It’s a food science fiesta!

Did you know that the food production sector in Ohio employs nearly 70,000 people and includes some of the biggest food producers in the nation? Our summer workshop, Experiencing food science: field to package, sponsored by the Ohio Soybean Council in partnership with the Center for Innovation in Food Technology and AgCredit, gave teachers a chance to do some hands-on food science labs and learn more about the new food industry credentials.

CIFT has two industry-recognized credentials through the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). Established as the CIFT Food Industry Certification, the program provides two recognized, food industry credentials that can verify high school student expertise in the areas of agriculture, food and natural resources, bioscience, food science and safety, bioresearch and food marketing and research.

Mark Starkey teaches a Science and Technology of Food class in the AO (Agricultural Education) Pathway in Western Reserve Local Schools. He attended the food science summer workshop and applied what he learned to a food safety, canning, and salsa-making unit which included these topics:

  • FDA Regulations on Food Labels
  • How to read a food label and make nutrition-based decisions
  • How to properly store, and preserve foods
  • Purpose of blanching
  • Procedures of safe food canning for preservation, both low acid and high acid
  • Risks of Clostridium Botulinum and how to alleviate this risk in canning
  • Differences in pressure canning vs. hot water bath canning procedures

Lessons related to these topics can be found here.

Starkey explains: I start the unit discussing food-borne illnesses and what causes these outbreaks, how the FDA/CDC reacts to these, and how to control or eliminate the risk of food-borne illness. Students learn about Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism, the main risk with canned food items. We then discuss how to kill the pathogen through heat and an acidic pH of lower than 4.6.

We also learn about the canning procedures and proper sanitation of equipment at this time. I utilize powerpoints and handouts for information, accompanied with worksheets to check for student understanding. I then put the students in groups and tell them that they must come up with their own cooked salsa recipe (not fresh) which utilizes a food-safe acid (such as vinegar or lemon juice) in the recipe to bring the pH down to below 4.6.

Group members must work together to agree on a recipe of their own to compete against the other groups. I purchase all of the materials—tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapenos, etc.—to make the salsa. Students blanch tomatoes and chop up all of their ingredients. They mix their salsa and test for pH. If it is not below 4.6, they must add ingredients to lower it to this level. We then cook and can the salsa following proper sanitation and canning procedures. All cans MUST seal and be checked.

The groups must then make their own food label according to the FDA standards. All items must be included on the label, including a correct and proper nutrition facts panel, ingredients list, etc., and it must also be the correct size to fit the container. They are given a checklist to make sure all items are included.

Once all groups have canned their salsa, a blind taste test takes place with judges from the school—usually other teachers are happy to judge this contest! The judges are given 4-6 different salsas to rank from best to worst and evaluate on taste, sweetness, heat/spiciness, and texture. The winning group gets bragging rights.

My students responded fairly well to these activities. They actually learn a lot of information but have fun doing so, and they really enjoy the competition. The students love the hands-on approach to learning that this activity presents. They would much rather be cutting up or blanching vegetables or cooking salsa as opposed to doing the worksheets! They love the taste testing and enjoy trying to persuade the judges, even though sometimes they persuade the judges to choose another groups’ salsa because they don’t even recognize their own product in the blind taste test.

The highlight of the workshop this past summer for me was two fold. First of all, the industry dinner was phenomenal. Having the opportunity to discuss the procedures we use in the classroom with professionals in the industry was an amazing experience. I also enjoyed the Willy’s salsa tour and would love to take my food science class there for a tour of their own!

GrowNextGen has curriculum, career videos, and more available in the food science content collection.