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USDA taps Chapman for tasteful science

July 14, 2010

If you see a stream of people heading over to Hashinger this summer, follow them. Chances are good your efforts will be rewarded with a juicy treat.

“It’s fun,” said Heather (Stoltzfus) Westenhofer, who used her lunch hour to taste test peaches in a small Hashinger classroom on Tueday and left with a doggie bag of leftover peaches. “We tasted blueberries last time.”

It’s all part of a sweet deal landed by Chapman University’s Food Science Program. The program was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct taste-test research on a variety of peaches and blueberries this summer, part of a USDA effort to boost exports of those products. And for Heather McDonald ’03 the timing of the grant was ideal. McDonald had just returned to Chapman to earn her master’s in food science and was made principal investigator of the project, which she intends to incorporate into her thesis.

“I love doing sensory projects. It’s very hands-on. You get to work with people. I like seeing the data part of it and people’s opinions. It helps the company researchers make more confident decisions,” says McDonald, who has worked in research and development for Taco Bell and Starbucks since graduating. “And I’m working with food, too, which is amazing.”

Indeed, the science and business of food is amazing both locally and globally, says food science professor Fred Caporaso, Ph.D., Schmid College of Science. There are 1,500 food companies within 50 miles of Chapman, from Irvine-based Taco Bell to international flavor manufacturer T. Hasegawa USA, Inc. in Cerritos. And the world will increasingly look to food scientists to solve worldwide food issues like safety, availability and sustainable production practices in changing climates, Dr. Caporaso said.

“We’re trying to make global citizens and there’s nothing more global than food,” Dr. Caporaso said.

Meanwhile, the Chapman community is welcome to play its part. Another round of blueberry tasting is scheduled for Friday, July 16, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Hashinger 103.

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