What is a Food Scientist?

Food Scientist- Is This the Career for You

A food scientist is defined as one who applies basic science and engineering to study the chemical, physical and biochemical character of foods as well as understanding the standards of processing food. They need to have a good understanding of nutrition, chemistry and biology as well as knowledge of food packaging, processing, preservation, and distribution.

A food scientist can be employed by manufacturing companies, government agencies or colleges or universities. In manufacturing companies they often work in the product development area or in quality control. They work on improving methods for food preparation and storage. This could include canned, microwaveable and frozen foods. They can work on improving the flavor, color, texture, or nutritional value of a food product. Food scientists working in quality assurance oversee product safety of all manufactured foods that are sold in the marketplace.

State, local and federal governments employ food scientists to both develop and enforce food processing regulations. This includes the manufacturing processes, sanitation and waste management. They also do inspections to look for food contamination or the potential for contamination. They visit large manufacturing facilities, small mom and pop operations, dairies, or any other place that processes and packages food.

In a university setting a food scientist can be a professor or researcher. They may research a specific food or process. Their research findings are often published in scientific journals.

In the workplace a food scientist may be called different names such as a cereal scientist, dairy products specialist, flavor chemist, quality assurance technician, food chemist, food engineer, food inspector, packaging specialist, public health officer, or sensory evaluation specialist depending on their distinct job position.

Requirements to be a Food Scientist

To earn a food science degree a student must take classes in food manufacturing and processing, food safety and distribution, food preparation and serving. They also need courses in biology, chemistry, physics, calculus, English, and statistics. There are also specialized courses depending on the university they attend and the area of food science they choose to work in. Entry level jobs as a food scientist require at least a bachelor’s degree, but many working in research disciplines need a master’s or even a doctorate degree.

In addition to having a degree a food scientist needs other qualities. Communication skills are crucial as they often work in a team and report findings to others in their work group. They also need to have critical thinking skills as well as decision making skills. Being able to analyze data is also important. Good observation skills are essential to accurately observe test samples and data. Excellent computer skills are critical for data analysis and communication.

Job Outlook for a Food Scientist

In 2010 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average annual food scientist salary was $58,450. The top 10% of food scientist salaries were over $100,000 annually. It is expected the job outlook to increase by 10 percent between 2010 and 2020. At the time of this report 35% of the food scientists were employed by food manufacturing companies, 13% by research and development corporations and 8% by universities, government, or private agencies.

A food scientist job description varies depending the company or agency where they are employed. If they work for a government agency it would describe duties such as visiting facilities, enforcing regulations, taking test samples, and evaluating data. They would also be responsible for writing reports and communicating with their superiors and quality assurance personnel from the manufacturing facilities they visit.

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