Exploring how E. coli enters steak through needle tenderizing earned a Sublette County 4-H team the Wyoming FIRST LEGO League (FLL) championship in competition at the Casper Events Center Dec. 3.
Food Swat, a team of third through sixth graders from Big Piney, bested 59 other teams and will compete against teams from 40 states and 48 countries at the FLL World Fest in St. Louis next April.
FLL is a program, that can include robotics, for 9 to 14 year olds designed to get children excited about science and technology – and teach them valuable employment and life skills, said Robin Schamber, University of Wyoming Extension 4-H educator in Sublette County. FLL is open to everyone and attracts teams from schools and a variety of community youth organizations.
Teams are judged on robot design, robot performance, core values taught in the program and research project. This year, teams were required to research food safety and develop innovative solutions to food safety issues.
Food Swat members worked with John Willford, instructional laboratory coordinator in the Department of Molecular Biology at the University of Wyoming.
“Their goal was to require meat processors to label needle-tenderized steak so consumers know it should not be eaten rare,” said Schamber. “They also encouraged the home cook to tenderize meat with an anti-bacterial marinade and buy from small, local growers who don’t needle tenderize.”
The team was coached by volunteers Kristi and Brent Hibbert and received parental help during the event from Grant Seeman, Kim Taylor and Melanie Bennett.
Other Sublette County teams, all from Pinedale, included the De-Aphinators, Robo-Nerds and the Rotten Eggs. Schamber said these teams researched using natural control methods (ladybugs) rather than chemical pesticides in home-grown produce. They developed a robotic produce sorter to identify the various stages of produce ripening prior to shipping, and the use by backyard poultry producers of a salmonella indicator strip to identify hens carrying salmonella.
Schamber thanked Shell, the 4-H program and Sublette Board of Cooperative Educational Services for their support.
“It’s a costly project that wouldn’t have happened without them,” she said.