Mega Win for Mega Bites: University Team Places 3rd in National Competition

Mega Win for Mega Bites:  University Team Places 3rd in National Competition
Hortensia Martinez and Monica Benyamin make a batch of Mega Bites in preparation for national competition.
Monica Benyamin, Dr. Maria Botero-Omary, Imelda Ryona, and Greg de la Cruz and their gluten free health bar, Mega Bites

Food allergies affect thousands of people in the United States alone, triggering 30,000 trips to the emergency room and 150 to 200 deaths per year. According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, it is vital to avoid the allergen completely as it can take only a trace amount to trigger a moderate to severe reaction. A team of Cal Poly Pomona students has taken this issue to heart, creating a non-gluten nutrition bar called “Mega Bites” to an impressive third place finish in a national product development competition.

Gluten, which is present in wheat, can trigger allergic reactions in certain people. Wheat-allergic people need only avoid wheat itself and may one day outgrow their allergy, but those with celiac disease, a lifelong condition, must avoid all gluten-based products and byproducts, including wheat, rye, oats and barley.

Under the guidance of Maria Botero Omary, assistant professor of human nutrition & food science, the university's student team developed a gluten-free snack to enter in the Southern California Institute of Food Technologists Product Development Competition in January, where the team won first place. The win qualified Cal Poly Pomona's team to take their product to the national level and compete against five other top-ranked schools– Ohio State, Utah State, University of Maine, North Carolina State and Rutgersin Orlando, Florida, during the last week of June. When the votes were tallied, Cal Poly Pomona came in third.

Team members, who are majoring in food science & technology as well as nutrition & food marketing, include graduate student Monica Benyamin, Greg de la Cruz, Hortensia Martinez, Imelda Ryona and Jamie Peguero. They were assisted by other members of the Cal Poly Pomona community, including graphic design students who assisted with package design.