Graduate research assistant in Food Science addresses food safety through microbiology
Kizmik McPherson began her undergraduate education at the University of Georgia as a pre-pharmacy major but soon realized the field she was most passionate about was food science. Today, McPherson is finishing up her Master of Science degree in food science in the Department of Poultry Science at Auburn University.
“I just wasn’t enjoying my pre-pharmacy classes, but I was taking quite a few food science classes as electives alongside my major classes and was thriving in them,” she said. “That led me to switch my major to food science, and at the end of my undergraduate career, I realized I wasn’t ready to stop learning.”
At Auburn, McPherson’s graduate research focuses on the use of a novel antimicrobial compound—1-chloro-2,2,5,5-tetramethyl-4-imidazoidinone—to control foodborne pathogens in alfalfa sprouts. Research on sprouts is important because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified them as a potentially hazardous food. In terms of produce items, sprouts are one of the most common causes of foodborne illnesses.
“That’s why I really enjoy this project—because it’s a ‘big picture’ look at food safety for consumers,” said McPherson, who is conducting her research alongside Auburn food science professor Tung-shi Huang and under the the supervision of food science professor and extension specialist Jean Weese.
In a climate where transparency in the food industry and consumer education are among top concerns for food scientists, McPherson’s research, which has shown promise in reducing commonly found pathogens on sprouts, has the potential to improve the safety and quality of alfalfa sprouts. While more research is needed before widespread application of these findings could be implemented in the industry, McPherson is excited about the real-world applications her research could have for consumers.
Research experiences in Auburn’s food science program reach beyond coursework and academia, as McPherson has seen firsthand. In addition to building her lab experience, she has gained valuable insight into experimental design and teamwork in the lab setting.
“My time as a graduate student has strengthened me and improved my confidence in research and lab skills,” she shared. “In this program, I’ve learned so much about planning experiments, asking questions and relying on my peers and lab technicians for help when I need it.”
Looking ahead to her career as a food scientist, McPherson cites the collaboration in her program as one of the most formative aspects of her graduate experience. From the dedicated technicians that help run the lab to the diverse group of peers in the food science graduate program, McPherson has found ample support for her work in the department.
“I know I’m working with my future colleagues, and that we’re building the future of the food industry,” she said. “That is such an exciting privilege.”
After completing her M.S. in food science this summer, McPherson will commute between Atlanta, Georgia and Greely, Colorado for a position with processing giant JBS® USA. She will participate in the company’s 18-month management training program, through which she will gain experience across multiple areas of operations and receive specialized training that will allow her to continue positively impacting the food industry.
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