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Making Foods with Microbes

by gwilson on Nov.25, 2013, under Projects

DSCN4598 Students in BIMS 4491 Food Microbiology got to show off their mad skills and knowledge in a food tasting event held on campus this morning.  During the semester, students have learned about foodborne illnesses and food safety, food spoilage and food production using microbes.  Everyone earned their food handling certificate and did safety sampling of college student kitchens.  Today marked the end of their first major project – production of foods using microbes.  Each student was charged with producing two different foods (that could not be the products of the same microbe).  Our end result was a menu of chocolates and cheeses, pickles and sauerkraut and kimchi, wines and mead and ginger ale, and much more.  The campus community was invited, a television news camera crew arrived, students explained the lengths they went through to make safe, tasty foods.  By all accounts, the event was a hit and impressed everyone who attended.

If learning isn’t fun, something’s wrong.  If what goes in your head doesn’t apply to life around you something’s wrong.  This project attacked both of those head-on to give our students fun, applicable knowledge and skills.

Next up for these students?  Creating a guide entitled “Guide to Safety in the Kitchen for College Students”.  More on that later!

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What’s for Supper?

by gwilson on Nov.06, 2013, under Projects

DSCN4566Students in BIMS 4491 Food Microbiology are deep into a semester of eye-opening surprises.  Besides learning the significance of acronyms like HACCP, AOAC, USDA-APHIS, and the like, there has been a tourist’s journey through the microbes used for making foods and those responsible for spoilage.  Students have presented case studies on outbreaks of foodborne illnesses from botulism in canned hotdog chili sauce to shigellosis at an upscale hotel.  Around every corner there has been a new dimension of how vast the importance of food safety and how costly it is when problems arise.

The first major project for the class has been the production of foods using microbes.  From ginger ale to sauerkraut to chocolate, from sourdough bread to cheeses to wines, the class is assembling an impressive array of microbial products for human consumption.  A campus-wide reception and “tasting” is scheduled for Thanksgiving week, where a booklet of recipes (complete with a description of the microbes and processes responsible) will be available for our guests.

Today marks the launch of another project.  Our students will be headed to college student kitchens to do safety analysis and sampling.  Every student in the class had to obtain their food handler safety certification, so things they learned there about safe kitchens will be combined with things learned in class to analyze safety and the practices of college students in their home kitchens.  A kitchen user survey and kitchen layout schematic will help Food Micro identify critical points where cross contamination can occur or where safe practices are not being followed (raw meats stored above leftovers in the fridge?).  Contact plates of specialized media and swab sample retrieval kits will be used to test cutting boards, floors, countertops, refrigerator shelves, and a variety of other kitchen surfaces.  When combined, the results will provide a snapshot of the status of kitchen safety for the average college student.  When the data is analyzed, the class will undertake their final class project – writing a guide to safe kitchens for college students.  As with our other BIMS classes, we aim to put a practical and useful product together from our semester’s efforts.

There is nothing quite like exposing your students to the way their field is put into practice.  There is nothing quite as personal or practical to a student’s education as being the one using knowledge from a course to inform others on how to improve their personal safety.  In this way, BIMS 4491 Food Microbiology is demonstrating the great value of learning and applying what is learned for the benefit of others.

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Dr. Benoit’s “Joy of Pet Ownership”

by gwilson on Oct.18, 2013, under Projects

2013-10-18_15-43-07_756 Each year when Dr. Benoit teaches our freshman BIMS course on Unicellular Organisms, students leave with more than just knowledge and a grade….they take with them a pet.

In BIMS 1101 Unicellular Organisms Lab, Dr. Benoit takes students through an amazing tour of the unseen world, one filled with bacteria and protozoa and algae and yeast.  The course teaches basic cell biology and the diversity that exists among the smallest forms of life.  As a way of demonstrating the metabolic diversity of bacteria, all students create Winogradsky columns by filling Falcon flasks with diatomaceous earth, a variety of chemicals, and some water drawn from pond sludge (see photo).  These are the students’ pets, cared for and tended to by the students.  Dr. B encourages students to drop by the lab regularly to visit their pets and to enjoy their journey to maturation.  At the end of the semester, students are free to take them home where they can continue to mature and change for many years.

The preparation begins white usually, but chemical changes caused by a variety of bacterial turn the many minerals present into a technicolor show.  A good balance of chemicals and diversity of bacteria can result in reds and greens and blacks and yellows and purples as one species of bacteria after another transforms the minerals into colorful compounds.  It is the microbial equivalent of a garden filled with diverse plants.

As educational as the Winogradsky column is, the fun take on the project by Dr. Benoit demonstrates an important component of science at McMurry – if it isn’t fun, something is wrong!

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