What is a Food Scientist?

Food science draws from the disciplines of biology, chemistry, biochemistry, nutrition science, microbiology, and chemical engineering. Its goal is to understand the makeup of food components such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and water, and the reactions they undergo during processing and storage.

As stewards of the field, food scientists study the physical, microbial, and chemical properties of food products and ingredients. They conduct testing to determine the nutrient level of food, find potentially harmful molds and bacteria, and ensure that food color, flavor, and texture are appropriate. They apply their findings to develop the safe, nutritious, and sustainable foods and innovative packaging that line our supermarket shelves.

What does a Food Scientist do?

Food scientists investigate the chemical, microbiological, physical, and sensory nature of food. They apply their knowledge to developing, processing, preserving, packaging, distributing, and storing of foodstuffs. Their work may be focused in research, processing and product development, food safety, or management. Their job titles, such as food chemist, food microbiologist, or food engineer, often reflect their areas of specialization.

A food scientist conducting testing on a piece of fish.

In general, food scientists work in five areas:

Basic Research

  • Studying the structure and composition of food, food production, or the changes foods undergo in storage and processing
  • Studying the effects of food additives
  • Developing new sources of protein or searching for factors that affect the flavor, texture, or appearance of foods
  • Looking for ways to process food so that fewer nutrients are lost
  • Developing meat substitutes made from soybeans and other vegetation as possible solutions to the problem of food shortages

Food Process and Product Development

  • Developing new processing methods and new or improved foods
  • Improving taste or appearance, or creating healthier and safer food products with longer shelf lives
  • Product development scientists often work closely with marketing personnel and customers
  • Working for companies that sell ingredients or processing equipment to the food industry, to evaluate the functionality of the process or ingredient

Quality Assurance

  • Checking raw ingredients for maturity or stability for processing, and finished products for safety, quality, and nutritional value
  • Developing quality-assurance programs
  • Preparing for third-party audits
  • Inspecting processing operations
  • Developing and improving packaging and storage methods
  • Product analysis

Processing / Production

  • Developing production specifications
  • Scheduling processing operations
  • Working on techniques like canning, drying, evaporation, blanching, baking, and pasteurization
  • Evaluating processing and storage operations in processing plants
  • Developing sanitation methods
  • Working with engineers and plant operators

Regulatory

  • Inspecting and grading raw ingredients to ensure they are fresh
  • Auditing or inspecting food-processing operations
  • Investigating food-borne illness outbreaks and coordinating recalls
  • To ensure food safety, developing, implementing, and monitoring Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs; HACCP is a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards

Food scientists have distinct personalities. Think you might match up? Take the free career test to find out if food scientist is one of your top career matches. Take the free test now Learn more about the career test

What is the workplace of a Food Scientist like?

Food scientists work in laboratories, factories, and offices. Depending on their specific role, they may split their time between these three work environments. Some may work from home offices and as independent consultants. Their most common employers are food manufacturers, colleges and universities, research institutes, scientific and technical consulting services, and governments.

In general, food scientists work between 35 and 40 hours per week. Many positions require that they spend much of their time studying data and reports and visiting farms or food and animal production facilities. When in the field, food scientists must adhere to biosecurity measures aimed at preventing the introduction and/or spread of harmful viruses or bacteria to animals and plants. They must also be able to tolerate noise associated with processing plant machinery, cold temperatures associated with food production and storage, and close proximity to animal byproducts.

Processing plant positions may entail shift work that includes evenings, weekends, and holidays. Some roles may require domestic and/or international travel.

Food Scientists are also known as:
Food Technologist Food Engineer Food Microbiologist Food Chemist