There are dangers lurking in every kitchen.
But in Brian Jacobson's kitchen, they are bigger than most.
Take, for example, the industrial dicing machine, which can reduce 16,000 pounds of produce to quarter-inch cubes in as little as an hour.
Jacobson recommends keeping one's fingers out of it.
"We have a lot of sharp and (electrically) shocking pieces of equipment in here," he said. "It's a place where you need to always be paying attention."
Jacobson's kitchen is the U. of I.'s Food Science and Human Nutrition pilot processing plant, which works alongside the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
"Between the two facilities, we can process a number of agricultural commodities into food, biofuels, biochemicals and other co-products," he said. "We take raw ingredients from the field and make them into consumer or industrial products. The eventual goal is to bring things to the commercialization stage, while providing a valuable teaching resource to students. This type of research and teaching activity isn't being emulated elsewhere."
Jacobson, an academic professional, has managed the college's pilot plant facilities since 2010, when he was an undergraduate student in the ACES Technical Systems Management program.
He was offered a full-time job at the plant soon after graduation, though he is quick to admit that running the plant is far from a one-man job. He said students, faculty and staff all work together to reach research, teaching and outreach goals.
"I guess you'd call me somewhere between a facility manager and a teaching associate," he said, noting his varied supervisory duties. "None of this could happen if we didn't have a team approach. It seems like there's always something going on around here."
The FSHN pilot plant focuses on consumable foods like cereals, beverages and sauces, and IBRL's research is more heavily in bio-based fuels and chemicals, food ingredients and co-products. Both utilize the variety of specialized, industrial-scale equipment onsite.
Right now, the facilities are well-used and adequate space is difficult to find. But that is expected to change once the $24 million IBRL facility -- being constructed next door -- is finished.
Jacobson said the project, along with $3 million in renovation work on the FSHN space, will bring both facilities into the 21st century.
"It will bring the FSHN pilot plant from 1984 to 2016 safety standards," he said. "We're going to end up with two state-of-the-art pilot plant facilities."
Renovation work on the FSHN space is moving ahead, though work on the new IBRL building has been halted indefinitely due to the state budget stalemate. The funding has been approved, but work won't restart until a budget is passed and the money is released.
"It is forcing us to change our schedule around a bit, and impacting our ability to teach and perform research," Jacobson said of the holdup, "but we're trying to maintain some sense of normalcy."
When construction work is finally finished and everyone has a little more elbowroom, Jacobson foresees big things on the horizon for the pilot processing plant -- bigger even than the Guinness-recognized record effort in 2013 that produced nearly 7,000 gallons of salsa for the university's new-student convocation.
Jacobson said he thinks the pilot plant eventually will create many of the tomato-based sauces served to U. of I. students, using produce picked at the Sustainable Student Farm.
A project funded by the Student Sustainability Committee allows the facility to produce 25 percent of the pizza sauce used at Ikenberry Hall this year. The goal is 100 percent by 2017.
"A lot of their produce is ripe by the time the students come back to classes," he said.
But it won't go to waste any longer.
"Students will be picking the produce, students will run the sauce-making process and students will serve the sauce in the dining halls," he said. "The sauce will be providing a lot of educational opportunities for students."
If that goes well, the idea could expand to include locally grown and produced flour for dining hall breads and pastries, including pizza dough.
"We would be cheese away from 100 percent U. of I. grown and processed pizza," he said. "It's such a fun and fulfilling thing to make a product from start to finish. I'd like to do it more and more."
Jacobson and agriculture have never been far apart.
He grew up on a farm north of Kankakee, Illinois, raising animals with his family, who instilled self-reliance in him early on.
"We either fixed it or we didn't have it," he said. "I always wanted to get tools for Christmas."
He said the ACES' TSM program allowed him to see a career nexus between technology and agriculture, though he never expected to be doing the kind of work he is today.
"I always knew I would do something technical, but this has really tied into my background," he said. "This place certainly keeps me from getting bored."
Jacobson's wife Martha works at Parkland College. They have a 10-month-old boy who regularly keeps them both awake at night.
"He pretty much dictates everything we do in our lives," he said. "I'm already wanting to get him some animals to raise, but I think he may be a little too young for that right now."
Outdoors has always been a part of Jacobson's life. For fun, he likes to hunt with friends and family, recently returning from an elk hunt in the Rocky Mountains.
"It was an absolutely fantastic trip," he said.
One of his other hobbies is smoking meats, and there's almost no cut he hasn't placed in a smoker.
"I work with food all day long, but I still like to go home and cook," he said.