Undergraduate Student Experiential Learning Program

Student holds clipboard and poses with a flock of sheep in a research station

The Undergraduate Student Experiential Learning (USEL) Program supports agri-food knowledge mobilization and helps develop the next generation of agri-food innovators.

USEL gives senior University of Guelph undergraduate students the opportunity to gain work experience and hone their knowledge translation and transfer skills through a summer work placement.

USEL students are selected via a competitive hiring process. Successful students are mentored by OMAFRA specialists and U of G research faculty.   

Current Opportunities 

The USEL program is currently recruiting for Summer 2021! Expand each position below to learn more. Visit Recruit Guelph to apply.

OMAFRA Mentors: Sarah Jandricic, Greenhouse Floriculture IPM Specialist; Jennifer Llewellyn, Nursery Crop Specialist; and TBD – Greenhouse Floriculture Production Specialist

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: Al Sullivan (Professor Emeritus, Plant Agriculture) and Roger Tschanz (Greenhouse Manager and Garden Trial Coordinator)

Preferred Location: Vineland Station & Landscape Ontario Office - Milton

Primary Research Priority: To help dispel the myth that only native plants support Ontario pollinators, we’ll identify plants commonly grown by the Ontario Greenhouse ornamental industry (e.g. “exotic” or “nativar” flowers) that could be marketed as “pollinator friendly” based on relative attractiveness to pollinators.

Primary Research Focus Area: Economic Development – supporting commercial horticulture to be more economically sustainable

Project Description:

Recent concerns about bee and pollinator heath in urban areas has created a push for “pollinator-friendly” backyard gardens. Millennial gardeners want gardens that “do more” for the environment and community and will pay a premium for plants that fit this. Unfortunately, much of the current literature and popular websites on pollinator-friendly gardens focus on strictly native flowering plants to support Ontario’s pollinators. However, truly native plants are generally sold as seed -- produced outside Ontario -- which doesn’t support Ontario ornamental production. The role of other plant sources in pollinator-friendly gardens -- i.e. “exotic” plants (i.e. those originally sourced from outside NA) and “nativars” (native plants bred for greater aesthetic value) remains unclear to Ontario consumers. This is an important oversight that needs to be resolved, as exotics and nativars represent the majority of plants grown and sold by Ontario ornamental producers.

This project aims to support commercial horticulture in being more economically sustainable by identifying plants already sold by Ontario producers for market expansion into a “premium” plant niche, using an evidence-based approach. Part of the project involves developing KTT for all aspects of the ornamental value chain - from primary producers and garden centre, to the public. Large scale projects on this topic are being conducted in the U.S. (e.g. Michigan State), but no Canadian researchers have tackled this issue. UofG Professor Emeritus Dr. Al Sullivan has been integral to this project since it’s inception and hopes to publish results by 2022. In 2021, special focus will be paid to identifying plants that specifically attract native Ontario pollinator species (in collaboration with bee identification experts at North Carolina State University.

For this project to be successful, a student with insect identification experience and the drive to complete a summer thesis-type projects is essential. This is the 4th year of a 4-year project, so final data collection, data analyses, and creating final products (magazine articles; prepping a scientific publication) is essential. Although in 2020 an SEO student was used to collect and enter data, that experience cemented that in 2021 a 3rd-year student with a greater skill set in data management/analysis and a passion for pollinators is essential for success. Overall, this project also sets up a 3rd year OAC student with an excellent launching pad for their next career goal, given this project has ties to government (OMAFRA), industry (Landscape Ontario, FCO), researchers (UofG/OMAFRA and North Carolina State) and a conservation issue that is highly relevant to both Ontario horticulture and to the public good.

KTT Opportunities: 

  • Trends in plant attractiveness and the types of pollinators visiting each plant type will be discussed by the USEL student via a student presentation and handout at the annual UofG/Landscape Ontario’s Trial Garden Open House. Landscape Ontario has shown incredible enthusiasm and support for this project, donating a 20x20m plot of land in 2020, and a feature article on the LO website. Their hope is that this project continues to be a source of public interest for several years to come, and that future pollinator research can be conducted using the plots we’ve started.

