ice cream cone

What is a food scientist?

A food scientist is someone who trained in and/or works in the field of food science.  Food science is the study of food through a scientific perspective.  Food science is a relatively new field, so most people have never heard of it. I had no clue that food science existed until I saw it on a list of majors in college. I like science and food so the name was enough to get me interested in it. A food scientist is not a dietitian, a chef, or a genetic engineer. A food scientist is someone who works in the food industry, primarily in:

  • product development – invents and improves food products
  • quality control – ensures that food is made as it should be and is safe
  • sensory analysis – finds out what customers like
  • research – researches food

Not every position is filled by someone who trained specifically in food science. Many fields work together in the food industry: biology, microbiology, animal science, engineering, chemistry, business, and more. Food scientists are trained a little in each field.

According to the Institute of Food Technologists:

Food science draws from many disciplines such as biology, chemical engineering, and biochemistry in an attempt to better understand food processes and ultimately improve food products for the general public. As the stewards of the field, food scientists study the physical, microbiological, and chemical makeup of food. By applying their findings, they are responsible for developing the safe, nutritious foods and innovative packaging that line supermarket shelves everywhere.

 

I’ve found that the best way to explain what food scientists do is with examples. My favorite line is “Somebody had to invent Lucky Charms”, but that only covers product development. For a bigger mental exercise, consider ice cream.

Some food scientists specialize in dairy production. They determine which breed of cows is best for milk production, what temperature to store the milk at while it is in transit, how much milkfat is in the milk, and so much more. Meanwhile, other food scientists called product developers are creating ice cream flavors. Sometimes they come up with a new process and other food scientists are brought in to figure out how to make equipment on a large scale that will replicate what a product developer did on a small scale. Often, when a new ice cream recipe is developed it is compared to similar ice creams that are already sold in stores. This is done in a sensory panel, run by more food scientists. Food scientists are also involved in figuring out how to keep ice cream tasting fresh even when it is shipped from Oregon to Rhode Island. When the ice cream is produced on a large scale, food scientists in quality control check the ice cream periodically to make sure that it is safe and meets the company’s quality expectations.

Whew, who knew so much went into making ice cream? And I didn’t even mention the other ingredients…

Photo by: Becco Eliacik

Comments

  1. I find it fascinating that food science draws upon so many other disciplines–so eclectic. I’d love to be on the food tasting sensory panels. And I still want to know, what is the official difference between ice cream and frozen yogurt?

    • Yes, food science is a fun mix of disciplines. Frozen yogurt has less fat than ice cream and a yogurt base mix.

  2. Thank you for promoting food science, I am definitely proud to be a food scientist. Here’s my perception and explanation to others what food science is.

    Introduction
    Bromatology is a relatively new field that had only been recently designated the professional denomination. It integrates a wide range of sub-disciplines associating to the science of food, food derived products and food related aspects. This article intends to help those interested in pursuing careers in bromatology and those making bromatology related career decisions from the wide range of opportunities available. The content of this article is based on experience after years of university education in this field including communications with many seniors and colleagues, bromatology related employers and academic professionals as well as reviewing the spectrum of bromatology related scientific journals.

    What is Bromatology

    The roles of bromatologists can be roughly divided into four main categories but they all have inter-relationships with each other. The four main sub-fields include food product development, food physiology, food engineering and food forensics and biosecurity. Each sub-field includes a range of sub-topics and a few of them are listed here. Some of these classifications may be in ambiguous sub-fields and may overlap with roles in other fields but note that no field will be exclusively confined due to the importance of different approaches and perspectives in different fields.

    Food product development constitutes of an amplitude of sub-topics such as commercial products (novel flavors, gluten-free, probiotic cultures, new restaurant menu), nutraceuticals (multi-vitamins, coenzyme Q10, dietary fibre, shark cartilage), specialized diets (perinatal, geriatric, exercise, weight management) and food related materials (food additive and food packaging material synthesis and extraction).

    The sub-field of food physiology is composed of sub-topics extending to food component effects (nutrition, food toxicology), sensory psychology (neural hypothalamic appetite control, psychophysics – Weber & Fechner’s law), food related diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases), food microbiology (pathogens, probiotics), food safety (contaminants, allergens, detergents) and food physiology genetics (nutrigenomics, gastronomics, toxicogenomics).

    Furthermore, there is food engineering that accommodates domains stretching in manufacture (synthesis scale up), packaging (nano-encapsulation), distribution (shelf life deterioration kinetics), food processing effects (pulsed electric field), food physics (Newtonian rheology), food genetic modification (GM salmon, maize), production waste management (process by-products), food mathematical modeling (stochastic model for spoilage rate) and food agriculture (food crop fertilizers, irrigation quality).

    Food forensics and biosecurity focuses on certification of claims (GM free, nutrition claim, organic), prevention of food terrorism (1984 Oregon attack – 751 food poisoning) and characteristics and origins of food safety compromising agents (food poisoning, lead contaminants, milk melamine scandal).

    Academic Training for Bromatological Career Pathways

    The bromatology undergraduate degree provides career opportunities in all positions in the bromatology field, but some roles may require higher degrees, further certification or build-up career ranks after the completion of the undergraduate degree.

    The general bromatology academic training pathway is as follows:

    Academic training should be reflective of what type of bromatology opportunities you want to pursue in the future and this provides a guideline to minimize unnecessary prodigality financially and temporally. Different ranks of academic training would open up different opportunities, but do not accumulate as the more specialized perspectives and opinions gained from higher degrees would lose some opportunities in positions that favors an all-round considerations spanning all sub-fields of bromatology.

    The undergraduate degree cannot teach you everything that you need to know in the field, because of the complexity of food and associated systems which leads to an excess of bromatology information, fast transition and advancement speed of bromatology information and the significant amount of bromatology information remaining unsolved. However, it gives you a solid grounding in this field with specialized perspectives and opinions that can be applied to all other aspects in bromatology.

    As a bromatology graduate, your role involves specializing in a range of sub-topics in all bromatology sub-fields in one position, involving all of consulting, management, practical and basic research. Postgraduate diploma degree also provides similar pathways but the macro-specialized coursework may provide advantages in certain industry in the bromatology field, such as dairy or nutraceutical industry.

    As a bromatology professional postgraduate (dietetics, food safety, food engineering), you macro-specialize in a range of sub-topics in one bromatology sub-field, involving management and basic research but concentrates on consulting or practical, depending on the degree.

    As a bromatology research postgraduate (postgraduate honors, bromatology research masters), you will also macro-specialize in a range of sub-topics in one bromatology sub-field, but centralizes on intermediate level research in addition to management, consulting and practical.

    As a bromatology research doctorate, you supra-specialize in one sub-topic in one sub-field in positions that requires practical and consulting but focuses on advanced level research and management.

    Conclusion

    Without bromatologists, the world would not have physical, social and economic access to a satisfactory range of food and food derived products that are safe, healthy and palatable at all times, to fulfill individual dietary preferences for an active healthy lifestyle. The bromatology related decisions should be considered thoroughly before pursuing different degrees to comply with your career directions. Higher degrees act as an access to macro- and supra- specialized pathways in bromatology but are disadvantageous in certain positions requiring a more wholesome perspective.

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