by MAGGIE SMITH
Christy Bratcher always knew she wanted a career that involved working with animals. However, being a veterinarian didn’t seem like the right fit.
Bratcher, now an associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, knows she has found her home in Auburn’s College of Agriculture. “You leave your family at home, then you come to Auburn and you’re still a family,” Bratcher says.
In particular, Bratcher found her passion in meat sciences, especially meat quality and food safety. She says her main focus is to “make sure people have safe and wholesome food.”
Since coming to Auburn in 2009, Bratcher has participated in numerous research activities with everyone from the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Currently, she is working with the USDA, the departments of Poultry Science and Agricultural Economics and Sociology, Auburn’s College of Business, Alabama Water Watch, Tuskegee University and Purdue University to figure out how to get safe, local beef from “the farmer to the consumer’s hands.” Because many people want to buy local beef, Bratcher has teamed up with these departments to help ensure the safety and consistency of the beef coming from local farmers that is being sold to independent grocers.
From her research, Bratcher concluded that many people do not know the proper way to handle raw meat. “Pay attention to cross contamination and handling of meat and also where you put meat in your grocery cart,” she says. Bratcher stresses how important consumers’ handling of meat is to food safety.
One of her most recent research activities, alongside Ph.D. candidate Derek Griffing, involves testing consumer handling behaviors of raw meat. “Once you put meat in your car, lots of things can happen,” she says. Bratcher and Griffing read through 1,500 responses to a survey about how average consumers care for the meat they have purchased, and they concluded that many people are not aware of the effects temperature has on meat.
Because of this, Griffing’s Ph.D. project is testing the changes in meat quality once it leaves a grocery store and travels in a car. He started the experiment by placing raw meat in the front and back of a car while air conditioning was running to see which area of the car had the largest impact on the meat. He plans to run the same test while heat is running in a car. From this experiment, Bratcher hopes they can help others gain knowledge about properly caring for raw meat.
Bratcher is also involved with the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association and its efforts to educate today’s youth about food safety. She advises the ACA about programs intended to shed light on research being done on food safety.
In addition, Bratcher mentors students involved with the Auburn University Collegiate Cattlemen and Cattlewomen’s Association and advises them on their catering business.
When she is not doing research, Bratcher is busy teaching her students about important aspects of meat quality and food safety. In her introductory course to meat science, Bratcher teaches her students what to look for in meat quality. She also works with students in a lab setting in the Muscle Foods course so they can see the process of turning a live animal into a meal.
Although she loves research, Bratcher says her favorite thing about her job is working with students. “I love mentoring students,” she says. Bratcher makes it a priority to help students taking her meat science classes and give them advice in hopes it will help lead them to successful futures.
Maggie Smith is a freshman at Auburn University majoring in Agricultural Communications.