  • The USEL student will also collaborate with Flowers Canada Ontario to produce or update literature (i.e. FCO’s post on pollinator friendly plants) that can be distributed to growers, gardening clubs and the public at events. The student will also author magazine articles (Greenhouse Canada Magazine, Landscape Ontario Magazine) on the final results of this multi-year trial. Further, all data will be entered into a national database run by Rutgers University to help identify plants to support pollinators using large data sets for use in future meta-analyses. Thus, this project is critical to providing a Canadian perspective on the role Ontario growers can play in changing the urban landscape to protect native pollinators.

OMAFRA Mentors: Christoph Wand, Livestock Sustainability Specialist and Dr. Tom Wright, Dairy Cattle Specialist 

University of Guelph Faculty Mentors: Renee Bergeron (Department of Animal Bioscience) 

Preferred Location: University of Guelph

Primary Research Priority: Animal Health & Welfare and Competitive Production Systems

Primary Research Focus Area: 

Prevention and Control of Pathogens: Development and integration of effective prevention, mitigation and control methods for production limiting diseases

  • Udder health, milk quality

Development of BMPs to improve farmed animal welfare:

  • Housing and equipment
  • Facility & animal management

Input Use Efficiency:

  • Bedding and labour utilization
  • Reproductive performance + cow longevity

Improved Management and Processes:

  • Better roadmap to success on emerging dairy production system

Project Description:

The 2021 USEL project will be a further advancement of composting bedded pack dairy barns and the milk quality/cow welfare pilot work of 2020 undertaken with Dr. Renee Bergeron’s lab. As per Olivia Willoughby’s USEL project in 2020, the group will further examine with scientific rigour the preliminary/anecdotal relationships discovered between milk quality and cow welfare/behaviour in this emerging production system. This will give farmers, farm builders and the dairy sector respectively more guidance on how to manage, construct and administer these farms from a policy perspective. The project will address Ministry priorities around improving animal health and welfare, innovation and economic development, improving product quality, improving the dairy sector’s ability to ensure social licence, and improved sustainability by positioning these businesses as a successful alternative to tie stall barns.

KTT Opportunities: 

  • USEL student will continue in the mentor team’s demonstrated success in affording KTT profile for the applicant’s project and HQP development. Despite COVID limitations, opportunities to write for the farm media (newspapers, DFO magazine), webinar (to farm and industry participants) on the topic at hand and its results will be realized. This in addition to continually ‘closing the loop’ of acquiring data and sharing analysis with dairy farmer participants to accelerate development and adoption of in-herd BMPs. 

OMAFRA Mentor: Megan Van Schaik, Beef Cattle Specialist and Peter Doris, Environmental Specialist

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: Katie Wood (Ruminant Nutrition and Physiology)

Preferred Location: Brighton or Guelph

Primary Research Priority: Competitive Production Systems

Primary Research Focus Area: Input Use Efficiency

Project Description:

This project will investigate opportunities for cattle feeders to use liquid by-products from dairy processing plants that are otherwise treated as waste. Through correspondence with Peter Doris, Environmental Specialist with OMAFRA, cheese plants in Eastern Ontario are looking for alternative options for disposing liquid whey. The current disposal options are either costly, wasteful, or both. The challenge for the cheese plants in east central Ontario has been exacerbated by the recent closure of a Saputo facility in Trenton in September 2020, which formerly was a market for this liquid whey. Disposal comes at an expense to the cheese plants and results in a wasted opportunity to use a by-product that is suitable for feeding to livestock on nearby livestock operations. There are at least two cheese plants in eastern Ontario looking for alternative options for dealing with liquid whey as a waste product.

Feeding liquid whey to feeder pigs has been well documented. However, the distribution of hog feeding operations in the province is largely skewed to south western Ontario, leaving few to no pig feeding opportunities for cheese plants in parts of the province such as east-central Ontario. There appears to be no hog farms with liquid feeding capabilities in east-central Ontario, but there are some feedlots in the area that have expressed interesting in taking and feeding liquid whey. While there are some research outcomes and documentation on feeding liquid whey to cattle, there is a need to investigate the full impacts of and considerations for feeding liquid whey to feeder cattle in Ontario before recommending it as a value-added practice.

