Chico is located in the Sacramento Valley near the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, about 180 miles northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area. Such proximity to major cities has attracted many students interested in veterinary medicine to the animal science major at California State University, Chico.
Michael Chao, PhD, an assistant professor in meat science, was hired in 2015 with the goal to help students who are no longer in the pre-vet path to find a career in the meat and food industry. Professor Chao currently teaches three meat science classes, including Principles of Meat Science, Meat and the Consumer, and Food Sanitation and Quality Assurance. He also coordinates internships at the Meats Lab and coaches student teams to compete in meat science quiz bowl and product development competitions.
As part of the Meat and the Consumer course, students develop fresh sausage recipes and compete among their classmates for the Chico State’s Best Sausage title. Students from the Food Sanitation and Quality Assurance course learn to develop functioning HACCP plans for a specific industry and become HACCP certified through International HACCP Alliance upon completion of the course.
The Chico State College of Agriculture has long been known for its “niche” teaching and research programs, such as the organic dairy and vegetable projects. Now, students also have the opportunity to conduct niche meat research. Professor Chao’s recent research projects involve the development of a domestic skin-on goat meat product that is in-demand in the international and domestic Asian ethnic markets.
“As the state of California continues to develop a more diverse population, it is important that we as educators adjust our education and research programs to fit the needs of the diverse cultures,” Professor Chao said.
Dean John Unruh joined the Chico State College of Agriculture in August 2016 from Kansas State University. He is internationally known for his teaching, research and outreach works in meat science. Although Dean Unruh is now in administration, he has provided valuable mentorship to the Chico State meat science program.
The most recent hire to the Chico State meat science team is Haydn Clement. Clement was hired in May 2017 as the Meats Lab manager. Clement holds a masters degree in Agricultural Education from Chico State, and he has a passion for teaching and outreach.
The Chico State Meats Lab, a USDA-inspected meat processing facility, is located at the Paul L. Byrne Agricultural Teaching and Research Center, which is also known as the University Farm. Students working at the facility can earn units toward graduation or a small monthly paycheck. The facility processes livestock raised on the University Farm and sells fresh and processed meat products to the public every Thursday and Friday. The Meats Lab also supplies to local food trucks and restaurants such as the Sierra Nevada Brewery Taproom and Restaurant.
The Meats Lab provides vital public outreach. Every October, the Meats Lab participates in the Sierra Oro Farm Trail Weekend. Students give tours and provide taste samples to hundreds of visitors from all over Northern California. The Meats Lab is also one of the three California universities that rotate to host the annual California Association of Meat Processors cured meat contest. Finally, one of the four California State FFA Meat Evaluation Contests is held at the Meats Lab each March with the goal to educate youth about meat quality and specifications.
“I envision the Chico State Meats Lab having a greater presence on campus and in the local community,” Clement said.
California State University, Chico is a member of the American Meat Science Association. For more information about California State University, Chico and its faculty, please visit the AMSA website at http://www.meatscience.org/students/graduate-programs.