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Lab gives new taste to MSU food research
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Sensory evaluation is not on the minds of most people as they do the weekly grocery shopping. It is, however, what determines which new food products reach the store shelves and the focus of a new laboratory at Mississippi State University.
MSU's Department of Food Science and Technology dedicated the James E. Garrison Sensory Evaluation Laboratory on April 4. The almost 3,000 square-foot facility contains offices, fully equipped kitchens and areas to conduct a variety of sensory evaluations on food products.
"Sensory evaluation is the process of forming an opinion about a food or any other product using one or more of the five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing," said Patti Coggins, manager of the lab and an assistant professor of food science and technology. "Sensory evaluation of a food product in a designated lab strengthens the research that has gone into its development."
Several methods can be used to perform food product evaluations, including supermarket taste tests and mail questionnaires, but Coggins said the most reliable and scientific approach is using a selected panel in a laboratory setting.
The Mississippi State lab uses panelists selected from volunteers within the university and from women's clubs and other groups. Evaluations are usually set up in booths with trays containing samples of the food products to be tested, a glass of water for rinsing between samples, crackers for neutralizing the mouth after each sample and an evaluation form.
The most unique feature of the new lab is the testing booths equipped with "breadbox" doors for passing food samples to panelists. The doors can be raised, a sample placed inside and then closed. The panelist can then remove the sample without ever seeing the room or people on the other side.
"This is a European design and the only one of its type in use in the South," Coggins said. "We chose it because it allows for the fewest possible outside factors influencing an evaluation."
In addition, the lab contains two kitchens equipped with appliances provided by Viking Range Corp. of Greenwood and rooms with several different seating arrangements for panel discussions of products under evaluation.
The facility will be used in food product research by MSU faculty and students. It also is available for contract use by private companies for independent, professional evaluations of their new food products.
"The Garrison Sensory Evaluation Lab expands the scope of the work we've been doing in this area for more than a decade," said Charles White, food science and technology department head. "It offers exciting new possibilities for research by our faculty and graduate students, as well as support for the food industry in Mississippi and the surrounding region."
James E. Garrison, a Pontotoc County native, is the retired president of Murray, Ky.-based Ryan Milk Co., and MSU's 1997 National Alumnus of the Year.
Contact: Dr. Patti Coggins, (662) 325-4002