Should I Become a Food Scientist?
Food scientists use their knowledge of life and physical sciences to create better ways of producing, processing, and shipping food or to fulfill a regulatory role that keeps these same activities safe from contamination or other risks. Entry-level food scientists might work for research and development corporations, farms, or food processors. They might be responsible for food packaging, safety compliance, or marketing developed technologies to new and existing markets. Food scientists who have a graduate degree might work in labs or in the field, observing, researching, and analyzing food production. This can include studying animal nutrition and crop health to ensure the safety of the food supply or inspecting food production facilities.
Food scientists commonly work regular schedules in offices and labs, although travel is sometimes part of the job. Field visits can require that food scientists follow biosecurity protocols. Fieldwork can also mean being exposed to intense settings characterized by loud noises, temperature extremes, or the sights and smells of animal byproducts.
|Degree Level||At least a bachelor's degree; a master's degree or Ph.D. is often necessary|
|Degree Field||Food science, chemistry, or other related major|
|Experience||Entry-level positions might call for 0 - 2 years; 5 or more years for more advanced roles; experience also can vary depending upon the applicant's degree|
|Certification||Voluntary certifications available|
|Key Skills||Communication, critical thinking, observation, data analysis, decision-making, and math skills|
|Salary*||$72,030 per year (2015 average salary for all food scientists and technologists)|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Online Job Postings (July to August 2015)
Find schools that offer these popular programs
- Food Processing
- Food Science
- Food Technology
Steps to Be a Food Scientist
Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program
Aspiring food scientists need at least a bachelor's degree in an area such as food science, chemistry, microbiology, or a related field. These 4-year programs instill in students fundamental principles in food science as well as research techniques. Coursework generally includes organic chemistry, food process engineering, and human nutrition. Programs may also require students to enroll in classes that discuss food manufacturing, sanitation, and safety regulations.
Some undergraduate programs offer different curriculum options, such as research, general food science or management economics. It's important that the aspiring food scientist knows where he or she would like to work and chooses the path that fits best.
Step 2: Earn an Advanced Degree
Although a bachelor's degree may be sufficient for private sector research and applied science positions, an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science or Ph.D. in Food Science or a related field may be required for university research posts. Graduate students have the option of specializing in food chemistry, manufacturing processes, or another field. These advanced programs might require a thesis, publishable review, or an independent research project on a topic in food science, nutrition, or biochemistry. Master's degree programs in food science generally last 1-2 years, while Ph.D. programs may take 3-4 years.
Step 3: Earn Credentials for Career Advancement
Job seekers might enhance their employment prospects by earning voluntary credentials, such as the Certified Professional-Food Safety (CP-FS) designation offered by the National Environmental Health Association. Certification is based on successfully completing a qualifying exam that covers microbiology, food regulations, and other aspects of quality control. To be eligible, candidates must have graduated from a bachelor's degree program accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (NEHSPAC) or have completed NEHSPAC-designated education, work, and certification requirements.
Interested individuals can also take advantage of online study. The National Environmental Health Association offers online courses for individuals who wish to pursue certification. These courses prepare food scientists for topics that will be covered on the exam.
In summary, aspiring food scientists need at least a bachelor's degree in food science, chemistry, microbiology, or a related field. The average salary for these professionals was just over $72,000 in 2015.