Feed represents the biggest cost of production for cattle feeding operations and profit margins in cattle feeding are impacted by feed pricing and availability. Having inexpensive alternative energy sources available for feeding cattle can help offset feed costs and respond to supply issues arising for various reasons. As a current example, there is a need to consider other alternative energy sources to replace corn in feedlot rations in response to Bt corn rootworm resistance that is challenging Ontario’s corn crop.

In partnership with Peter Doris, east-central cheese plants, and local cattle feeders, this study seeks to address the following aspects of feeding liquid whey to cattle:

  • Understand the impact of liquid whey in a feedlot cattle ration (ADG, feed efficiency, carcass quality) through a feeding trial
  • Establish thresholds for liquid whey inclusion in feedlot rations
  • Explore the logistical considerations of handling liquid whey (transportation, storage, feed mixing)
  • Conduct an economic analysis, including cost-benefit of using liquid whey in a feedlot cattle ration (considering storage and handling costs, transportation and proximity to plants, etc.)
  • Explore other peripheral benefits to adding liquid whey to the ration (e.g. reducing feed sorting, enhancing palatability, etc.)

Ultimately the objectives of this project are to reduce waste generated dairy processing facilities in an effort to enhance business viability and vitality and to provide opportunities to cattle feeders to reduce feeding costs. This project specifically addresses waste reduction strategies and creating efficiencies in food processing and production. While this study is in response to a specific need in east-central Ontario, the intent is to use the information more broadly to benefit other plants, especially smaller plants challenged to find a market for their liquid whey, and cattle feeders in Ontario.

KTT Opportunities: 

The student will be involved in developing and delivering KTT (Virtual Beef, Ontario Beef, fact sheets, etc.) to the cattle feeding sector:

  • Best management practices in handling and feeding liquid whey and other liquid products on feedlots
  • Economic benefit of including liquid whey in cattle rations
  • Logistical considerations for sourcing, storing, and feeding liquid whey

The student will be involved in developing and delivering KTT (outreach to dairy processing plants) to the processing sector:

  • Opportunities to market liquid whey to cattle feeding operations
  • Considerations for transporting liquid whey to cattle feeding operations

The student will also be involved in providing direct feedback to the cheese plants and feedlots that are a part of the study to support an ongoing supply flow that is mutually beneficial.

OMAFRA Mentors: Mahendra Thimmanagari, Bio-Products Specialist 

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: Animesh Dutta

Preferred Location: University of Guelph

Primary Research Priority: Soil Health and Sustainable Production Systems

Project Description:

Background: The use of plastic polyethylene mulch in fruit and vegetable production is a common practice in Ontario. The most commonly used crops include, strawberry, tomato, sweet corn, onions, squash and brassicas such as collards, broccoli, and cabbage.

There are three types of polyethylene mulch or film: clear, black, and brown in widths of 1.2-1.5 m (4-5 ft) with a thickness of 1-1.5 mil (thousandths of an inch). Brown and black films control weeds and keep the soil warm. Sweet corn growers use clear plastic mulch to warm the soil and advance corn maturity when planted early in the season.

The Issue: Degradation of plastic mulch films used in agriculture and horticulture crops can be the major source of macro- and microscopic plastic residues in the soil.

Plastics Disposal: Disposal of the plastic at the end of the season has become an issue for growers in Ontario. Used plastic mulches are difficult to recycle due to the amount of dirt, plant material and water present and most plastic ends in landfills. In some cases, burning or on-farm burial is also done. It has been estimated that in excess of 500 tons of agricultural plastic is disposed of yearly in Ontario and plastic mulches are a significant contributor to this total.

In recent years, biobased biodegradable polymer mulch films (from starch, cellulose polylactic acid (PLA), polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA)) products are coming on the market, for alternatives to conventional polyethylene (PE) mulch films. These biobased mulch films are designed to be tilled into soil after use to allow soil microorganisms to degrade the plastic.

Effect of Microplastics in agricultural soil? Plastic mulch remnants can remain in soil for decades. Long term use of plastic film mulches could result in an accumulation of residual plastics in topsoil (0–20 cm). Fragments and chemicals released by plastic mulches can affect soil physically, plant growth and development and the harmful chemicals released in the soil could seep into the groundwater or other surrounding water sources and may enter the food chain. Microplastics (smaller than 5mm) can interact with soil fauna, affecting their health and soil functions.

