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K-State's food science program not limited to campus

More than half of Kansas State University's food science students are spread across the United States. They have to be, because they're already on the job.

A food technologist, for example, is developing packaging systems to enhance the shelf life of beef jerky. Another is using fish proteins to develop new products, and a third is responsible for beverage quality control. All are studying for a K-State degree--while also working full-time.

"Today's technology and information about food are changing so fast that even recent graduates can soon be behind the times," said Curtis Kastner, director of K-State's Food Science Institute. "If nothing else, global trade keeps expanding the need for better knowledge and training. So, keeping up is vital for handling modern-day production, inspection, shipping and storage problems--not to mention today's foodborne illnesses."

The 21st century's food system is already the most complex in history, Kastner said. It also is susceptible to risks that impact both national security and basic human survival.

"Consider, for example, the on-going surveillance for melamine, which was wrongly and intentionally added to food products. We've learned the hard way that a hazard introduced in another part of the world can quickly become a global concern," he said.

The Food Science Institute is the bedrock of K-State's response to this far-reaching, multi-faceted challenge. The FSI brings together more than 50 nationally and internationally recognized graduate faculty, housed in 13 separate departments and five colleges. They work together to examine and share information about a subject that extends from farm field and processing facility to display case and dinner table.

"Fortunately, the Internet delivery system in K-State's Division of Continuing Education allows our faculty, collaborators and students to be as diverse as our subject," Kastner said. "So, the FSI is currently in the unique, but gratifying position of having not only alumni and industry but also other universities sending food science students our way.

"Many employers will actually pay for their employees' distance education with us."

For decades K-State has maintained a 100 percent placement rate for its students in the food sciences. It has never had enough graduates to fill industry's needs.

"By combining our efforts across campus, we're now able to offer students a lot of flexibility in degree study," Kastner said. "We also have state-of-the-art laboratories and pilot facilities to share for product development and testing, as well as basic and applied research."

The Institute's people, programs and expertise make it a one-of-a-kind program in the world, he said. But, its resources limit the FSI to training U.S. students nationwide.

"Basically, our mission is to help ensure that the nation as a whole has a high-quality, ample and safe food supply--with excess products to export," Kastner said. "That's a pretty tall order. But, the FSI is simply working to help meet our university's century-long commitment to the U.S. food system."

As a land-grant university, K-State has teaching, research and outreach/extension faculty to choose among in the animal sciences, the plant sciences, engineering and agricultural economics. It also has developed strong programs in such food-related disciplines as human nutrition, sensory analysis, chemistry, pathobiology and more.

"Beyond that, however, our graduates can give any food sector a competitive edge, because another important thing they learn here is how to think critically about food-system improvements and solutions," Kastner said. "That can make a big difference."

The Web home for K-State's Food Science Institute is at http://foodsci.ksu.edu/.

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