Recently formed team features Food Science and Technology students

UTIA Dairy Judging Team 2014

Dairy Evaluation Whizzes — Members of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture’s winning Dairy Evaluation Team are, from left, coach Charles White, Cody Palmer, Deborah Floyd, Molly Hammel, Stephanie Brooks, Ashley Scott, Thomas Frederick and coach Eric Goan. Download image.

A team of senior food science and technology majors in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources has placed second in the 93rd annual National Dairy Products Evaluation Contest held at Northwestern Illinois University. The UT Dairy Products Evaluation Team finished two points away from first, and in individual competition, Stephanie Brooks and Molly Hammel finished first and second overall. Thomas Frederick placed first in the yogurt-judging category.

Volunteer consultant Charles White and Eric Goan, director of the UT Center for Entrepreneurial Food Processing and UT dairy processing Extension specialist, coached the team.

Coach White said their top finishes were particularly notable because they had practiced only two and a half months for the event and were up against teams that had been preparing for up to a year or longer. UT’s team reactivated in August after an absence of several years. Students met at 7:30 a.m. an average of four days a week, and practiced up to an hour and forty-five minutes each time.

The contest consisted of students judging eight samples in each of six product categories of dairy foods. Their assessments of the quality and faults of the products were compared to the scores of professional food industry judges. The closer they matched, the higher their score. Dairy products were judged on flavor attributes, body and texture attributes.

The skills the students learned in sensory evaluations of foods exceptionally prepare them for top careers in their field, White says. “The food industry is very, very anxious to hire people with the kind of skills that these students developed, where the can taste a sample and then articulate what they’re tasting. This means that they can detect faults and have a good idea of how to correct them. That's central to the careers they’ll enter. They were learning very valuable skills.”

White is a veteran of the dairy industry, a member of the food industry consulting firm, Randolph Associates, Inc., of Birmingham, Alabama. He is professor emeritus and former head of the Mississippi State University Department of Food Science. There he had many years of experience in coaching top national finishing teams.

“The hardest part for me was mentally preparing for it,” Frederick says. “Students compete only once during their time in college, so everyone was tense. The judging takes four hours, during which time you’re not supposed to talk with anyone, so it was very stressful.”

“The best part for me,” says Brooks, “was developing a palate for dairy products from a sensory aspect. Dr. White really helped ups pick up on all the flavors and defects in dairy products in order to differentiate between them. It was really challenging, and then there was the moment when we figured everything out.” Brooks is preparing for graduate study of sensory analysis and will work as an intern at Kraft Food next summer. Frederick is considering positions in quality assurance. Both said their experiences on the team were invaluable to their career goals.

A new team of students will begin to prepare for next year’s competition during Spring Semester. Other members of this year’s winning team were Ashley Scott and Deborah Floyd. Cody Palmer, a junior, attended but did not compete. He will be a member of the 2015 judging team.

Nineteen sponsors and support from the Department of Food Science and Technology made it possible for the team to compete. Sponsors are the Tennessee Dairy Products Association, Sweetwater Valley Farm, Countryside Creamery, Graf Creamery Inc. Weigels, Mayfield Dairy, Heritage Dairy Farm (Kroger), General Mills (Yoplait), Purity Dairy, Country Delite Farm, Unilever, Turner Dairies, Kraft, Tate & Lyle, USDA, Publix, Prairie Farms, Anderson Erickson and Dean Foods.

To learn more about the UT Dairy Products Evaluation Team and how you can become involved contact Eric Goan,, or 865-974-7287.

The University of Tennessee Department of Food Science and Technology is part of College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, a unit of the UT Institute of Agriculture. The UT Institute of Agriculture also provides instruction, research and public service through the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 AgResearch and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.


Contact: Eric Goan, UTIA Department of Food Science and Technology, 865-974-7287,