From literature, plastic residues in the soil from 60 kg/ ha to 135 kg/ ha has been reported. The residues of plastic mulch in soils may eventually turn into microplastics through degradation and the long-term micro plastic residues in the farmland can destroy the structure of soil, crops can have physiological phenomena such as leaf wilting, dead seedlings, premature aging, etc., and decline in crop yields and productivity.

Research gap: There is no information available on microplastics residues from Ontario agriculture soils. There is a need to understand the volume, types of plastics mulch films used in agriculture and horticultural crops in Ontario and chemical fractions from plastics mulch film residues in the soils.

The Province of Ontario’s “Preserving and Protecting our Environment for Future Generations- A Made-in-Ontario Plan” priorities include, “Protecting our Air, Lakes and Rivers & Keeping our Land and Soil Clean”. For the “Reduce plastic waste” action item, there is a focus on working with other provinces, territories and the federal government to develop a plastics strategy to reduce plastic waste and limit micro-plastics that can end up in our lakes and rivers. Government aims to develop a plastics strategy to reduce plastic waste and limit micro-plastics that can end up in our lakes and rivers.

Scope of The Proposed Research Work: The broad scope of the proposed research is to investigate microplastics residues in vegetable crop soils using Py-GC-MS and FTIR advanced analytical detection instruments. The specific objectives of the proposed research include: 1. Literature review. From web and industry sources, scan on plastic mulch films used (volume, types) in different horticulture crops will be carried out. 2. Field soil samples collection and analysis. From selected growers’ sites, soil samples will be collected and analyzed for microplastics detection and quantifications. 3. Examine the sources and composition of microplastics polymers.

Through the summer of 2021, the USEL student will be working on the proposed project and will also work closely with and learn from other graduate students (PhD and MSc) at the BRIL labs research team at the University.

Methodology: Soil sampling: Composite soil samples (0-15cm depth) will be collected from at least 5 potential vegetable grower sites in different jurisdictions that have used plastic mulch. The soil samples will be stored at the University of Guelph until analysis and as the standard protocols for microplastics detection by Py-GC-MS will be analyzed. From literature, if there any other standard protocols for microplastics sampling in soils will be followed. From growers, cropping history of the site, and plastic mulch film used will be collected.

Novelty of the analytical method: The Py-GC-MS approach offers multiple analytical options to characterize complex environmental samples. Dr. Animesh, BRIL labs, University of Guelph recently acquired this equipment needed for detection of microplastics. It has been observed that the most common plastics PE, PP, PS and PET start to degrade at 420°C, 300°C, 170°C, and 260°C, respectively. Py-GC-MS is likely to offer versatility to analyze a multicomponent sample, for example, the specified temperature zone in the furnace corresponds to the degradation temperature of each microplastic.

Expected Outcome: An outcome of the research project is to provide much-needed information to growers and regulators on the safety and sustainability of plastic and biodegradable mulch films and the importance of soil health as a key component of agroecosystem sustainability. This information will also support enhanced adoption of bio-based mulch films, substituting fossil-based plastic films.

KTT Opportunities: 

A student will be involved in multiple KTT opportunities including applied research, writing articles and presenting results on soil health, and plastics pollution working in collaboration with University of Guelph researchers, graduate students and OMAFRA ADB specialists. The student will visit field sites for collecting the soil samples and will gain experience working with vegetable growers and industry personnel.

More specifically, research findings will be published in a peer review journal and/or news article (e.g., The Grower) to ensure broad communication. This will benefit the student in helping them learn to write to different audiences and to build their resume. As the USEL student will be working closely with academic researchers, graduate students and OMAFRA specialists, they will learn about working in both academic and government environments, which could help shape their future career interests.

The findings of the project will also be shared with Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (OFVGA) and other related industry organizations and presented at select board meetings and technical working group meetings. The information will be useful for OMAFRA staff in Agriculture Development, Research and Innovation, and Environmental Management branches, and academics, farmers, industry and other stakeholders.

