Food science is a large discipline that primarily deals with the study of food composition and finding creative ways to improve food products through an understanding of science. With an ever-increasing global population, the goal of feeding everyone on the earth is becoming increasingly difficult. Food scientists are therefore actively engaged in solving this challenge through various activities ranging from food analysis, product and process design, manufacturing, labeling, packaging, and distribution of food products. In this article I have outlined some of the things that food scientists do. If you are thinking about becoming a food scientist, hopefully at least one of these will grab your interest.
This is one of the most exciting jobs I have done as a food scientist. You get to work with a team to innovate amazing new product ideas. The job involves experimenting with small batches to ensure that the process and finished product quality is worked out before scaling up. Scaling up involves coordinating many experimental runs to finalize the process, quality, and sensory properties of the product. The product development scientist may work closely with another food scientist called a sensory scientist who specializes in taste-testing and statistical analysis of sensory data. No other job allows you to play with your food, and to eat your experiment.
Developing Efficient Processes
The product development specialist may know a lot about food composition, food chemistry, and how to blend flavors and textures. However, he may not be conversant with the highly mechanized system that will be needed to convert raw material to finished product. This may take someone who is highly trained, skilled, and comfortable with the working of machines and gadgets. These type of food scientist are trained in food engineering. They have a thorough understanding of the behavior of foods during processing and how to adjust the process to achieve the desired end. They work closely with product developers to design and improve processes. They may also be employed in companies that are responsible for designing and manufacturing food processing equipment.
Analyzing Food Quality
Customers require high quality. Regulatory organizations like the FDA demands that food sold is safe and wholesome. The food industry therefore employs an army of specialists responsible for collecting and analyzing food to verify that they are both safe, and meets the high quality expectations that the customer has for the products they buy. Food analysts, generally work in labs where product samples are sent for analysis of physical, chemical and microbial quality. Food scientists who analyze food for their chemical composition are called food chemists and the ones that are more concerned with microbial quality are called food microbiologists.
Keeping Food Safe
As you can imagine, any food outbreak associated with a food brand can destroy consumer confidence in it and send the company packing. Food manufacturers therefore take much effort in making sure that food is safe. I have already mentioned the role of microbiologists. In addition, the industry hires individuals who are able to take a broader look at the entire operation to see to it that the entire system is run in such a manner that food is kept safe from food hazards. These food scientists are often called food safety specialists. They may also be given the title of quality control or quality assurance specialist. Food scientists in charge of food safety management in food companies that produce meat and meat products may be called HACCP specialists. These specialists work to identify all the possible hazards that may contaminate food and prevent them from getting into the food supply.
Maximizing Production Efficiency
While many food scientists work in a lab setting, your job as a food scientist may require that you work on the production floor. This job brings together a complete knowledge of food science. You will need to understand food composition, how processing affects food quality, and have a good understanding of the process and equipment used in processing. This job definitely takes a hands-on, technical person with great observation, and quick-thinking skills. He or she must also be great at managing, supervising, training, and motivating workers. Having a business mindset is also essential for this job as every effort must be made to maximize efficiency and minimize waste. Production managers collaborate closely with other team members including food safety, marketing, and quality assurance specialists.
Establishing Food Standards
National and international food standards are developed by food scientists to promote and facilitate trade. Food scientists working on food standards may collaborate with nutritionists. They both work together to better understand how processing and storage affects nutrient composition, how to prevent nutrient loss, and how to meet nutritional needs of specific target groups. They also work with chemists and microbiologists to determine appropriate safety threshold for toxins and microbial contaminants.
Food scientists work in a variety of fields using science and technology to solve problems relating to food. They are involved from product concept through commercialization, and collaborate across multiple disciples with the goal to provide consumers with the highest food quality possible.