SHS students learn about food prep through Purdue

Monika Spaulding, Digital Editor

Learning to cook hamburgers is not a skill most people would think would be taught in science class. But last week, that’s exactly what happened in Greg McCurdy’s microbiology classes thanks to a unit on food contamination, courtesy of Purdue University.

Tressie Barrett, a graduate student at Purdue, as well as a 2010 Salem High School graduate, brought the program to her alma mater as part of her graduate studies. Her degree is in Biological Engineering with a focus on food. She said she is excited to show the students the different careers available in the field of food sciences. 

“I want to help broaden their career opportunities,” she said.

Her professor, Dr. Yaohua Feng, does food safety education and was interested in experimenting with a kindergarten through 12th grade food safety education curriculum. Barrett said they are hoping to help fill the void of not having home economics and consumer foods classes anymore in schools.

The curriculum is designed to be an eight week course.

The students, approximately 75 of McCurdy’s students, learned the importance of using gloves, changing gloves and making sure dishes are clean, before they begin cooking.

“On the first day students took a survey about their knowledge about food borne illness and cooking practices to see what they knew going in,” said McCurdy. “As soon as they finished the survey students were divided into groups of four students and they cooked hamburgers and zucchini while each group was videoed by an overhead camera.”

He said in addition to the camera, the person who was the hamburger chef wore a personal camera that was attached by a harness on their forehead so that they could record a “birds eye view” of the hamburger cooking process that took place. 

“Everyone at Salem has been so helpful and supportive,” said Barrett, adding that not just the staff at Salem High School, but also the middle school, who loaned them iPads to use for the classes to help with the recordings.

“The learning has been unbelievable,” said McCurdy. While the students won’t technically be graded on the course, McCurdy said he will give them points for participation. 

He said following the first day of cooking the students were given five days of lessons that included hands-on laboratory activities, videos, discussions and some take home assignments that helped them to better understand the role of bacteria, the cooking procedures, the importance of refrigeration and an assortment of other topics related to preventing food borne illness. 

Barrett said besides cooking, the students did some role playing. They pretended to be employed in a pretzel facility and learned standard operating procedures, when and where ingredients should be stored, the cleanliness of the facility, etc. They had to justify that the production in their facility was safe and participate in an audit.

Students learned the importance of food temperature, both in preparation and in storage. They saw first hand how easy cross contamination can happen. 

“It has been a good way to learn food safety,” said science student Bailey Hypes. “There are so many different types of bacteria that can grow!”

The students were given the task of making a meal at the beginning of the week-long lesson. Then, they learned the right and wrong ways of food preparation. The final day of the lesson, they cooked again.

“I see a big difference from before learning food safety to now!” laughed McCurdy.

The first cooking class was cheeseburgers with zucchini chips. The final meal was a nacho burger with free salsa.

On the last day of class, the students took the survey again to see how their knowledge and attitudes changed and they repeated the cooking assignment which was also videoed. 

“The Purdue team then will analyze the before and after cooking videos and interpret the survey results,” said McCurdy. “The kids have done a marvelous job with this!”

SHS student Torri Lykens said the course was eye opening.

“I used to work in a restaurant,” she said. “Seeing how things get cross contaminated makes me really want to put that into my work.”

Purdue provided everything for the course from handouts to lab activities, ingredients and more. The lessons were uploaded to the students’ Chromebooks for them to follow along.

Barrett said based on research, it was found that approximately 48 million people get sick on food borne illnesses every year. Many of the students taking this class work in food service or help take care of younger siblings. She said the course will help these young people learn how to prepare food safely and keep a clean environment in the kitchen.

Barrett said the university is hoping to do more programs with the school in the future and expand to the middle school as well.

Seth Purlee’s agriculture students also participated in the activity.


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