OMAFRA Mentor: Joanna Follings

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: Helen Booker and Mitra Serajazari

Preferred Location: University of Guelph campus and Elora Research Station (ERS)

Primary Research Priority: Field scale experimentation, disease inoculation and scoring for FHB reaction at Wheat Breeding Program FHB nursery (ERS).

Primary Research Focus Area: Determination of FHB susceptibility & resistance in three Recombinant Inbred Line (RIL) winter wheat populations

Project Description:

The Wheat Breeding Program at the University of Guelph has an established FHB nursery at the Elora Research Station to evaluate winter and spring wheat under inoculated conditions. Each year thousands of lines/cultivars are inoculated with Fusarium graminearum and assessed for disease severity and incidence. After harvest, fusarium damage kernels (FDK) are counted and Deoxynivalenol (DON) measurements are performed using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) kit at the Wheat Pathology Lab (Crop Science Building).

The student chosen for this project will work closely with the University of Guelph Wheat Breeding Scientists to learn about field scale experimentation, inoculum preparation, artificial inoculation protocol and how to score for susceptibility and resistance of wheat to FHB disease. The student will also work with Wheat Researchers on a specific experiment to evaluate three RIL populations for reaction to FHB disease to provide valuable knowledge about the genetics of resistance in the populations.  

KTT Opportunities: 

  • The University of Guelph Wheat Breeding Program holds an annual field day in June. The student will participate in the field day, give a short presentation summarizing the project they are working on to growers, and industry stakeholders and will have the opportunity to network with members of the audience attending the field day.
  • There is opportunity to present to growers at FarmSmart as part of a broader Cereals presentation with OMAFRA’s cereals specialist or Dr. Joanna Follings.
  • The student will participate in the Ontario Cereal Crops Committee (OCCC) plot inspection tours and provide a presentation on the research project for the OCCC meeting held in August.
  • The student will prepare a scientific poster and be invited to present at different meetings and conferences in the Guelph area when possible.
  • The student will prepare a presentation on the proposed research project that will be shared with OMAFRA staff, students, and U of G faculty at the end of the summer.

OMAFRA Mentors: Marlene Paibomesai, Dairy Specialist and Delma Kennedy, Sheep Specialist

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: Niel Karrow and Michael Steele (OAC)

Preferred Location: Elora

Primary Research Priority: Animal Health & Welfare: How do we improve the survivability of young farmed animals?: Reducing morbidity and mortality in young, farmed animals; Sheep and Goats.

Primary Research Focus Area: Management practices that can be taken to improve colostrum production (volume or quality) of sheep and goats.

Project Description:

This student USEL project is an extension on a workshop that was previously delivered by Delma Kennedy and Marlene Paibomesai on “How to Body Condition Score Sheep”, which was attended by approximately 100 sheep producers in Ontario. There was interest from producers that attended these workshops in learning about how body condition score can impact ewe colostrum production and current recommendations on optimum body condition score for colostrum quality. Improved colostrum quality and production of ewes and does is a key aspect of newborn survival and successful lamb and kid rearing.  

What is body condition scoring?  Body condition score is an effective management tool to evaluate body energy reserves of an animal. Body condition score for sheep and goats is categorized from thin to fat. To evaluate body condition score of a sheep or a goat, producers assess fat and muscling covering over the back of the animal. Optimum body condition score, neither too thin nor too fat, improves both individual animal productivity, health, and welfare as well as overall performance of the herd or flock.   

What is colostrum?  Colostrum is the fluid from the first milking after birth. For ruminants (cattle, sheep and goats) colostrum is important for early life immunity and survival. Immunity is transfer to newborn ruminants through colostrum from the dam or another source in the first 24 hours after birth, a term known as passive immunity. Colostrogenesis (colostrum production) is an active area of study through which researchers are answering the basic questions of how colostrum is produced in the dam and what management factors can impact colostrum volume and quality. High quality colostrum is a key aspect of lamb and goat kid survival.  

The main goal of this project is to summarize current knowledge on sheep and goat colostrum production and body condition score recommendations.  Additionally, the student will produce educational materials that are focused on the impacts of body condition score on ewe and doe colostrum production and quality.

