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: Bev Lussier