
Today, the lab is run by the “meat geek” (faculty coordinator and scientist Ryan Cox), the “meat head” (lab supervisor Pete Nelson), and assistant supervisor Tristan McNamara. The rest of the staff consists of undergraduate students, who enjoy the opportunity to receive on-the-job training while attending school.
Students participate in courses ranging from food processing and safety to livestock marketing and muscle biology. The lab also offers several workshops to the public through University of Minnesota Extension, including the popular Meat Science 101, HACCP Sanitation and Auditing, Deer Processing, and Cattle Harvest Day.
The lab’s training and research exemplifies a key component of the university’s MnDRIVE (Minnesota Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy) initiative. MnDRIVE will support enhancements to the food supply chain that will increase Minnesota’s industry competitiveness, protect public health and ensure food products continue to be safe, secure and abundant.
“Modern meat science is all about making the animal more efficient and meeting the needs of today’s consumer,” says Cox. “Through our program, students, researchers and businesses are learning the best ways to improve meat quality, increase efficiency and reduce waste.”
And they practice what they preach. Just as a careful butcher is mindful to get the most out of each cut, Cox, Nelson and McNamara take great pride in utilizing every square foot of their modest space. With nearly all of their equipment on wheels, what was a work area this morning will become a classroom in the evening, storage tomorrow, or even a judging room for the Processed Meats Championship during the Minnesota State Fair.
Continuing in that vein of reducing waste, all the meat used for teaching anatomy and processing techniques eventually makes its way to one particular room with a very special purpose. On Wednesdays from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m., room 26 is a store offering a variety of meat products and snacks available for purchase.
The Meat Lab hopes to combine forces with the dairy salesroom, located one floor above them, to create a larger shop with easier access for customers to purchase University of Minnesota meats, cheeses and ice cream.
Update: We received several comments about how to find the red Angus beef poster featured above. We found it with a little help from the folks at the Meat Lab! If you’re interested in getting a copy, you can contact the American Angus Association to find out more.