How to Become a Food Technologist: Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a food technologist. Learn about the job, and explore about the step-by-step process to start a career in food science.

Should I Become a Food Technologist?

Food technologists conduct food science research to improve agriculture, processing, production, storage, and shipment of food products. Food technologists often work in product development for food companies, but they also might find positions with food production suppliers, companies that manufacture food equipment or the government. The job involves traveling to visit farms or food processing plants. Worker conditions might be noisy, cold, or include animal by-products.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the minimum requirement for food technologists is a bachelor's degree in science, while some scientists go on to graduate studies. Certifications are optional.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Food science, biology, chemistry or related field
Certification Voluntary certification is available
Experience Some employers prefer three to five years
Key Skills Communication, critical-thinking, data-analysis, decision-making and observation skills, proficiency with BioDiscovery ImaGene, Insightful S-PLUS, MDS Analytical Technologies GenePix Pro, StatSoft STATISTICA, PathogenTracker Microsoft Office Suite software, and U.S. Department of Agriculture USDA National Nutrient Database
Salary (2014) $61,480 per year (Median salary for all food scientists and technologists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job listings from October 2012, O*Net Online

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, food technologists need at least a bachelor's degree in food science, or a related field like nutrition, chemistry, biology or agricultural science. These degree programs examine concepts in biology, chemistry and statistics. In addition, students take courses that apply specifically to food technology, such as food quality, food composition and food microbiology. Students also can expect to take courses where they'll work in labs conducting experiments.

Success Tips:

  • Conduct food science research. Some food science departments offer research opportunities to undergraduate students. Students conduct research by participating in an internship or summer program, or by joining a research team headed by faculty.
  • Network with food science professionals. At some colleges you'll find food science clubs and functions that allow you to network with others in the field. Additionally, you can take part in community activities and competitions to network with potential employers.

Step 2: Earn a Graduate Degree

Food technologists with a bachelor's degree do get hired; however, some individuals choose to earn a graduate degree to increase their chance of employment. Graduate programs offer more opportunities through thesis and dissertation research. Some programs also incorporate concentrations such as dairy science or sensory evaluation.

Success Tip:

  • Build leadership skills. Some food technologists lead their own research studies and teams. Food technologists can build their leadership skills by taking on supervisory roles in group projects and experiments.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

While some food technologist positions are open to recent graduates, most job postings in October 2012 required three to five years of work experience for graduates with a bachelor's degree. Additionally, experience is typically required to gain certification. On the job, food technologists conduct research, develop new systems for food processing and production, and test products and create safety standards by conducting research in the field.

Step 4: Earn Certification for Career Advancement

The Institute of Food Technologists provides a certification exam to food technologists who have a minimum level of education and work experience. For example, those with a bachelor's degree in food science need at least three years of experience in the field. The 120-question exam covers topics including product development, food safety and quality control. Food technologists must renew their certification every five years by earning continuing education credits.

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