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LSU food science student in exchange with Honduran university

News Release Distributed 10/10/14

BATON ROUGE, La. – With roots in Central America and a good grasp of the Spanish language, Maria Moore felt comfortable being one of the first students from LSU to do an exchange with Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

The LSU AgCenter has been collaborating with Zamorano since the early 1990s and has hosted about 60 visiting scholars from the school since 2005. Zamorano was interested in hosting a student from LSU.

Moore, a senior of the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, spent three month this past summer at the university, working in eight different food processing facilities run by the school and two laboratories, including one where she learned to make biodiesel. She also took classes in food packaging and product development.

“My summer goals were to enrich my Spanish language skills, learn the processing techniques at different plants and visit processing facilities across the country and personal growth,” Moore said.

Moore worked in a dairy processing facility where she learned the methods of pasteurizing and homogenizing milk and how to make cheese and other dairy products. She also worked in a bakery, a honey facility, a meat processing plant, a feed and grain facility and two post-harvest fruit and vegetable facilities, where she learned to grade and sort produce and make salsa, jams and marmalades.

“It was very interesting, and the products made at the school go to the supermarkets in the city and supermarket on campus,” Moore said.

Personal growth and a challenge came when Moore was working at the feed and grain facility. She admits to a fear of heights, but worked up the nerve to jump from a high platform into a bin of corn to sample the grain’s moisture levels.

The engineer at the facility also taught her how to test moisture by throwing a kernel against the wall.

“You’d hear a distinctive pop sound, and then you knew the corn was sufficiently dry,” she said.

In her product development class, Moore and her classmates were paired with food companies in Honduras to develop a new product. Her group made an oblea – a thin wafer-style cookie filled with a dulche de leche and topped with coconut and cocoa.

“We had a big fair at the end of the semester showing off all the products that we had developed for all those companies,” she said.

Zamorano has 1,000 students who mainly come from Central and South America. All students live on campus. Moore was the only American at the school.

Moore’s mother is from Nicaragua, and Moore speaks Spanish. But technical terms at the processing facilities often stumped her.

“A lot of the employees at the facilities did not speak English,” she said. “They would explain to me how to run a machine, and they would often use a word that I didn’t understand, so that was hard.”

Moore said she spent a good deal of her daily study hour, which was mandated by the school, looking up words she heard at the facilities.

Things like mandated study hour, monitored computers, “faults” for not showing up to a facility with your hair in a ponytail or your nails not trimmed correctly were an adjustment for Moore.

“The school had a lot of rules,” she said. She had a difficult time learning and adjusting to them initially. Students were not allowed to have refrigerators or microwaves in their dorm rooms and did not have access to ovens. She said that was also challenging, but all meals were provided by the school.

“The idea is to take away extra stressors. You don’t have to worry about cooking. You send off your laundry, and someone does your laundry,” she said.

Another hard part was leaving campus. She said it was not safe to travel alone.

“It is difficult traveling around the country,” she said. “The current state of Honduras is shaky. There are a lot of kidnappings and armed robberies.”

Moore has conducted research at LSU on the health benefits of cocoa and presented her findings to the American Chemical Society. She said she was interested in visiting a cacao plantation and processing facility in La Masica, Honduras. A friend of her family who lives in Honduras agreed to take her to the facility so she would not have to travel alone.

She said she was lucky to have someone take her because otherwise she would not have gone, and the experience was one of her favorite parts of her stay in Honduras.

“They showed me everything you need to know about how to harvest the cacao plant, how to get the beans from it and to tell a good fruit from a bad fruit,” she said.

Moore also traveled to El Salvador with her classmates as part of her program to visit a chicken processing facility, a brewery and a coffee factory.

She said it was great to experience the culture and facilities at Zamorano. She said she liked the way the school is set up.

“We have more lab time here at LSU, but we don’t have our own facilities to learn how to make products the way they do,” she said.

She also said the she met all of her summer goals.

“I learned so much this summer, and I grew up a lot because I had to make decisions I wouldn’t have had to make here. I had to learn to find solutions to issues and learn to adjust,” she said.

Moore plans to go back to Zamorano in December to see some of the friends she made graduate. After she graduates in May, she is not sure what she wants to do with her career, but she does plan to attend graduate school.

“I don’t want to limit myself because sometimes there are opportunities out there that you would never think you would do,” she said.

Tobie Blanchard

Last Updated: 10/10/2014 3:15:08 PM

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