Objectives: 1) analyze previously collected colostrum samples for quality from sheep with different body conditions score at the time of lambing; 2) summarize information on ewe colostrum production and recommendations for optimum body condition for colostrum production; 3) summarize current information on body condition scoring goats and develop workshop materials based on the “How to Body Condition Score Sheep” workshop and 4) produce both written and visually appealing materials for distribution in the sheep and goat industry that are focused on overall nutrition and considerations for optimizing body condition score of your herd or flock.

KTT Opportunities: 

The student will work on materials to summarize the information related to body condition of ewes and its impact on colostrum and lamb success. The student will also develop materials that are similar to those used in the “How to Body Condition Score Sheep” workshop including a body condition score scale and summarize relevant scientific information as it relates to goats.   

Opportunities & Deliverables:

  • Update materials for the “How to Body Condition Score Sheep” Workshop
  • Create materials for a goat workshop on body condition scoring (i.e. body condition scoring chart), which was previously identified as a need for the dairy goat industry.
  • Summarize and visualize findings from field study (previously collected colostrum samples) for a webinar focused on colostrum production to take place in summer 2021
  • Article for the Ontario Sheep News, Dairy Goat Digest and Sheep and Goat Blog on body condition scoring and colostrum

OMAFRA Mentors: Anna Crolla, Environmental Specialist and Ping Wu, Food Safety Advisor, Engineering

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: Sheng Chang (School of Engineering)

Preferred Location: University of Guelph

Primary Research Priority: Competitive Production System

Primary Research Focus Area: Input Use Efficiency 

Project Description:

The purpose of the project is to develop two innovative treatment system for efficient recovery of energy (biogas) and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus (N, P)) from sludge and food-waste biomass and divert the carbon, nutrient (N, P) and energy loads away from wastewater treatment plants discharging to the great lakes.

The project concurrently characterizes the waste streams for microplastics (MPs), nutrients and emerging contaminants of concern (ECC) to determine the processes that minimize the chemical and MP loadings to the environment at bench scale and at a full-scale tertiary waste water treatment plant (WWTP) in southern Ontario discharging to the Lake Erie watershed.

A lab-scale system was developed for energy (biogas) and nutrient (N, P in sludge) recovery from municipal wastewater sludge and residential food-waste. The process involves optimization of innovative co-treatment using biological and thermal hydrolysis prior to anaerobic co-digestion. Concurrently characterise the waste streams, through mass and energy balances, to determine the fate of microplastics (MPs), nutrients and emerging contaminants of concern such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCP) and perfluoroalkyl surfactants (PFSA). Part of the project includes assessing the fate of nutrients, MPs and ECCs through the Guelph WWTP treatment processes to assess and compare removal rates of primary, secondary and tertiary removals and overall loading to Lake Erie from a large tertiary WWTP in Ontario.

This project ties in with a current approved MECP Canada-Ontario Agreement (COA) Project. 

KTT Opportunities: 

The students will contribute to drafting design specifications for project activities. The design specifications will be useful for future phases of the project.

The USEL student will continue with the experiments and explore the impact of the process conditions on energy recovery, the fate of the contaminants and land application of the digestate. 

Report on performance of bench scale technologies (biological and thermal hydrolysis with anaerobic co-digestion) demonstration and characterization of waste streams. Present preliminary results at conference and prepare draft manuscripts for publication.

Report on performance of WWTP in term of chemical characterization and removals of ECCs, nutrients and microplastics for all unit treatment processes. Present results at conference and submit manuscripts for publication.

Students will be given the opportunity to present their findings to subject matter experts (OMAFRA engineering group) through scheduled events.

OMAFRA Mentor: Ping Wu, Food Safety Advisor, Engineering; Peter Doris, Environmental Specialist; and Anna Crolla, Environmental Specialist

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: Bassim Abbassi (School of Engineering)

Preferred Location: University of Guelph

Primary Research Priority: Competitive Production System

Primary Research Focus Area: Input Use Efficiency 

Project Description:

Cheese whey is a byproduct of the cheesemaking process. Approximately 9 kg of whey is produced for every 1 kg of cheese product.  Disposal of cheese whey has continued to be a problem for processors, particularly those in Eastern Ontario, where there is a lack of appropriate sites for land applications.

