5 Questions: Dr. Frost Steele

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Dr. Frost Steele is an associate professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science. He has a bachelor of science degree in microbiology, a master’s degree in food science – both from BYU – and a PhD in food science-food microbiology from Purdue University. He has taught at BYU since 1996, after he taught at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman from 1994 to 1996, and worked as manager of biological research at Imperial Holly Corporation from 1990 to 1994.

 You taught in Oman for two years. How is teaching in Oman different from teaching in the United States?

The culture is different; the male-female perspective is just different. Food science was one of the few majors where they allowed both males and females in the same major. That was different for them. It was interesting for me to stand on the outside and see them interact and the awkwardness and the non-interaction during their junior year and then senior year where they really start meshing. It was really kind of fun to see that. Oman is fairly westernized, they’re a little more progressive than you might see in Saudi Arabia or Yemen or some of the other surrounding countries. It was a great experience.

You’ve done a lot of research with solar drying. What got you interested in that specific area?

Actually, it was kind of at the request of the Church Welfare Department. They have dry pack in a lot of different areas in the U.S., where they have the packets the Church sells and then they have a heat sealer and they invite people to come in and store flour and sugar and beans and wheat, potatoes, different things. So they introduced that into the Pacific Island area and they were getting reports back that said, first, the people had no clue what they were doing and, second, they didn’t really have anything that they could put in there. … (The Church) asked our department to possibly go down there and evaluate what food products they’re consuming, how they might be changed or altered or processed to be able to store long term, or if there are existing products, how they could store them. So, I drew the lucky straw and went down there for six weeks in 2003.”

You’ve helped develop a solar drier that is being used in several continents. How does it work?

Basically what we did is design a drier from existing solar driers. I don’t say it’s unique or that it’s my fantastic wonderful discovery, but it’s a combination of different ideas that I thought would work, and it works. It’s a neat little drier.  I’ve been (to the Pacific Islands) four other times and we’ve done two master’s projects in optimizing, redesigning, changing it. … We’re continuing to work on it, to optimize it. … We’re looking now in Africa, we’re looking at spreading it. We’ve worked in Malawi, I’ve done a little bit of work in Kenya with a company that wants to solar dry mango and banana.

What would be your advice to students considering pursuing a career in food science?

Do it! It’s a great field. Everyone will say it’s a good, stable industry. There are job opportunities readily available. Food science is not a well-known field. … It’s a small area, a small field, but a huge area for opportunity. We have fantastic placement. I won’t say 100 percent, but it’s close. It just depends on the individual. If they’re looking for a job and they put in the effort, they’ll find a job. … There are jobs and there always will be. I guarantee it. That’s a guarantee I can make. When we don’t have to eat, then you won’t have to worry about a job either.”

In your opinion, what is the most rewarding thing about studying, researching and working in food science?

It’s fun. You see an immediate impact. It’s what we would call an applied science, so we’re applying (research) to people’s everyday lives. Most of our students that come in love food. … It’s a hobby that a lot of people have and when they see they can study their hobby and get a little more in depth and get in to the science, the engineering, the physics, the microbiology of that application, it’s fun. It’s something they’ve always had an interest in. They just have a general interest in food and then when we start learning about that, it clicks.

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