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Careers in Food Science & Technology: Job Options and Requirements

Careers in food science and technology require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties, and requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Food scientists and food technologists conduct tests and experiments to try to optimize food production. They typically hold at least a bachelor's degree.

Essential Information

Food science is the study of how to optimize agricultural output, while food technology is the implementation of those improvements. The majority of food scientists and technologists work in research capacities for labs, companies or universities, but a considerable number of positions are also available in manufacturing industries. Careers in food science and technology afford researchers the opportunity to make a tangible impact on the healthfulness of people's diets around the world.

Required Education Bachelor's in related field
Other Requirements Master's or Doctorate for university employment
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 3%*
Median Salary (2015) $65,840*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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  • Food Processing
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  • Food Technology

Job Options

In 2015, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recorded that 36,100 people were employed in Agricultural and Food Science. By 2024, the field is expected to see 5% growth. In May of 2015, the BLS reported that food scientists and technologists earned a median salary of $65,840.

Strong academic backgrounds in chemistry, biology, engineering, genetics and other relevant sciences can be parlayed into food science and technology positions in a variety of settings. Food scientists and technologists are employed by the government and food-processing industries, as well as by universities, where they occupy research positions.

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) explains that all of these positions are ultimately linked by a common goal. Workers are part of a larger, international community of researchers, constantly engaging in a scholarly dialogue on how to best ensure people everywhere are receiving nutritious and sufficient food sources.

Food Scientists

Food scientists research how to improve existing methods of food packaging and processing. This can include studying a food's nutritional content and investigating alternative sources of food and ways to purify foods containing additives. Many focus on the manufacturing aspect of food and determine how best to process and store food products. All food scientists must be conscious of government regulations on food processing, but specific positions exist for those who want to make a career of food processing inspection.

Food Technologists

Although the functions of food scientists and food technologists often overlap, the latter is more immediately concerned with product development. Those specializing in biotechnology have opportunities to work on genetic engineering of plants and crops or explore how agricultural products can be transformed into fuel sources (biofuels). Nanotechnology is being used successfully to test the content of food, targeting especially the presence of harmful contaminants.

Like food scientists, food technologists must be capable of working independently, as well as with a team. Workers often begin as part of a research group, with the possibility of promotions to managerial positions.

Educational Requirements

Undergraduates can expect to take an assortment of rigorous courses covering chemistry, biology, calculus, statistics, nutrition and health. Students are also frequently required to take classes on writing and oral expression, since food scientists often perform advisory functions for the government or food processing companies.

Many universities offer both undergraduate and advanced degree programs. Additionally, some schools give students opportunities to work alongside researchers employed by the university in school-owned dairies, ranches or feedlots. The foods produced are then made available to the community, serving both the immediate school population and the surrounding public. The IFT has a list of approved undergraduate and graduate programs online and offers the Feeding Tomorrow scholarship to qualified students.

Degrees in agricultural science are the most immediately relevant to a career in food science and technology, but degrees in any one of the sciences or engineering fields are also well regarded. Those studying to become food scientists and technologists can expect to have coursework divided between the classroom, fieldwork and the laboratory.

Food scientists and technologists seeking positions with private companies are considered qualified with a bachelor's degree, but those who hope to work at universities will need a master's or doctorate (Ph.D.). The BLS notes that food scientists and technologists don't need a license to practice.

Although slow growth is projected over the next decade, this does not account for retirement rates, which will open up a number of positions. Job seekers with an advanced degree will have an advantage.

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