Whey is the yellowish liquid resulting from coprecipitation and removal of milk casein in the cheese-making process. The chemical composition of cheese whey comprised of 93% water, 5% lactose, 0.9% protein, and 0.2% minerals.

This project consists mainly of two parts. The first part of the project deals with the separation of solids including protein from cheese whey. 

Electrofloatation (EF) is used to remove particles smaller than 50 µm. The treatment begins when a DC current is passed between an electrode pairing submerged in a conductive medium producing an electric field resulting in electrolysis. The EF process is facilitated by the production of hydrogen and oxygen bubbles generated during electrolysis. EF reactors are designed to utilize the adhesive properties of oxygen and hydrogen micro-bubbles that are produced at the electrode surfaces during the electrolysis of water to capture pollutants as they rise to the surface. This fine cloud of microbubbles is very low in turbulence and when accompanied with an appropriately sized electrode grid, EF can ensure an effective and uniform clarification by flotation. Due to the reduction in buoyancy forces accompanying smaller bubbles, increased current density will lead to greater removal by flotation due to the extended detention time of the smaller micro-bubbles. Furthermore, smaller bubbles offer reduced contact angles between the gas-solid-liquid interface that reduces the shear forces of the bubbles on the surrounding flocs significantly improving the clarification of the wastewater.

The second part of the project involves the production of ethanol by fermenting cheese whey. The lactose in the whey is a potential feed source for the production of ethanol that is used for the production of hand sanitizers.  In response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, a feasibility study was conducted to design a bioprocess and associated equipment for fermentation of cheese whey into ethanol that is used for hand sanitizer. Experiments were conducted using Kluyveromyces marxianus (yeast) to ferment lactose into ethanol. 

Equipment at the University of Guelph School of Engineering will be used for the experiments under the direction of OMAFRA staff and UofG faculty advisor.    The process developed includes a separation process to remove the protein from the whey. Further studies will be undertaken to determine the feasibility of using this protein as animal feed. The deproteinized whey is fed into a bioreactor where fermentation takes place to convert lactose into ethanol. Ethanol is separated from the fermented broth by a distillation system. 

KTT Opportunities: 

The students will contribute to drafting design specifications for project activities. The design specifications will be useful for future phases of the project.

The USEL student will continue with the experiments and explore other processing conditions to optimize the production system. 

Experiments may also be conducted on-site at the cheese factories using their cheese whey to demonstrate the capability of the system to cheese processors. 

The USEL student will produce KTT materials that will be distributed to cheese processors.

Students will be given the opportunity to present their findings to subject matter experts (OMAFRA engineering group) through scheduled events.

OMAFRA Mentor: Ping Wu, Food Safety Advisor, Engineering

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: Mohammad Biglarbegian (School of Engineering) and Hari Simha (School of Engineering)

Preferred Location: University of Guelph

Primary Research Priority: Food Safety

Primary Research Focus Area: Detection and Surveillance; Baseline Data 

Project Description:

OMAFRA’s current provincial food safety inspection system relies on on-site visits by meat inspection staff at meat plants where the work environment is harsh and is difficult to provide physical distancing during a pandemic.

The goal of this project is to develop a transformational technology that would allow the inspector to use the technology (with grippers, arms, cameras, and sensors) to inspect the meat while making sure that they stay safe throughout the process.

This is multi-phased project and the USEL student would be focused on Phase 2 of the project.

Phase 1 - Develop an academic literature review of available technologies to provide modern food inspections (Currently underway)

Phase 2 – Grippers/Handling of material:

The focus of Phase 2 is to work towards developing a system of innovative sensors and intelligently controlled grippers that can be used on robotic arms to handle meat and viscera. 

The gripper will be used to pick up objects of various shapes and sizes as meat muscles and soft tissues can be difficult to handle. This phase of the project will focus on:

  • The materials needed to handle different shaped objects
  • The materials needed to handle food (meat) safely
  • Integration of camera technology to monitor gripper performance and contribute towards future Artificial Intelligence (AI) work
  • AI will be used to detect and recognize the diseases that appear on the meat and viscera

Phase 3 – Build out a pilot scale system (gripper, robotic arm and base) to focus on:

  • Arm movement from base to gripper
  • Base design
  • Continued integration of camera technology to monitor arm performance and contribute towards AI development

Phase 4 - Determine the economic feasibility of such a system.

