So you are thinking about pursuing a degree in food science and becoming a food scientist aren’t you? What classes will you need to take? Food science as you might already know, is a multidisciplinary field that combines chemistry, biology, nutrition, and engineering. It provides students with the scientific understanding needed to tackle real-world challenges related to food systems. Drying, freezing, pasteurization, canning, irradiation, and extrusion, to name a few, all require a thorough understanding of the science behind food components, their processing and preservation. Here are five of my favorite undergraduate classes that you will most likely take in your food science degree program. They will be keys to your success in your future career as a food scientist.
Food chemistry deals with the chemical and biological constituents of food, and how these constituents interact and undergo chemical changes during handling, processing, and storage. This course will give you an in-depth knowledge about the chemistry of water, carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, pigments, flavors, toxicants, phytochemicals, flavors and food additives. Before you take this class, make sure you take a class in general chemistry. Taking a fundamental course in organic chemistry or biochemistry as a prerequisite, is even better.
A course in food analysis can be combined with food chemistry or offered separately. In my case, I took it as a separate class. I would consider food analysis as the practical side of food chemistry, where you get to apply principles of food evaluation. In this class, you will be evaluating foods for their physical, chemical, biochemical, and functional properties. To accomplish this, you will be exposed to real-world lab equipment. Examples of measurements that you will take include acidity, pH, brix, viscosity, total texture profile (TPA), moisture content, protein content, lipid content, and ash content. The lab techniques that you will learn will be highly beneficial in your career as a scientist.
Since microbiology plays a huge role in food preservation and spoilage, a course on this subject makes sense. In this class you will learn the structure, and behavior of viruses, bacteria (the good and the bad), fungi and parasites. You will understand how they affect food quality and the factors responsible for their growth. You will get specific knowledge about key pathogens, their classification, source, how they get into food, illnesses that they cause, and how to control them during food processing. For beneficial bacteria, you will get an understanding of various fermentation processes that utilizes them, and how those processes work. The microbiology class I took as an undergraduate student had a lab. The lab taught us various aseptic techniques used in sampling, growing, enumerating, and evaluating bacteria and mold. This class is indispensable for a career as a food microbiologist.
You probably will take more than one food processing class in your program of study. I remember taking a fundamental introduction to food science and then two classes in food processing unit operations. In this class you will learn about the basics of food processing and preservation techniques and the principles by which they work. These techniques may include milling, drying, concentration, canning, baking, frying, extrusion, high pressure processing, irradiation, and many others. Your professor will guide you step by step through each unit operation involved in the process being discussed, and the principles by which they work.
A food engineering course will give you a deeper understanding of the principles that are used in food processing. It combines the knowledge of mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics that will prepare you to create foods that are wholesome, and high-quality. Key engineering principles that are covered in this class include fluid mechanics, heat transfer, and mass transfer. I remember doing a lot of calculations in this class, so put on your math hat for this one.
As you can see, food science brings together multiple scientific disciplines. Food scientists are real scientists. The only difference is that they focus their attention on food.
Follow this link to get a complete list of food science classes.