Food Scientist Job Description
Food scientists perform a critical role in developing and maintaining our food supply. They use their knowledge of chemistry, nutrition, and biology to develop methods of packaging, preserving, processing, and distributing the foods that we eat each day.
Food scientists commonly work in product development, where they lead teams of food science technicians who conduct research and experiments to learn more about food and nutrition. As a team, they are sometimes able to identify new food sources or develop ways for making processed foods safer and more healthy.
Some food scientists work in quality control at food processing plants. They examine the food that’s produced and packaged, and make sure that it’s free of contaminants and contains the correct mixture of ingredients. By inspecting the products before they’re shipped, they’re able to ensure that consumers only receive products that meet the organization’s quality standards.
Not all food scientists work in product development or research positions, though. Some work for the government, and may be responsible for ensuring that food processing plants follow all sanitation and waste management guidelines. They also use specialized instruments to detect contaminants in the food, and are responsible for writing reports detailing their findings.
Other food scientists who work for the government perform research, rather than inspections. For example, they might research ways that we can improve the production of crops and food. To do this, they perform clinical trials and experiment on plants on animals to develop new practices and technologies that impact our food supply.
Food scientists who specialize in research are split into two groups depending on the type of research that they do.
Basic research is academic in nature. Food scientists who do basic research are interested in improving the human understanding of the chemical processes that cause crops and livestock to grow. Their goal is to learn as much as they can, so that other scientists can take their research and develop things that will be beneficial to others. Since their work is not directly profitable, their research relies on financial support from the government, universities, and private firms.
Applied research is performed to solve a particular problem or set of problems. Food scientists who do applied research often use the studies conducted by basic researchers, and apply them to real products. For instance, a food scientist who works for a company that makes cookies may be able to improve the quality of the ingredients by adapting the research performed by a basic researcher.
Most food scientists find employment with food manufacturers, research and development firms, colleges and universities, and the federal government.
The exact working environment for food scientists varies from position to position, but most split their time between laboratories, the field, and their office. Typically, they collect data in a laboratory, processing plant, or farm, and analyze the results and create reports in an office.
When visiting a farm or working in a processing plant, food scientists have to take many precautions to remain safe on the job. Wearing appropriate clothing and following all biosecurity practices are necessary.
How to Become a Food Scientist
A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required to work as a food scientist, making this one of the few occupations where you can become a scientist without earning a Ph.D. Earning a doctoral degree can still be very advantageous and will open up new career opportunities for you, but it isn’t required for many positions.
Agricultural science is the most relevant major for food scientists, and some employers prefer candidates who have a degree in that subject area. However, many employers will also consider applicants who have a degree in chemistry, biology, or agricultural engineering.
Regardless of the major you choose in college, you will need to have a strong background in botany, chemistry, and biology. If your college offers it, taking courses in subjects like food engineering, food analysis, and food chemistry can be extremely beneficial as well. These courses will provide you with a solid background that will help you get a job in the field.
If you have the opportunity, you should also strongly consider getting an internship while in college. Internships are a great way to learn about how research is done in a professional environment, and they will provide you with real work experience and personal connections that can help you find a job out of college. To learn more about the internship opportunities available to you, stop by your college’s career center.
If you choose to pursue a Ph.D. after undergraduate school, you can expect to spend six additional years in school. Graduate school is very research-intensive, with a strong emphasis on lab work, statistical analysis, and experiment design.
If you’re still in high school and you’re considering a career as a food scientist, taking as many biology and chemistry courses as possible will provide you with a solid background that you can use throughout your academic and professional career.
There are currently 13,900 food scientists in the United States, with 680 new food scientist job openings created each year.
Food Scientist jobs are not expected to see much growth beyond their current levels in the next decade.
Food Scientist Salaries
Food Scientist salaries can vary depending on your experience, the location, company, industry, and benefits provided. Nationwide, most food scientists make between $43,200 – $80,300 per year, or $20.79 – $38.61 per hour.