UC Davis Meat Lab makes 2012 Best of Sacramento

In November, the UC Davis Meat Lab (UCDML), located at the Harold Cole Facility on La Rue Road, was featured in Sacramento Magazine’s (SacMag) “The 2012 Best of Sacramento” issue for its exceptional produce.

The “Best of Sacramento” piece, an annual list compiled by SacMag’s editors, is a way to showcase especial aspects of the region, including style, food and drink, activities, home design, people and the arts.

The meat lab, a branch of the UC Davis animal science department, is a meat processing plant on campus that serves the dual role of instructing students about hands-on food processing and selling fresh meat.

The facility is equipped with resources such as a kill floor, coolers, cutting and processing rooms, a lab, freezers and a classroom. It is run by student employees and overseen by manager Caleb Sehnert, who supervises the lab’s functions and instructs students.

“All the students put in hard work with me every day and we’re really lucky to have one of the five meat labs in California, thanks to the Regents and support from the animal science department,” he said. “If the customers weren’t talking about it, then we probably wouldn’t have made [the list]. It’s a real honor and we’re really excited to receive it.”

When open for business on certain weekdays, the lab sells fresh, local meat, including beef, sheep, hog and goat. Most of the animals are bred and born on the animal science department’s on-campus facilities in beef units and sheep barns.

Meat sales have been hosted at the lab since the mid-’90s and meats are approved to be shipped anywhere in the United States. Some lab employees stated that the fact the animals are bred on campus is a helpful factor in producing better-quality meat.

“We can keep an eye on what they’ve [animals] been eating, what kind of medication they’re on, or if they’ve had any sickness or vaccinations,” Sehnert said.

Animal science students have also said that they have positive reactions toward buying the meat, especially since they’ve already seen how it’s handled.

“There’s a meat locker specifically used for aging meat which makes it more tender and flavorful,” said first-year animal science major Jessica Sousa. “Unlike shopping at other stores, I actually see where my meat is coming from at Davis and since I’m an animal science major, I know the slaughter process is completely humane.”

Sousa continued to support the idea by listing the pros of buying from the lab.

“Customers can choose between fresh or aged meat based on their own preference. Overall I’d just say they have a lot to choose from at prices far better than the average market value,” Sousa said.

Some of the lab employees have gone on to say that the facility is mainly for instructing students, but that they still work hard in perfecting the produce to satisfy customers.

“We teach students about the process of slaughter and the breakdown of carcasses. It takes a lot of learning but we keep at it,” said teaching assistant and fourth-year animal science major Cindy Garcia. “With our customers, it’s evident that they like our produce when they don’t go back to the supermarkets.”

Sehnert said the lab has multiple purposes.

“Our main idea is to teach students, but we do the best that we can with what we have,” Sehnert said. “We slaughter about 500 animals per year and 100 pounds of sausage ground beef per week. We marinate the meat and add nice touches that you can’t get at other places.”

He also revealed that sale promotion is limited to notices posted on the UCDML Facebook page and La Rue Street, as the condition of their produce carries heavier weight.

“The best way to advertise is to make quality meat and that shows with our customers. We’re lucky to have so many. We want them to be proud to share our product with their families.”

The lab hosts meat sales open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays from 1 to 5:30 p.m.

WENDY CHAO can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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