The ultimate objective of this multi-phased project is to develop a modern inspection system capable of conducting inspections remotely in order to provide physical distancing measure for meat inspection staff during a pandemic. In addition, the system ensures the supply of safe and inspected meat & meat products to the public without disruption.

KTT Opportunities: 

KTT associated with this phase of the project is strictly limited to informing future phases of larger project of developing a remote inspection system. This will be accomplished through:

  • Drafting design specifications for future project activities in particular Phase 3
  • Compiling analysis reports that will inform the Research Leads on the learnings from Phase 2
  • Students will be given the opportunity to present their findings to subject matter experts (OMAFRA engineering group) through scheduled events.

The student’s work will contribute to future publications of scientific findings from this phase of the project.

OMAFRA Mentor: Jeanine Boulter-Bitzer, Microbial Food Safety Analyst

University of Guelph Faculty Mentor: Keith Warriner (Food Science)

Preferred Location: Guelph

Primary Research Priority: Improve pathogen control in various food products

Primary Research Focus Area: Pathogen control in food at primary processing and further processing 

Project Description:

OMAFRA has taken the lead in improving Ontario’s food safety system by designing and implementing a science-based food safety system.  Various products from agriculture, including meat such as carcasses become contaminated early in the food chain, primarily at harvest, slaughter, dressing, and further processing, as well as in handling and food preparation.

Baseline work conducted by OMAFRA in the recent past has indicated that the application of interventions and other controls at critical control points in food production under provincial jurisdiction to control pathogen presence is a beneficial hurdle step in safeguarding the food supply. 

Food safety has always been a priority for OMAFRA’s Meat Inspection Program, the recent requirements mandating the use of microbial control interventions are assisting plant operators with further ensuring production of safe food.  A considerable amount of outreach and educational work has been completed to date to ensure implementation of effective microbial control interventions in abattoirs.  The impact of those interventions cannot be quantified without conducting some verification work through carcass sampling.  This project has two primary goals: (1) to evaluate and verify the effectiveness of mandatory microbial control interventions in provincial abattoirs slaughtering beef/veal, sheep, goats and pigs; and (2) to obtain data on prevalence & levels of indicator microorganisms (generic E. coli & coliforms) and pathogens (STEC and Salmonella) at provincial abattoirs slaughtering sheep, goats and pigs. Results of this study will assist with demonstrating to plant operators the positive impact of the implementation of microbial control interventions in red meat species by verifying the intervention systems in place are working properly as well as measuring the success of the mandatory antimicrobial intervention program.

Other ongoing baselines at OMAFRA in the Foods of Plant Origin area will also be supported by a USEL student. Much of this work involves collection of various food products at select locations such as retail, farmers’ markets and other points of sale. A surveillance system is ongoing to determine the impact of risk.

The University of Guelph student will further their leadership and project management skills while working on this project as it is a multi-faceted project that although has over-arching goals of furthering food safety initiatives, there also are time-sensitive results that must be communicated in individual plants where data is gathered to assist the plant in daily operations. These results will be critical to plant performance as a business regulated by the Ministry.

KTT Opportunities: 

This project will showcase the importance of fostering effective working relationships between industry and government. The student will learn how to balance the government’s role as a regulator with engaging industry to advance food safety.

Results of this verification work will be shared directly with stakeholders; part of the success of this project resides in the ability of the student involved in this project to further transfer skills to plant operators who will be learning through this work not only about proper use of interventions, but also about hygienic food production and processing practices.

Development of communications skills will be furthered not only in working with ministry staff but also stakeholders when results are shared, particularly on aggregate basis at meetings. The student will also be responsible for compiling and analyzing aggregate data to develop a final report for ministry use in policy development and programs as well as delivery. Components of reports must also be tailored for sharing formally with various levels of food production and plant operators and in a workshop forum in collaboration with stakeholders. As well, the student will be responsible for preparing interim and final project summaries for newsletter and other to be determined dissemination of information through ministry publications.

Presentations of project interim and final results will be required for upper management at OMAFRA and used as educational materials for provincially appointed inspectors at field meetings (e.g., area meetings with inspectors and area managers).