Graduating food-science student parlays undergrad research experience into job

May 06, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Gabriella Pinto provides a great example of what undergraduate research can do for a student. The Penn State food science major, who graduates this month, is headed for a good job armed with a wealth of experience and knowledge from her research, which gives her a leg up on her career.

The Chicago native, who earned a minor in microbiology, took advantage of an opportunity to engage in food safety research with the fine-chocolate industry. In collaboration with Penn State doctoral student Runan Yan, Pinto conducted research on inactivation of Salmonella on cocoa beans.

The research was done in conjunction with Dandelion Chocolate, a craft chocolate maker in San Francisco that has been working with Penn State’s Food Science Department the last few years to help ensure food safety in its operations. Pinto’s research was supported by the College of Agricultural Sciences’ Undergraduate Student Research Grant.

Dandelion plant

Penn State student Gabriella Pinto, right, took advantage of an opportunity to engage in food safety research with the fine-chocolate industry. 

IMAGE: Provided

The goal of Pinto’s research was to generate data on the roasting conditions — time and temperature — needed to achieve sufficient reduction of Salmonella on cocoa beans to ensure chocolate safety. During her research, she spent a week in the two Dandelion factories helping the company’s team carry out studies in their cocoa bean roasters. 

Her research provided valuable data to the industry and will be used in its food safety decision-making. Pinto presented the research findings at the annual meeting of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association in San Francisco earlier this year, before the pandemic, which was a great professional development opportunity for her.

“I found myself so captivated by the project that I would spend hours and hours on it every week,” Pinto said. “Undergraduate research is really what you make of it, and my time commitment turned into a passion for food safety and microbiology that I am taking with me to my new job.”

posing below beans

According to Gabriella Pinto, right — posing here with Dandelion's Rebecca Taylor-Roseman at the annual meeting of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association early in 2020 —  Pinto's work with Dandelion emerged as a big selling point for her when she interviewed for jobs.  

IMAGE: Provided

She starts work this month as an assistant research and development scientist in food safety with PepsiCo. After gaining experience working in the industry, she plans to pursue a doctoral degree.

Experience and knowledge gained throughout Pinto’s undergraduate education at Penn State were critical for the success of her research project, according to her adviser, Jasna Kovac, assistant professor of food science. Kovac believes that this type of applied research experience increases students' engagement in their studies at Penn State and sets them up for successful careers.

After Pinto joined Kovac’s lab in spring 2019, it was clear that she was a student seeking to advance her research skills through a project that would have a broader positive impact in terms of food safety, Kovac said. “She was mentored and trained in laboratory microbiological analyses at Penn State, and it was great to see her apply these skills by helping a food company carry out roasting efficacy experiments in an actual chocolate production facility.”

Pinto with team

During her research, Gabriella Pinto spent a week in the two Dandelion factories helping the company’s team carry out studies in their cocoa bean roasters. 

IMAGE: Provided

Karen Cogan, flavor manager at Dandelion, said working with Pinto was a good experience for the chocolate company’s team. 

“The research that was done on our behalf, or alongside us, really has been pivotal in helping us understand and begin to define the food safety boundaries that most craft chocolate makers are facing,” she said. “It’s been really helpful. And bringing Gabby here to run validation roasting with our teams has been a super useful learning experience for all of us.”

Pinto advises other undergraduates to explore doing research because her work with Dandelion emerged as a big selling point for her when she interviewed for jobs.

“It’s what I mostly talked about — my research experience,” she said. “There’s so much crossover and overlap with industry and the research that I did, and it was so easy to take these experiences and utilize them in a professional way.”

craft chocolate maker

Dandelion Chocolate, a craft chocolate maker in San Francisco, has been working with Penn State’s Food Science Department the last few years to help ensure food safety in its operations.

IMAGE: Provided

 

 

 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 07, 2020