How to Become a Food Scientist in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a food scientist. Learn about job duties, degree requirements, salary and employment outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Art of Cooking degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Food Scientist Do?

Simply put, food scientists study food. They utilize principles found in science and engineering fields in order to better understand the composition and uses of various food products. Food scientists often work in laboratories, and the specific duties of the scientist will depend largely upon his or her field of specific study. For example, individuals employed in quality assurance help ensure that digestible products meet safety standards set forth by regulatory agencies. Other scientists may aid in developing improved methods for growing and storing food. Some professionals even assist in developing new food products. As a whole, food scientists assure that food products are developed, processed and packaged in the most efficient and secure ways possible. Every aspect of a food product - from taste to texture - will typically come under the review of a food scientist at some point.

To consider a career as a food scientist, individuals need to complete at least an undergraduate degree program and possibly earn certification. An overview of career information is listed in the table below.

Degree Required Bachelor's, master's, doctoral
Education Field of Study Food science
Key Responsibilities Analyze nutritional value of foods, inspect food processing facilities, test new food products, research better ways to preserve and distribute food
Certification Certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% (for all food scientists and technologists)*
Median Salary (2015) $65,840 (for all food scientists and technologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Food Scientist?

Food scientists develop new food products, design processes for packaging, conduct shelf-life studies and perform chemical testing. Analyzing food to determine levels of fats, vitamins, proteins or sugars for labeling, improving food content or removing harmful additives are among the purposes of testing. They generally work in government agencies, universities or the food processing industry. A food scientist typically needs a bachelor's degree in a related discipline, but many research and applied science positions require graduate degrees.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

If you're interested in becoming a food scientist, consider earning a Bachelor of Science in Food Science. The Institute of Food Technologists (www.ift.org) lists universities and colleges that offer approved undergraduate food science degree programs. You could concentrate your studies in such areas as chemistry, physics, engineering and microbiology, along with more specific courses in food chemistry, food analysis, food engineering and food processing operations. You should also learn business fundamentals and statistical analysis methods, as well as developing the ability work well both individually and as part of a team.

Step 2: Participate In an Internship

Not all food science programs offer internships, but if yours does, sign up. An internship can provide you with work experience and the opportunity to develop contacts in the industry. Government agencies, food processors and packagers are among the institutions that might have standing partnerships with your school.

Step 3: Earn a Graduate Degree

If you're interested in conducting research, you'd need at least a master's degree, and if you want to teach at the college or university level, you'd need a doctoral degree. Master of Science, Ph.D. and Master of Professional Studies programs are available in food science. Possible specializations include food chemistry, food microbiology or food engineering. The IFT has a list of universities with their graduate programs. Master's degree programs require completing additional classroom work, engaging in fieldwork and writing a thesis based on independent research. Doctoral programs emphasize original research, culminating with the writing and defense of a dissertation.

Step 4: Choose a Career Path

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that approximately 15,400 food scientists and technologists were employed as of 2014 (www.bls.gov). Employment was projected to increase 3% from 2014 to 2024. According to IFT, you could work in such areas as packaging, research and manufacturing. In food technology, you'd develop ways to process and package food to ensure safety, convenience and taste. As a food researcher, you'd compile information on nutrients and other food components for consumers. Food manufacturers develop methods to mass produce food products.

Step 5: Obtain Certification

With certification and work experience you could potentially advance to supervisory roles or manage other food related projects. The Research Chefs Association offers a Certified Culinary Scientist designation to food scientists who've studied the culinary arts in order to develop exceptional food products. You might also consider Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Auditor certification from the American Society for Quality. HACCP is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety standard. The FDA has mandatory HACCP programs for poultry, meat, seafood and juice.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Many other science-focused careers require a bachelor's degree and involve extensive laboratory work. Biological technicians, for example, work in the lab with biologists and medical scientists in the implementation of experiments and scientific testing. Other scientific specialties - such as environmental scientists, microbiologists and zoologists - conduct laboratory work and testing in specific fields of science. Animal scientists, soil scientists and plant scientists study the common producers of food products. If you are interested in working with food specifically, agriculture might be a good career fit, as individuals employed in this field can eventually earn jobs managing produce, dairy and other farming procedures.

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