Friday, August 13, 2010

Saying Goodbye/America Is A Cheater

Today was my last day in Kentucky and I went out to celebrate (in a bittersweet way) with Dr. O'Leary, Dr. Newman and Kabby. We spent the majority of the time listening to Dr. O'Leary talk about America's immoral tendencies--specifically how they affected food import and export--all because Kabby ordered a salad with Parmesan cheese (which, I later found out, is the name given to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese imitators). I had no idea what he was talking about, so he explained something called the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), which protects the names of regional foods under European Union law (for example, real champagne could only be produced within the Champagne region of France, however, the United States allows certain domestic producers to use the name champagne under limited circumstances). Apparently both Kabby and Dr. Newman had heard this all before, because they just smiled and said he probably only cared because he was Irish. All I know is that I'm really going to miss working with these people every day, because they're all completely awesome.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hard Work (And Food)

This is the room that's used whenever focus groups come in for taste tests (usually for research done in the meat lab). Personally, I think the room looks pretty drab under your typical fluorescent light bulbs, but I like these red lights.

Also, I really don't think this lab would be able to function without Kabby. She was gone yesterday so instead of just growing our own bacteria cultures, Dr. O'Leary and I went to Kroger and bought a bunch of cabbage and cheddar cheese that had been aged for various amounts of time. When we got back to the lab we just spent a couple hours making sauerkraut (just add salt to the cabbage and let it sit for two weeks without air contact) and processing cheese (which is actually really simple: just add emulsifying salts to make the cheese smooth and a couple preservatives).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Cool Toys

This shows the high-pressure canning machine (left) and a butter churner (right) that are left over from when this was still used for dairy production (it wouldn't meet FDA regulations now--and according to Dr. O'Leary it probably never should have been allowed to pass an inspection because of the design of the drainage system).

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sheer Terror

We've officially started to work with actual milk and bacteria, but we're not adding any antimicrobials yet. Dr. O'Leary gave me several books that talked about pasteurization and cheese-making and everything else dairy. I learned that milk is actually the most regulated food in the entire United States, and that it must be heated to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit to be considered safe. Since we want the bacteria to grow, we're only heating to around 140, which is actually harder than it might seem. That's mainly because it's hard to measure the temperature of each milk sample when they're heating at different rates and when there is a stirring rod moving through the bowl.

We're currently using three different strains of listeria in each milk sample, because that's one of the more problematic microbes for dairy products. I also want to mention Kabby Akers, one of the senior research technicians, because she's been making all of our cultures, and she'll also be plating each of our inoculated samples once we start using the antimicrobials so we can see if there is any inhibition.

Also, the reason this post is titled "Sheer Terror" is because today when we were running cold water through one of the mixers, the jacket exploded and I was soaked with water (which I guess was better than steam). It was definitely one of the scariest moments of my life.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Food Systems Innovation Center Opens!

Angela Anandappa has been around all week again and this time she has a cameraman with her. They've been going around filming different professors and grad students speaking, and it's a little bit weird to see so many people in white lab coats because they usually aren't necessary; the only time I had to wear one is when I was in the protein chemistry lab.

The grand opening of the Food Systems Innovation Center was last night and it just didn't feel right seeing everybody in dresses and suits because I've never actually seen any of them in anything other than jeans. Anyway, it was a really nice event with several distinguished speakers (like the dean of the College of Agriculture) and we saw the video which was pretty good considering how little time was used to create it. It's also possible I'm a little biased because there's a short clip of me working down in the dairy lab.

I would like to mention that "The UK Food Systems Innovation Center provides technical services, marketing intelligence, business services and training components to aid in developing the food industry of Kentucky," according to the new website, and you should check it out at

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Mixers

Each of the mixers have had a stainless steel jacket welded on. The mixers are used to heat up the milk and are actually very similar to pasteurization machines used in commercial dairies. The each have two spouts--one for water/steam to enter, and one to exit. The general idea is to have steam enter on the left-side where it then circles around and exits through the right. Dr. O'Leary explained to me that there are two basic kinds of fluid flow--laminar and turbulent (the more effective kind). These spouts on these two mixers are at different distances apart, and the mixer on the left actually heats up about 30% faster than the other because the angle the exit spout creates on the left mixer allows steam to exit more quickly so that hotter steam can enter. If you look closely you can see that the tubing on each of the spouts has been clamped to help keep it from falling off when the steam is at such a high pressure (earlier in the week we hadn't been using clamps and one of the tubes came off and sprayed us both with steam and hot water, which was not cool).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

In addition to my e-mail finding duties, I've also started to work with Dr. Joe O'Leary, who's pretty awesome. We're working in the old dairy lab, and the most important machines we're using are actually modified electric mixers that you could find in any kitchen. Eventually we're going to be adding different bacteria cultures to milk (and cheese, but that'll be after I leave) along with known antimicrobials to determine if any growth inhibition is seen.

Before we actually start using the milk and bacteria I'm just using water in varying amounts to determine if there are any differences in heating times between the three mixers, and to figure out if there is an ideal volume of liquid that should be used.