The Daily Illini

UI meat lab sells at low prices

Katelyn Jones, freshman in ACES, weighs pork at the butcher shop inside the Meat Science Lab, Tuesday. The shop sells products from animals raised through the agricultural programs on the University farms. Erica Magda

Katelyn Jones, freshman in ACES, weighs pork at the butcher shop inside the Meat Science Lab, Tuesday. The shop sells products from animals raised through the agricultural programs on the University farms. Erica Magda

By Vince Dixon

The fresh carcasses of the Meat Science Laboratory’s newly slaughtered pigs, sheep and cows are not buried in the cemetery next door. Instead, they are sliced, chopped, packaged and sold in a small deli-like store room on the building’s first floor.

The University’s Meat Salesroom has been tucked away between the Mt. Hope Cemetery and the Florida and Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Halls for over 20 years. Surprisingly, the store is not well known on campus.

“There are some people on campus who know about us, but not many,” said Kirsten Plomin, a freshman in ACES and salesroom employee.

On a typical working day, the room receives more than 100 customers, Plomin said. Most customers are local residents who prefer the room’s meat quality and prices, but curious students who have heard about the location’s existence often drop by to poke around, she added.

It was a small article in a local magazine that lured Bob Butera, graduate student, and his friend, Sarah Pearson, to the store.

The couple said they heard that the prices were cheap. After browsing through the store’s selection for the first time, they said they decided to pick up a boneless beef round for Butera’s birthday. They said they trust the meat’s quality and would come back again.

“It’s grown right here in Illinois and you know what’s going on with it,” Pearson said. “It’s not something processed from who-the-heck-knows where and that’s comforting to know.”

The ACES animals for retail are sometimes used by meat science students for study and research. However, the animals are still federally inspected by an in-house inspector who oversees the entire production and slaughtering process, said Chuck Stites, meat science research scientist and room manager.

The slaughtering process is approved and humane, Stites said. The meat would not be sold if it were not safe to eat, he added.

“Anything that is going to go through our process is going to be something that is able to be used for food,” Stites said, adding that every room in the facility is also thoroughly cleansed.

Workers clean the rooms daily before and after each use, Stites said. The facility, which includes a lecture hall, classrooms, cutting room, kill floor and the salesroom, barely gives away its slaughtering secrets.

Like the salesroom employees, many of the workers assigned to the cleaning tasks are ACES students who work in the lab for hands on experience with meat science and production, Stites said.

The 20,000 square foot building houses over six dozen Animal Science classes. Students usually follow animals from the time they are nursed and raised on local and campus farms through the slaughtering process. They learn how to grade and raise the livestock, and use them as educational purposes. The animals are not for any experiments that may make produced meat unapproved for eating, Stites said.

Plomin said customers are receiving meat that is fresher and safer than commercially produced meat. Their products are sold at competitive prices.

“On the average, if you were to buy all of your meat here, you’d probably save a little bit of money,” Sites said. “The thing that you’re going to get is a higher quality of product and you’re going to get a fresher product.”

So how does the University’s meat compare to those of supermarkets?

In the salesroom, two dozen brown eggs are $5 while cuts of spare ribs, sausages, bratwursts and tenderloin range from $2.39 to $3.99 by the pound. Other items on the menu include ground pork, bacon, brisket and jerky all under $2. Aged beef and meat older than three days are moved to the store’s freezer, but are also sold frozen. Prices and availability vary. Updates are sent to customers who sign up to the store’s mailing list. Plomin said it is worth it.

“It’s really fresh,” said Plomin. “The meat here; you know where it’s from and you know when it’s killed and with supermarket stuff, you don’t know how long it’s been sitting out for.”

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