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July 2, 2012
By Coleman Cornelius
Dani Shubert and Will Callis perched on stools in the commercial kitchen of the Colorado State University Animal Sciences Building and assessed a flat iron steak.
It’s a trendy cut of beef, popping up rubbed and seared in recent years at upscale restaurants, in online recipes and with celebrity chefs. That’s because the flat iron steak is tender, flavorful and typically costs half as much per pound as prime boneless ribeye.
Shubert and Callis know these attributes, which make the flat iron a foodie favorite. They also know the scientific backstory: This steak is from the infraspinatus muscles of the beef chuck. In isolating the cut by muscle characteristics, meat scientists have transformed the lowly chuck from subprime pot roast into steak that appeals to epicures – and boosts profit potential for the food industry.
Such knowledge helped Shubert, Callis and six fellow CSU students claim the national title in the annual Meat Science Quiz Bowl on June 17. To become national champions, the CSU group bested 29 other squads from 19 universities across the country during the American Meat Science Association’s professional conference at North Dakota State University.
It’s the first time the CSU Meat Science Quiz Bowl team has earned a national championship in 11 years of competition. To win, the group beat a squad from the University of Nebraska in a tenth round of questioning with a live audience of industry leaders.
“We’re very proud of these bright students for successful teamwork that put their learning to use for a first-time national championship,” said Kevin Pond, head of the CSU Department of Animal Sciences. “This win reflects overall excellence in CSU’s meat science program and adds to our recent reserve national championships in meat judging and meat animal evaluation.”
The national Meat Science Quiz Bowl uses a “Jeopardy!” format, with answers signaled by buzzer. But for student competitors, it’s no mere trivia contest.
“Competing has helped me understand the science behind the product we’re making,” said Shubert, a junior majoring in animal science who will coach next year’s team. “Our work is meant to improve quality for consumers. In the end, providing them with a safe, wholesome, reasonably affordable protein is the name of the game.”
Knowledge needed for winning the national title also gives these Animal Sciences students the confidence to interact with meat-industry executives, they said.
“Through the team, I have a very good background in animal science and meat science. That gives me a much more complete understanding of the business,” said Callis, who graduated in May with dual degrees in animal science and agricultural economics.
Talk about a complete understanding.
The CSU Meat Science Quiz Bowl team can explain the chemical processes that trigger color changes and impact meat flavor, turning a steak from top pick to manager’s special.
Team members can rattle off the most significant federal laws and guidelines of past decades – from the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, partly sparked by Upton Sinclair's “The Jungle,” to the sweeping food-safety management system known as “Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points,” instituted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1996.
They can explain how the longissimus dorsi and gluteus medias muscles visible in a strip steak indicate its location in the beef carcass and its tenderness and flavor attributes.
The students said they hope wide-ranging knowledge of industry history, meat quality, food safety, animal physiology, and livestock growth and development will help them pursue science-based careers in agriculture.
In fact, they’re well on their way: Shubert has a summer internship in the research and development group of chicken producer Pilgrim’s; teammate Barbra Davis is helping to conduct a feed study at a large pig farm run by Seaboard Foods; and Callis is preparing for graduate studies in beef economics.
“Quiz Bowl has allowed me to see another aspect of livestock and how their bodies work. It gave me insight into how different feeds can affect an animal throughout its life,” said Davis, a junior who wants to pursue a career in swine nutrition. “It’s also been a great way to make connections that will help me in the future.”
Other members of the 2012 CSU Meat Science Quiz Bowl team are: Chloe Goodwin, sophomore; Lauren Jacobson, sophomore; Megan Myers, senior; Jenna Oxenhandler, sophomore; and Megan Semler, junior. Scott Howard, a doctoral student, coached the team.
Students in the CSU Department of Animal Sciences scored other major wins during the recent academic year: