Food is one of the few things in life we can’t live without. That’s why the industry is thriving. However, dynamic changes are happening around the world in response to food shortages, soil depletion, lack of rainfall, competition for land and global warming.
As humans, we take our food for granted. Almost all the groceries we buy have undergone rigorous development processes to ensure that consumers get the best product possible.
What Do Food Scientists Do?
Food scientists understand the nature of foods using their skills and knowledge in a combination of chemical, biological and physical sciences. They need to consider many aspects of food including flavour and nutritional content, quality, handling, storage and safety, processing, preservation, packaging and distribution.
Food scientists are the innovators of all things edible, from creating new products and flavour combinations to learning how to process foods to reduce food and energy waste.
Food technologists may specialise in fields such as meat, dairy, seafood, cereal products, confectionery, snack foods, beverages and minimally processed fresh produce. On a day-to-day basis, however, food scientists could be called on to do the following:
- Maintain safe and hygienic conditions during processing, storage and packaging of food
- Check raw ingredients and processed food for nutritional value, safety and quality
- Research aspects of food processing, food preservation, food quality, food deterioration, packaging, storage and delivery in order to improve them
- Check food consistency for colour, texture and taste
- Develop and look after food standards
- Design new food products and the techniques needed to make them
- Supervise cleaning and maintenance of food processing machinery
- Do comparisons with products from other brands and write reports for management about new products and market trends
- Supervise the effective transportation of foodstuffs such as fruit, vegetables and milk – making sure that the product quality is unaffected
Where do Food Scientists Work?
A food scientist could work in any number of roles including new product developer, laboratory scientist, food microbiologist, quality manager or even a nutritionist. Food scientists work in any industry related to food – from major food and beverage brands to research organisations, flavour producers and regulatory authorities.
Product Development: develop new food products or improve the quality, performance and/or safety of existing products. These positions require creative flair, sensory evaluation expertise and the ability to work in teams.
Research and Development: use your microbiology, chemistry, engineering or nutrition skills to investigate scientific principles and phenomena pertaining to specific food components, food products or food processes.
Technical Support: combine your knowledge of raw materials and ingredients with food processing applications. Work closely with product development specialists in the manufacture of food products.
Management: get involved in the organisation, operation and development of food processing companies. The key responsibility here is overseeing employees and operations in the processing of specific foods.
Quality Assurance: analyse the components of food products and monitor the finished product for conformity to company and government standards.
Regulation: work at the state or federal government level with agencies such as the USDA, FDA, EPA and Patent Office. Roles here involve policy development, enforcing food sanitation and labelling regulations, and ensuring the safety of our food supply.
Extension Education: specialise in food safety, food processing or human nutrition. Use a variety of educational methods, including group meetings, workshops, mass media and electronic methods to deliver educational information.
Our UNSW graduates have been employed within these companies and industries:
- Mars Australia (major food brands)
- Givaudan (flavours)
- Lion Co (beverages)
- Uncle Tobys & Kellogg’s (snacks and cereals)
- CSIRO (research)
- Food Safety Australia and New Zealand (regulatory organisation)
Food science and technology is about understanding the composition of food and, in a way, ‘reinventing’ it. It could involve enhancing the taste, making it last longer, making sure it’s safe to eat, or even boosting its nutritional content. If you love science and you’re interested in food production and preparation, this could be an ideal career for you.
What Do Food Scientists Learn?
When you are studying food science and technology, you’ll learn all about food from all different aspects of the industry including:
- Science (chemistry, biology, physics)
- Food microbiology and food chemistry
- Food toxicology
- Food safety
- Food preservation
- Sustainable food manufacturing
- Product design and development
Should I be a Food Scientist?
If you think you want to be a food scientist or technologist ask yourself the following questions. If the answer to most of them is “yes”, it could be a great career path for you.
- Do you love science and maths?
- Are you interested in food production and preparation?
- Have you got really good attention to detail?
- Can you work with strict hygiene rules?
- Are you a good communicator?
- Are you confident enough to enforcing rules and regulations?
- Can you work in a team?