Many animal science students grow up on beef and swine farms but do not realize what happens to their product once it leaves the farm. They are well-versed in the raising and caring for of the animal but once the carcass hits the cooler, it becomes a different animal all-together. Studying in the area of animal science often opens the door to interesting career choices like meat processing and quality assurance.
What is the Job?
Most of the population of the United States eats some type of meat. That meat originates on a farm, goes through a slaughterhouse of some size and scope and then gets cut into smaller sizes and processed from there. Once the meat is processed, there needs to be some assurance that the people selling the meat, either directly to the consumer or indirectly through a larger chain store, are handling it properly to keep the consumer healthy. That is where the quality assurance specialists come in. Quality assurance involves understanding rules and regulations but also how meat is properly processed, what a certain cut should look like, and what possible contamination factors could be involved when it comes to health and safety of a meat product.
Without some education, very few people any more will find themselves getting a job in quality assurance. There are so many rules and regulations to learn on the job that having a good educational background helps you hit the ground running. That being said, courses in anatomy and physiology, biology, microbiology, meat processing, and chemistry are important classes to have.
Courses to Consider
Beneficial courses that are required by some programs but not others are organic chemistry and biochemistry, nutrition, animal rights/welfare, and a management course in the meat animal area. Another area of study that would be helpful would be some type of course in legal code and regulations so that terminology becomes more familiar because politics plays a huge role in quality assurance.
Never ever underestimate the power of an internship. Not only does an internship give you credit towards your degree and expose you to a possible career path, but you can be face-to-face with people who are looking for quality individuals to employ in a year or two. There is nothing better than looking at your graduation date knowing that you have a job that you will enjoy as soon as you are ready for it.
Another great activity is to getting involved in meats judging contests. Many university animal science programs have a meats judging team that allows them to get experience knowing what cuts of meat are, which are the best, and what consumers are ultimately looking for. These contests also are very valuable because they teach critical thinking and reasoning skills that are often lacking from strictly classroom experiences.