Food Science Students Complete Summer Course in Austria on Maximizing Food Quality

Food science students (from left) Sarah Mayfield, Nate Stebbins, Emily McCullough, Anastasia Mills and Brittany Frederick along with professor Ya-Jane Wang in Austria outside a chocolate production facility during the two-week short course.
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Food science students (from left) Sarah Mayfield, Nate Stebbins, Emily McCullough, Anastasia Mills and Brittany Frederick along with professor Ya-Jane Wang in Austria outside a chocolate production facility during the two-week short course.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Food science students from the U of A's Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, as well as students from other countries, participated in an innovative two-week short course, Food Science and Culinary Arts to Maximize Food Quality, at the Technical University of Graz in Austria for U.S. and European students during the summer.

The course showcased TU Graz's world-class food analysis and sensory science research and teaching programs along with the unique food industry community and cuisine of Styria and Austria. Professor Erich Leitner, who works with the Austrian food industry, provided leadership and organization.

"The food science course at TU Graz is a remarkable experience that should not be missed," said Nate Stebbins a food science doctoral student. "A few examples of hands-on learning are tours of local food plants that manufacture chocolate, apple wine, vinegar and mustard. We had tasting opportunities on site and the chance to bring unique Austrian products home to share with family and friends."

This course was a new multidisciplinary educational venture and included the application of chemical, physical and biological principles with the culinary arts to show how they synergize to maximize food quality. Students participated in lectures, laboratory, kitchen exercises, field work and group activities. The largest group of visiting students were from the U of A, but students from Austria, Belgium, France, Spain and Switzerland also attended.

"The lecture content and excursions were very beneficial to my overall food science education," said Sarah Mayfield, a food science doctoral student. "In particular, I enjoyed learning about the relationship between analytical and sensory analysis of food flavors. This really strengthened my knowledge of and passion for food flavor chemistry. It was also interesting to learn about the differences in perspectives/priorities between the Austrian and U.S. food industries. The Austrian industry focuses primarily on food quality rather than cost/production efficiency, whereas the U.S. industry prioritizes economic considerations." 

The course consisted of morning lectures on the application of physical, microbiological, analytical and sensory sciences to domestic and commercial food processing. Global food trends and sustainable aspects of food production were also discussed. Afternoon field trips to regional food companies highlighted Austrian food production and quality. Students visited a mustard and vinegar production facility, a major chocolate company, flour mill, oil press, wineries and others. The finalé on the last day was a well-known Austrian celebrity chef showing how to select Austrian food at the market and prepare it for the final dinner.

"I am very grateful for the time I got to spend in Graz," said food science major Anastasia Mills. "The opportunity to hear from renowned speakers in a country of high-quality food producers was unparalleled. Our coursework gave me a look into what I will be studying in the future, which was very encouraging as it was all quite interesting. I especially enjoyed our day of sensory testing and the excursions. I now have a better appreciation for trained taste testers who are able to do that work all day. It is hard to taste the same product for hours at a time. Getting out into the region to visit various companies was a privilege, and it was a lot of fun seeing the local products and tasting them, too. This summer short course was an adventure and I am glad to have this education."

The program is a product of University Professor of food science Andy Proctor's 2015 NAWI Fulbright-Austria visiting professor experience, where he began collaborating with Leitner. In 2016, an agreement was established between the U of A and Bumpers College with Technical University of Graz to promote joint research and student exchange. Leitner is collaborating with food scientists at the U of A on food and flavor chemistry research projects. Graduate research students are also being exchanged. Leitner's research program provides unique state-of-the-art mass spectrometry facilities for Bumpers College's food science program, which would be difficult to find in Europe or the U.S.

"This was a once in a lifetime chance," said food science major Emily McCullough. "We had a full schedule that included going on behind the scene tours to different facilities, very interesting lectures and the chance to work with an amazing chef who cooks with no waste. We visited a flour factory, a chocolate factory, an oil seed company and various wineries. I was able to see first-hand things that we learn about in class, but never get to experience for ourselves. I also learned things that as an undergraduate I have not been taught, helping me feel one step ahead of my classmates. With the amount of knowledge I gained and the memories I made, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat."

The summer course may be the most innovative result of the U of A and TU Graz agreement. It will be an annual international event with the 2018 course being held at Bumpers College's Department of Food Science. Department head and professor Jean-François Meullenet will provide leadership with assistance from Proctor.

Austrian and other European students will be invited to apply. The 2018 course will include tours of unique regional food production facilities. Activities will include visits to small scale gourmet food fermentations, coffee roasters, microbreweries and field trips to rice production sites in Arkansas. Culinary arts will also be featured, demonstrating gourmet food preparation with home-grown Arkansas products.

Bumpers College students are encouraged to engage in study abroad that will lead to life-long partnerships, cultural awareness and understanding of the global dimensions of their majors. The college's International Programs Office provides structured international experiences that enhance the marketability of students for career and academic opportunities through faculty driven, sustainable initiatives. The office supports faculty, students, international partners and university leadership in increasing opportunities for students to engage in faculty-led programs, internships, exchange programs, and study abroad activities that include research. 

The Food Science and Culinary Arts to Maximize Food Quality short course is one of two student exchange programs offered by Bumpers College. The college sponsors an exchange program to France, along with faculty-led programs in Belgium, India, Italy, Mozambique, New Zealand and Australia; internships in Greece and Scotland; and research opportunities in Brazil and the Philippines, and Greece.

For more information on international program and study abroad opportunities, go here


Andy Proctor, University Professor
Department of Food Science

Robby Edwards, director of communications
Bumpers College


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