Penn State

Agriculture tour attendees recognize importance of Penn State research

Catherine Cutter passed around little packs of Listerine breath strips and asked her audience to try them and observe how quickly they dissolve on the tongue.

The food science professor used the breath-freshening demonstration to explain the concept of a food safety tool that a Penn State research team is testing to kill diseases contaminating meat.

Cutter explained that and other food safety research Thursday as part of Penn State’s 14th annual College of Ag Sciences research tour. Dozens of industry professionals, Penn State faculty and government representatives attended presentations at university agriculture facilities, focused on the three new research centers for food safety, animal care and plant health.

The centers are a collaboration between Ag Sciences and the state Department of Agriculture, and researchers hope the work done there will encourage continued investment. The state budget this year included $300,000 to start the centers.

Cutter showed her attendees pieces of pullulan, the edible film used in the Listerine strips. Some of her research includes using the film to deliver anti-microbial substances to meat, eliminating bacteria. She offered one example of a test that used the film on deli meat contaminated with listeria.

“We could get a very good kill,” she said.

Cutter explained other food safety research, including a method for boiling venison jerky to kill pathogens and helping small meat processors wash carcasses in a way to do the same.

“We’re doing this in the name of public health,” she said.

Tour attendees who heard Cutter’s and six other presentations said they were impressed with the research.

Eileen Fabian-Wheeler, a Penn State professor of agricultural and biological engineering, and Cindy Klenk, a staff member for state Sen. John Blake, praised the program after assistant professor Beth Gugino’s presentation on late blight on tomatoes.

Fabian-Wheeler said the information was “fascinating” because it’s outside her field of study. She praised the impact of such work.

“It’s a level of confidence,” Klenk said. “These guys are working from the ground up.”

Klenk called the day a “perfect education” and said she’s been a vegetarian for 38 years.

“So, to see this, I’m just ... I’m grateful,” she said.

Gugino, who studies vegetable crops, talked about her trials related to late blight, in an attempt to reduce the need for fungicide applications to tomato plants. The disease was responsible for the Irish potato famine in the 1800s.

“It continues to be devastating to this day,” she said. “You can go from a completely green field to a completely dead field in seven days.”

After hearing extension veterinarian Dave Wolfgang’s presentation on animal health from the farm to the meat plant, Tim Wentz acknowledged that Penn State is doing “quite a bit.” Wentz is with the Northeast Equipment Dealers Association, which works with dealers of agricultural equipment.

Wentz said, “obviously,” Penn State’s research is needed to solve problems.

“Without science, rules are being made by people who don’t have the know-how to do it,” he said of politicians who set policy. “It really is a national security issue.”