Food scientists promote safety and quality during the agricultural, manufacturing, production, and processing stages of the food supply cycle. Most food scientists hold degrees in chemistry, microbiology, nutrition, or food science. Learn about the daily responsibilities and requirements for a food scientist position.
Food scientists apply scientific methods and practices to food production, manufacturing, and processing. Research in food science focuses on improving the quality of food through production and maintaining safe conditions for packaging, preparing, and processing to promote public safety.
If you are interested in becoming a food scientist, you should study food science or related sciences such as chemistry, microbiology, and nutrition at the college level. A number of two- and four-year colleges and universities offer degrees in food science.
Two general career trajectories include agronomists or agricultural food scientists and food scientists and technologists. The agricultural side of food science is concerned with increasing the nutritional quality and quantity of crops or livestock and maintaining safety standards in food growing and production.
Other food scientists are concerned with the manufacture, packaging, or processing of food for consumption. Even within these broad categories, there are many different applications of food science ranging from research and development for food or pharmaceutical companies or positions in regulatory compliance and quality assurance.
What Is A Food Scientist?
Food scientists conduct research into food safety, quality, or quantity. Most food scientists hold at least an Associate or Bachelor of Science degree in food science or a related area, if not a master's or doctorate. Most food scientists work in corporate, government, or university labs, studying the characteristics and composition of food products. The primary goal of food science is to promote food safety and public health by researching food sources and methods of distributing, selling, or serving food.
A food scientist may perform experiments to identify the origins of foodborne illnesses or test samples to ensure the stability or quality of food. Some scientists work for food manufacturing or production companies that develop new food products. This research may involve fine-tuning the look, taste, or texture of various foods.
Food scientists are not licensed by professional organizations on the state or national level. Several voluntary certifications are available in different areas of food science. The Research Chefs Association offers Certified Research Chef and Certified Culinary Scientist credentials to food scientists who meet basic education and experience requirements and pass an exam.
Agricultural food scientists may be more interested in the American Society of Agronomy. In order to become a certified crop advisor, professional agronomist, or soil scientist, a scientist must hold a degree, have relevant work experience, pass an exam, and obtain continuing education credits.
If you are interested in being able to inspect food processing and service establishments for safety, you might be interested in seeking a public health certification. The American Society for Quality can certify a food scientist to act as a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point auditor.
This certification adheres to standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure that safe preparation and storage methods are being used in environments where food is being prepared or processed. You can learn more about ways to train as a scientist from the Institute of Food Technologists, which lists colleges and universities offering undergraduate and graduate food science degree programs.
What Do Food Scientists Do?
The daily work of a food scientist depends on his or her area of specialization and employer. Food scientists working for companies may spend time developing, testing, and refining food products in a lab to achieve goals such as improved taste, nutrition, or stability.
Government food scientists can be tasked with identifying the sources of outbreaks of foodborne illness, such as salmonella. Agricultural food scientists may work to ensure that the food produced by growers meets all of the safety standards set by regulatory agencies while achieving high quality and yields.
Food scientists with a focus on agriculture or agronomy research ways to improve the productivity and sustainability of crops or livestock. They may focus on the ways in which soil composition affects plant growth or how modifying feed affects farm animals.
Some scientists focus on ways to preserve the quality of produce that is transported long distances. Those performing basic research study the biological and chemical professes that influence the growth of crops or farm animals. Scientists engaging in applied research develop solutions for various challenges in the food supply.
Scientists who work in food manufacturing, packaging, or processing ensure that these environments are sanitary and up to code. They may develop new products, additives, or packaging solutions that keep food fresh for longer.
Most of these positions involve applied research and testing to create more standardized and stable food products that appeal to consumers. Whether a scientist works in agronomics or processing, he or she will develop skills that can be broadly applicable within the field of food science.
How Can You Train To Become A Food Scientist?
A variety of food science degrees and certificates are available from two-year, four-year, and trade institutions. It is also possible to study a major branch of science such as chemistry or microbiology and focus on the area of food science.
Students should try to take coursework in food analysis, food chemistry, and food engineering or processing to gain the specialized expertise necessary to excel in the professional field of food science.
Make sure to choose an institution that will enable you to take specific coursework or even specialize in the area of food science in which you are most interested. You will likely develop transferable skills, particularly if you have a solid foundation in sciences such as chemistry, microbiology, or nutrition.
Further specialization may enable you to take different types of jobs in either the basic or applied branch of food science. You should try to determine where your interests lie as soon as possible and obtain the strongest foundations in the disciplines you need to pursue the food science career you want.
In addition to pursuing undergraduate studies in the sciences or food science specifically, a food scientist should also complete an internship in this area. Real world experience can help a student direct the remainder of their academic and professional training to the type of job that he or she would like to pursue after graduation.
If you are interested in performing research at the college or university level, you should also seek further education in the form of a Master of Science, Master of Professional Studies, or even a doctorate program in food science. On the higher levels of study, you will need to select a research specialization such as food chemistry.
If you want to combine the culinary arts with food science, you might want to pursue a Certified Research Chef or Certified Culinary Scientist certificate from the Research Chefs Association.
You will need to pass an exam and meet basic requirements in the area of education, food science experience, and research and development. Candidates do not need to hold an academic degree in food science, but must have taken college-level coursework in relevant sciences.
Who Employs Food Scientists?
The largest employers in agricultural and food science are food manufacturing facilities followed by colleges and universities, research and development, government, and consulting services. Many food production companies involved in large-scale food sourcing, manufacturing, processing, and packaging may have food scientists on staff to perform research and development.
Food scientists also have insights that can be beneficial to maintaining a sterile production and packaging environment for pharmaceuticals and other sensitive products designed for human consumption.
Many colleges and universities recruit faculty and researchers in food science. This is a field in which many faculty members may have previous applied experience working for a food production company or government agency. In addition to performing research, academic food scientists publish findings in peer-reviewed or refereed scientific journals and teach courses in food science or related subjects.
Federal agencies underwrite some food science research performed by research institutions and maintain their own scientists on staff. Agricultural and food scientists work for government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration. Government food scientists may perform research on public health, safety, and nutrition and conduct clinical trials.
How Many Food Science Jobs Are Available?
As of 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that there are approximately 43,000 working agricultural and food scientists in this country. Most food scientists specialize in researching crops and soil. Almost as many people working in this sector are general scientists or technologists. About one-third as many food scientists work in farm animal or livestock research.
The number of available food science jobs across all of these sectors is expected to increase at an average rate of about 7 percent from 2016 through 2026, adding about 3,000 new jobs in this field. The pay for these positions depends on the employer and industry, but the median annual salary for a food scientist is $62,910. Pay for these can range depending on whether a scientist works for a food manufacturing or processing company, a college or university, or a government agency. Public concern about food safety and quality is increasing, which is good news for food scientists.