FORT COLLINS, Colo. – During MEAT+POULTRY’s exclusive preview tour of Colorado State Univ.’s (CSU) JBS Global Food Innovation Center in Honor of Gary & Kay Smith in early March, the final phase of the $20-million-plus project was just days away from completion and plans were being finalized for the grand opening in less than a month. The official festivities were indeed held April 9, highlighted by JBS USA CEO Andre Nogueira cutting the ceremonial ribbon alongside Gary Smith, Ph.D., and professor from CSU’s Department of Animal Science, Robert Delmore Ph.D., who led the project and Keith Belk, a former student of Smith’s and current holder of the department’s Ken & Myra Monfort Endowed Chair in Meat Science with the Center for Meat Safety & Quality. The center is dedicated to Gary Smith, a renowned expert in meat science and food safety, a University Distinguished Professor Emeritus, and his late wife, Kay.
About two years ago, officials with JBS USA, based nearby in Greeley, agreed to support the project with a $12.5 million investment to help fund the construction of the two-story, 36,000-sq.-ft. facility and to provide its employees with educational opportunities. CSU and JBS have a longstanding partnership coupling the university’s research resources with the company’s industry-leading operations. The company is also helping provide potential future employees at CSU with facilities and equipment that mirror commercial processing plants and prepare them to work in the industry by training them in real-world environments.
“JBS is, more than anything, a people business,” Nogueira said. “So, we really see this as an investment in people – the people who will come here to learn industry best practices and innovation for generations to come.”
The project was actually the final phase to a multi-year renovation of CSU’s Animal Science Dept. facilities, which began in 2014. Ajay Menon, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences said working closely with JBS on the innovation center portion of the project makes sense not only today, but in the future.
“JBS provides that necessary partnership – our goals and values align well with theirs – and we’re very grateful for their support,” said Menon during his remarks at the grand opening. “Our goal for this facility was not only to support teaching and research – it has to impact the industry and advance the way meat processing is done around the world.”
Leading the project and MEAT+POULTRY’s tour this past month, Delmore said as the final touches were being made on the facility that ramping up the operations was not unlike a typical start-up of a commercial plant. Having worked on the operational front lines at Clougherty Packing Co.’s Farmer John plant prior to his academic career, he has been a part of significant plant renovations and construction projects. At the time, Delmore expected slaughtering and processing operations at the new plant to begin by April 25 if not sooner.
For Delmore, this project was unique because it included blending the operations of a multi-species slaughtering facility with processing, further processing and ready-to-eat processing and packaging in the heart of a college campus while incorporating laboratories, faculty offices and meeting spaces, a demonstration kitchen, classrooms, a retail store and useful common areas for students to meet and collaborate. Construction included using a pre-engineered metal building material to add on to the back of the existing Animal Science Department facility and utilized a portion of a former parking lot and some greenspace in front of what now is the entrance to the innovation center.
“One of the things we needed was more space to interact with other people,” Delmore said. One of those many spaces is a sizeable conference room, The Harris-Wood Boardroom, named after and sponsored by Dave Wood and John Harris (from Harris Ranch), located on the second floor of the facility.
There are six faculty offices on the second floor, in addition to two visiting scientist offices, one named after Gary Smith and one next to it named after Temple Grandin, Ph.D., a professor of animal science at CSU since 1990 and world-renowned animal handling expert. The new second-story space also accommodates two new chemistry labs and a sensory lab.
Meeting spaces, some of which are open while others are glass enclosed are prominent throughout the new space as are restrooms, Delmore pointed out. The state-of the-art control room for the processing plant below is also housed on the second floor, which was a logistical challenge to insulate the rest of the building from the sounds of what is running the commercial meat plant mechanical room below it.
Adjacent to one of the many common areas on the first floor is a sponsored retail food store, the “Where Food Comes From” Market. “They are working with us to not just market our meat lab products, but also make this an educational experience for students,” Delmore said. “Our customers like to interact with the students and that allows our students to inform and sometimes educate those customers.”
Also, near the first-floor entrance is an auditorium-style classroom equipped for meat science lectures and hands-on demonstrations. An overhead rail system crosses the front of the classroom to facilitate rolling carcasses in and out of the teaching area from an adjacent cooler or to the processing plant. “That’s something we haven’t had here in a long time,” Delmore said. The classroom is also wired with audio-visual technology and a large, washdown-ready display area at the front.
A demonstration kitchen is designed similar to JBS’ demo kitchen in Greeley, complete with granite countertops, commercial grade stoves and ovens, an Italian-made dry-aging cabinet, and many other features.
Not far from the demonstration kitchen is the restricted access entry to the US Dept. of Agriculture-inspected processing plant. A window near the entry gives passers by a glimpse into a room where pass-through ovens are regularly loaded with ready-to-eat products. Equipped with LED lighting throughout, the plant is designed to demonstrate principles of meat processing using technology and workspace that mirrors a modern meat processing plant. The design of plant’s animal handling area and slaughtering system were overseen by Grandin, who accompanied MEAT+POULTRY on the tour. The slaughter facility is equipped to handle cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry on a limited scale. Grandin was most pleased at the attention paid to building the entire facility with quality infrastructure, that will serve as a long-lasting foundation for future advancements in the industry’s ever-changing technology.
“You can always change the furniture,” she said of the under-roof areas, “but I’m really glad to see investing in infrastructure initially,” she said.