For Abbey Scheifelbein, a career in food science seemed liked a pretty fun thing to do coming out of high school.

It was, she thought, a way to learn about what goes into food, maybe a little chemistry, and naturally–a whole bunch about food safety.

But what the Kansas State University senior from Kimball, Minn., may not have realized was that her career path would include learning about food’s pH levels, water activity and government-required process authority letters.

“And,” she said, “I’ve learned about the food business, including answering emails and phone calls from businesses that need information.”

Scheifelbein’s college experience includes a part-time job in the Kansas Value Added Foods Lab, which helps small businesses in Kansas with the intricacies of selling safe food products to consumers.

“This is a program that’s been around for more than 30 years,” said K-State research and extension food scientist Karen Blakeslee.

The program receives funding from the Kansas Department of Agriculture and aids in many areas of product development, including food chemistry, processing, microbiology, packaging, regulations and even developing a nutrition label.

“We’re here to help small businesses,” Blakeslee said. “If you’re selling at a farmer’s market or wanting to a get a business going–even a full-fledged food processing business–then we’re here to help.”

Kelly Getty, an associate professor in K-State’s department of animal sciences and industry, oversees many of the food safety issues.

“I serve as a process authority,” Getty said. “That sounds like a big word, but what we do is look at how small processors are making their food products, such as whether they are heating the product to the right temperatures, and more.

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“We want to assure they have a safe product that they’re selling to consumers in Kansas. I look at all of those processes, including the ingredients they’re using and how they’re combining ingredients, or how they’re packaging those products.”

For example, Getty said one recommendation to increase food safety might be to add lemon juice, giving a food product a bit more acid.

“We may encourage businesses to make modifications,” she said. “We work with them to make a safe product that they can sell to consumers and tastes good, too.”

Scheifelbein and co-worker Emma Roy–a K-State junior from Louisburg, Kan.–routinely test foods for pH (acid) levels, sodium or sugar content, and more.

“As a student, it’s good to be able to take what we learn in classes and apply it in a lab,” Roy said. “We apply our knowledge while doing the actual product testing.”

Blakeslee said many small businesses are not required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to include a Nutrition Facts label, “but it’s a really good idea to put that information on your products because consumers want to know what’s in their food.”

“In addition to the Nutrition Facts label, we provide an ingredient statement and a list of food allergens that may be in the food as required by the FDA,” Blakeslee said.

More information on services available from the lab can be found online.