Meating the workforce demand: FAPC launches Meat Mastery Program

Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center recently hosted the first Meat Mastery Program. Organized in collaboration with Osage Nation, this hands-on program was designed to educate participants on various aspects of multi-species meat harvesting and value-added meat product processing.

Ravi Jadeja, associate professor and principal project investigator, said there is a growing demand for trained meat industry professionals to ensure a safe and quality meat supply in the nation.

“Several factors contribute to the increased workforce demand in food and agricultural products processing,” Jadeja said. “Food production challenges include decentralization, demand for local meats, food safety and food security. To combat the critical shortage of meat industry workforce, FAPC developed a hands-on training to train the meat industry workforce.”

Before the development of the training, FAPC investigated several teaching avenues, such as classroom-style workshops and videos. But direct industry engagement is critical for the meat industry workforce.

“The project’s goal is to leverage OSU’s existing relations with two-year colleges and meat industry partners to prepare the next generation of the meat industry workforce,” Jadeja said. “For the next three years, a cohort of 60 students will receive hands-on meat processing training in federally inspected meat processing facilities located in OSU and the Osage Nation.”

The project was funded through a USDA-NIFA workforce training grant.

“FAPC focused on a solution-oriented approach to successfully develop and execute a summer training program,” Jadeja said. “Developing a hands-on training program comes with challenges, such as the purchasing of livestock and supplies. It’s also critical to not interfere with the day-to-day operations of commercial meat processing facilities involved in training participants.”

The meat processing plant at FAPC is fully equipped for training capabilities and is student-operated throughout the entire process. The Meat Mastery Program participants worked closely with current student workers and assisted with daily operations such as harvest, fabrication, packaging and labeling.

Roy Escoubas, FAPC director, said the collaborative efforts led to a successful program.

“FAPC is pleased to be a part of such an important training that delivers technical information to the promising next generation of meat processors,” Escoubas said. “The future of the industry is dependent on elevated and value-added educational opportunities.”

Joel Jackson, meat pilot plant manager, said the diverse group of participants from across the state were introduced to a variety of experienced professionals who shared about their personal background and affiliation within the industry.

The program guests included Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture, Blayne Arthur, of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry; Scott Yates, director of food safety, ODAFF; Erica Hering, president, Ralph’s Packing Co.; and Stephen Spurgeon, regional manager, Walton’s Inc.

Faculty members from OSU’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences served as co-project investigators including Gretchen Mafi, Morgan Pfeiffer, Ranjith Ramanathan and Patricia Rayas-Duarte. Additional collaborators included Pawnee Nation College, Murray State College, Connors State College and the Oklahoma Texas Meat Processors Association.

“We had an excellent group that was eager to participate, and we are looking forward to next year’s Meat Mastery Program,” Jackson said. “I look forward to seeing these young people go out and begin their career in the meat industry.”

Participants received grant-funded housing at the OSU-Stillwater campus and a grant-sourced $2,000 stipend at the end of the program. The execution of the summer training program prepared participants for a successful career in the meat industry as they received formal training and certificates in Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, Good Manufacturing Practices and Sanitation.

FAPC, a part of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, helps to discover, develop and deliver technical and business information that will stimulate and support the growth of value-added food and agricultural products and processing in Oklahoma.