Bringing Quality Control to Burritos

engineering process
Photo credit: jeffreyw via Foter.com / CC BY

The final page of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), Newscripts, covers interesting scientific research. The item “Scientific Search for the Perfect Burrito” quickly caught my eye. After all, I like burritos. But what I read made me want to share the ideas with you:

Scott Cole, a neuroscience Ph.D candidate at University of California San Diego introduced a statistical burrito rating system. Why, you ask? As he suggests online, a “lack of funding to support public burrito knowledge has led millions of people to eating a burrito and subsequently feeling dissatisfied, a tragedy that can be avoided.”

He notes, “even the most experienced burrito eaters have experienced the following disappointments:”

• “I just took a bite entirely of sour cream”
• “This carne asada has the texture of rubber”
• “THE TEMPERATURE OF THE EGGS IN THIS BURRITO IS TOO DAMN HIGH”
• “I am not looking forward to the leftover burrito in my fridge”
• “Where is the meat in this burrito?”
• “I need a fork”

To address the tragedy, Cole and his reviewers have set out to deploy a 10-factor rating system to evaluate the “majestic cylinder.” The considerations, per Cole’s site, are:

1. Volume
2. Tortilla quality
3. Temperature
4. Meat quality
5. Non-meat filling quality
6. Meat: the ratio between meat and non-meat.
7. Uniformity: “bites full of sour cream and cheese with no meat are disappointing.”
8. Salsa quality – and variety!
9. Flavor synergy
10. Wrap integrity

Need to see the data? It’s viewable online at Cole’s website in a Google spreadsheet.

What I love about this is the systematic way Cole has approached the problem. Just as we would do with an engineering problem, he’s talked with many people involved with producing and utilizing the burrito, developed an overarching checklist and a rating system, and created a spreadsheet to analyze the problem and formulate solutions.

While it sounds simple, we all know, it’s not so easy. After all, as Sherlock Holmes reminds us, we need to be open to investigating the basics; according to the great detective “there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”

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