Helping food entrepreneurs

Mark Porisch never dreamed that when he reached the age of 60 he’d be making Louisiana-style hot sauces for a living, but he thinks that one of these days his creations, sold under the brand Lucky’s Popcorn Dressing, might cover all the bills.

Food entrepreneurs like Porisch often reach a point where they know they have a good idea for a new product, but they don’t know how to take that product to market. One of the essential steps in that process is the nutritional labeling that is necessary to offer a food product to the public.

While these services can cost hundreds of dollars, AURI’s Food Lab in Crookston and Analytical Chemistry Lab in Marshall help Minnesota entrepreneurs for free with items needed to meet Food and Drug Administration requirements, including labeling, nutritional panels and the weights and aspects of packaging.

These are just a few of the many services AURI offers.

One key nutritional component that every food producer must test is sodium content, and that work is done in AURI’s Analytical Chemistry Lab on the SMSU campus. To determine the amount of sodium, AURI chemist Ranae Jorgenson takes a sample of the popcorn dressing, dries it and turns it into ash in a lab furnace at 550 degrees centigrade. The resulting ash is prepared for sodium analysis by dissolving in dilute nitric acid. The amount of sodium is determined using an instrument called an Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer.

This delivers a result of milligrams of sodium per gram of product, and that information is sent along to the Crookston lab and included in the information for the nutritional panel that will go on the product label.

Jorgenson has worked for AURI for the past seven years and enjoys the wide variety of testing handled at AURI’s Marshall lab – everything from testing food products like Lucky’s Popcorn Dressing to coproducts for agriculture-based industries like ethanol and biodiesel. The diversity of value-added agricultural business helps to make agriculture one of Minnesota’s strongest economic sectors.

“AURI research is an invaluable tool for startups like mine,” said Porisch. “I think this is an excellent use of Minnesota tax dollars, though I guess you could say I am biased. AURI is a great resource for folks like me, doing what I am trying to do, trying to get off the ground without larger cash outlays.”