What is a Food Science Degree?

The subject matter of food science degree programs spans the areas of biology, biochemistry, and chemical engineering. Aspiring food scientists and food science technologists learn how to apply these foundations to examine food properties and develop foods that are sustainable. Courses address topics like:

  • Nutrition
  • Food preservation and storage
  • Food packaging
  • Chemical additives in food
  • Food safety
  • Toxicology
  • Food processing
  • Food bacteria

The goal of food science programs is to produce professionals trained in:

  • Assessing the nutritional value, flavor, texture, and color of food
  • Testing food for potentially harmful bacteria
  • Improving food industry manufacturing processes and standards

Program Options

At all degree levels, it is important to choose a program that is accredited by the Institute of Food Science and Technology.

Associate Degree in Food Science – One to Two Year Duration
The Associate Degree in Food Science offered by most schools is designed to provide students with basic knowledge and skills in the field that prepare them for further study at the bachelor’s level. With this degree, graduates may be hired in some entry-level roles, such as food technician or nutritional analyst.

Bachelor’s Degree in Food Science – Four Year Duration
A Bachelor’s Degree in Food Science is typically required to advance in the field. Generally, the curriculum at this level is structured to include classroom and research sessions, practical experience, and teamwork projects.

The following courses are often part of a bachelor’s program in food science:

  • Land, Food, and Community
  • Land and Food Systems
  • Cell Biology
  • Fundamentals of Chemistry
  • Chemical Structure and Bonding
  • Fundamentals of Physics
  • Sustainability of Food Systems
  • Nutrition and Health
  • Nutrition – Contemporary Issues and Arguments
  • Medical Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Food Product Development
  • The Science of Food Processing
  • Food Laws and Regulation
  • The Microbiology of Fermentation of Foods and Beverages

Food science bachelor’s degree programs also include general education courses in history, literature, humanities, communication, and business.

Master’s Degree in Food Science – Two Year Duration
Graduates with a Master’s Degree in Food Science may be employed in the areas of food policy and politics, government food regulation, and food sustainability. The curriculum at this level involves independent research projects, as well as required courses, such as the following:

  • Research Methods in Food Science
  • Advanced Food Science Chemistry
  • Food Science / Food Engineering
  • The Science of Nutrition – human carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism

In addition, master’s candidates are required to conduct research on their chosen thesis topic.

Doctoral Degree in Food Science – Three to Four Year Duration
In almost all cases, students who pursue a Doctoral Degree in Food Science have completed a food science master’s degree. Ph.D. graduates in this field mostly commonly go on to work in academic or research-focused careers.

Doctoral studies in this field are heavily concentrated on thesis research in a selected area of specialization, such as:

  • Food Science / Food Engineering
  • Food Chemistry
  • Food Microbiology
  • Food Processing
  • Flavor Chemistry and Sensory Science (a scientific discipline that examines how humans perceive and respond to food and beverages)

Degrees Similar to Food Science

Degree programs in agriculture teach students how to manage plant and animal resources.

Animal Sciences
Degree programs in animal science teach students about the breeding and nutrition of food animals. Coursework includes animal biology and physiology, dairy and poultry science, livestock production, and fish production.

Majors in this field study engineering and the life sciences to create new products – such as vaccines, medicines, growth hormones for plants, and food additives – for the agricultural, industrial, and environmental industries.

Culinary Arts
Culinary arts are the arts of preparing, cooking, and presenting food. Food that is as pleasing to the eyes as it is to the taste buds is the goal of the culinary artist. Degree programs in the field prepare students for a variety of roles within the food and hospitality arenas. The typical curriculum covers professional cooking techniques, world cuisines, how to balance flavors, food aesthetics, and menu planning.

Degree programs in this field teach the science and art of cultivating fruits, vegetables, flowers, and/or ornamental plants. Horticulture students learn about plant biology and nutrition, soil science, and greenhouse and nursery management.

Nutrition Science
This degree field is concerned with the complex relationships between the body, nutrients, and health. Classes cover human nutrition and how the body processes nutrients.

Soil Science
Soil science degree programs are focused on the formation, ecology, and classification of soil. Students take courses in seed science, fertilizers, geology, weed science, and genetics.

Skills You’ll Learn

Food science graduates come away from their studies with a diverse set of transferable skills, including the following:

  • Research / data collection and interpretation
  • Communicating information
  • Designing and delivering learning programs
  • Analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Social and environmental awareness
  • IT skills
  • Math skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Teamwork
  • Administration and project management
  • Record keeping and report writing

What Can You Do with a Food Science Degree?

Food science graduates work in business (large food chains and food manufacturers), academic, government, and non-profit sectors. Roles can be focused on areas such as the following:

  • Nutrition consulting
  • Food technology and research – analysis of the nutritional content of food, discovery of new food sources, improvement of food safety measures)
  • Consumer research – focused on sensory evaluation (appearance, smell, taste, feel) and packaging and distribution of food
  • Food product development
  • Food inspection / agricultural inspection
  • Food processing plant inspection – for proper sanitation and waste management
  • Teaching
  • Regulatory affairs

One especially senior role in the field connects food science and nanotechnology, the science of manipulating matter on an atomic scale. Professionals that work in this area of food science develop sensors and other methods to detect contaminants in food.


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