Food science is an integrated scientific study of the nature of foods and how they are processed. Scientists study foods to ensure that consumer needs are met. Some of the needs include taste, flavor, health, convenience, and quality. By understanding food at the fundamental level, we are able to come up with the right solutions to make the type and quality of foods we want. For example, by understanding how microorganisms work, we are able to design processing methods and conditions to destroy them and prevent them from causing food spoilage and injury.

Food Scientists operate within at least seven job categories:

  1. Research and Development
  2. Quality Control
  3. Production
  4. Technical Sales
  5. Government
  6. Entrepreneurship
  7. Education

Your temperament, and strengths will direct where you would prefer to function. For example, people who are inquisitive, curious, and love to innovate may be interested in research and development. Others who enjoy hands-on practical and consistent routines will enjoy quality control. Here, they get to analyze food and provide feedback to production that will influence quality outcomes. If you enjoy working with big machines, directing operations and people, then production would be a good fit for you. Technical sales allow you the opportunity to provide science-based solutions to customers. Try this if you enjoy communicating your technical know-how to people. Working in government (e.g. FDA, USDA, or local health department) can be rewarding and fun. I did that for about three years in my early career. I was a Compliance Inspector for our local Bureau of Standards in Jamaica. The job required traveling to food manufacturing and retail establishment to inspect and monitor compliance with food laws. Consulting is another consideration for a career in food science. Several years ago I operated a consulting business, offering food safety training and HACCP implementation. Up to this point, I had extensive training and experience in food safety, allowing me to do this. As you develop expertise in a specialized field in the food industry, you could offer to consult, or you may decide to start your own food processing operation. The last category in my list of food science career pathways is education. That’s where I am serving right now. As a college professor, my job is to teach food science and do exciting research in my area of specialization.

OK, now that you know the possible pathways, where do you go from here? Food science jobs generally require at least a bachelor’s degree. However, you can certainly get entry-level positions with an Associate degree. I suggest working towards a bachelor’s degree and even a master’s degree to be more competitive. Take your time if you can’t do it right away. Make a plan and take the opportunities as they come.

Courtney Simons
Courtney Simons is a food science professor. He holds a BS degree in food science and a Ph.D. in cereal science from North Dakota State University.
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