28 January, 2022, 00:52

Quality local meat hidden in plain sight at University of Arizona Food Products and Safety Laboratory

Whether you need a steak or a whole goat, the U of A's meat sales has you covered

A farm – and one of the best sources of local meat – is hidden in plain sight in the middle of Tucson.

The University of Arizona Food Products and Safety Laboratory is located on the corner of Roger Road and Campbell Avenue, sandwiched between a Trader Joe’s and a residential neighborhood. The facility stands out with grassy paddocks holding horses and other farm animals.

Part farm, part classroom, the lab is a branch of the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences. The facility is USDA-inspected and the only lab of its kind in the Southwest. Students learn food safety, animal meat composition, and carcass fabrication.

That last one is important; not only does the lab process animals — both their own and local farmers’ — but they also sell the meat. The shop opened its doors to the public in 2010 and is run by students. Most of the students are from the Agriculture and Animal Sciences programs, but some are from completely different colleges, such as engineering and physiology.

“If a student wants to learn, I do what I can to make it happen,” said Samuel Garcia, assistant professor and program manager at the lab.

The shelves and freezers of the shop are full of locally-raised, grass or grain fed beef, pork, lamb, and goat. They sell poultry and eggs from a program that they have coordinated with the students at Chandler High School and Rio Rico High School

Meat hanging at the University of Arizona Food Products and Safety Laboratory (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Meat hanging at the University of Arizona Food Products and Safety Laboratory (Credit: Jackie Tran)

The breeds of the animals raised vary based on the university’s interest, but many of the cows are Hereford and Angus crosses. These breeds were chosen due to an idea called hybrid vigor.

“Hybrid vigor brings the best of two breeds out in an animal,” Garcia said. “We select for characteristics like heat tolerance, requiring less feed, and faster growth.”

These animals are bred, raised, and eventually processed by the students, who go on to work in a wide variety of fields, including meat inspection, food safety, and agriculture.

Customers can also find house-made sausage, chorizo, and bacon. One favorite is the Wildcat Bratwurst, which includes green chili and cheese.

Craving a local meat that isn’t readily available on the shelf? Custom cuts and orders are available, ranging from whole pork bellies to beef heart.

Furthermore, the lab has strong relationships with the farmers and chefs in Tucson. 5 Points Market & Restaurant and Ermanos Craft Beer & Wine Bar both source select meats from the lab.

In addition, the lab does nutritional labels and testing for various small businesses who sell their products at farmers markets around town, ensuring customer safety and providing the opportunity for items like salsa, syrups, and pickles to be sold under Arizona law.

One such company is Chilttepica, a local company that specializes in salsa, chorizo, and spices featuring the Sonoran chiltepin pepper. Their products can now be found in Costco locations across Arizona.

The University of Arizona Food Products and Safety Laboratory is located at 4181 N. Campbell Ave. Local meat sales operating hours are 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Friday, and 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturday. Stop by to see their list of products, or call (520) 318-7021 to place a custom order. For more information, visit acbs.cals.arizona.edu/fpsl. Keep up with U of A Food Products and Safety Lab on Facebook.

Samantha Colaianni has family roots in Tucson that go back before the Gadsden Purchase. When she's not cooking Mexican food, she's baking Mexican pastries.