Should I Become a Food Engineer?
Food engineers, also known as agricultural and food scientists, combine engineering concepts with microbiology, chemistry and other sciences to create the best ways to make processed foods tasty, healthy and safe. They're responsible for every step of food production, from production to distribution. It's also their job to figure out the safest and most environmentally friendly ways of processing, packaging, preserving and storing foods for distribution.
Food engineers should be able to work well in an office, laboratory or manufacturing plant environment. An increasing number of these professionals are self-employed, but the majority work for private companies in the food industry. Travel may be required, though these professionals often work typical business hours. Jobs in the field are expected to grow alongside the need for safe and sustainable food science technologies.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree at minimum|
|Degree Field||Food engineering, food science, food technology, agriculture, engineering|
|Experience||Experience requirements vary by employer, but completing an internship may be helpful for entry-level workers|
|Key Skills||Strong verbal and written communication skills, critical-thinking skills, research skills and observation skills|
|Salary||$35,140 (Median annual salary for agricultural and food science technicians as of May 2014)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online
Step 1: Determine Career Goals
Prospective food engineers should determine what type of environment they prefer to work in and plan their education and career moves accordingly. They have a variety of choices, since food engineering is typically under the umbrella of agriculture and food science. Graduates may work in a number of different industries, including pharmaceutical, consulting, healthcare and more.
Some students may choose to focus more on the agricultural side of this field and spend much of their time working with animals on farms and visiting processing plants. Others may choose to go into research, where they'll spend most of their time working in the research labs of universities, the federal government or private businesses.
- Use high school classes to prepare for college and help narrow career focus. Classes in chemistry, biology and agriculture-related subjects are good preparation for this career. Students may also want to get involved in science projects and join their school's science club. By participating in these extracurricular areas, students may be able to work on independent projects related to their future career.
Step 2: Complete a Bachelor's Degree
Most prospective employers of food engineers require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Although degrees in food engineering are available from some institutions, job postings on Monster.com in July 2012 indicated that not all employers require a degree directly in food engineering or food science and technology. Food engineers may choose a degree in a related area, such as agricultural technology, chemistry, engineering or a similar field.
Common courses in these degree programs include mathematics, chemistry, biology, microbiology, engineering principles and engineering design. Programs that offer food engineering concentrations may also cover flavor chemistry and food processing operations.
- Take advantage of internship opportunities. Most prospective employers are looking for employees with hands-on experience, so completing an internship may give entry-level applicants beneficial experience. Many schools offering these degree programs also have internships available.
Step 3: Earn an Advanced Degree
Food engineers who plan to pursue senior positions are typically required to show a minimum of several years of experience in the food engineering industry. Additionally, a graduate degree may prove beneficial for those who wish to advance to management positions. Graduates who are interested in upper-level opportunities in specific areas of the industry, such as agricultural processing, pharmaceuticals or research, may find it beneficial to seek lower-level positions in those areas to gain experience while pursuing a master's or doctoral degree.
- Exploit research opportunities while obtaining a graduate degree. Most graduate degree programs provide research opportunities. This affords a chance for those already employed to obtain valuable research experience in their field of interest.