How to become a food scientist: everything you need to know
Considering a career in food science? This important field offers multiple career options to those interested in ensuring the safety, quality and sustainability of food products and processes.
Our online masters in Food Science and Innovation presents one route into this fascinating profession, but what should you consider before embarking down this career path? Read our comprehensive guide below to discover everything you need to know about how to become a food scientist and what it involves.
What is a food scientist?
‘Food scientist’ is a broad term encompassing various professionals working to ensure food and drinks are safe and nutritious.
Food scientists study the chemical properties of food, observing how their unique chemical and microbiological profiles inform flavour, texture, nutritional value and safety. They are also concerned with food processing, which can modify these elements.
Food scientists’ research will then inform the work of food technologists, who use this to create new products and/or improve methods of sourcing, selecting, processing, preserving, packaging and distributing food.
The two roles are closely related – both with a primary focus on food safety and maximising the efficiency of food production.
Are food scientists in demand?
The global food and drink industry is worth approximately $6 trillion dollars – a figure that’s expected to rise to $8.6 trillion by 2026.
Of course, this growth is nothing new. As one of the world’s biggest industries, the demand for food scientists and their expertise has always existed and continues to increase in the face of mounting global food challenges.
As the Institute of Food Science and Technology explains, the food industry is:
‘…crying out for well-qualified and experienced specialists who can play their part in the complex and increasingly sophisticated food supply system.’
With a projected global population of 9 billion to feed by 2050, the effects of climate change on agricultural yields, increasingly volatile food prices and unpredictable fluctuations in supply and demand, the food sector must innovate quickly to create food products and production methods fit for our future.
Food scientists are at the heart of this mission, helping to unlock insights from food and refining the concepts underlying food processing to maximise the safety and availability of food for all.
What does a food scientist do on a day-to-day basis?
On a day-to-day basis, a food scientist could be:
- Studying and evaluating the nutritional value, flavour, texture and colour of food
- Providing accurate nutritional information for food labels
- Determining the expiry date for food products and/or finding ways to extend this
- Conducting food safety tests eg: checking food samples for harmful strains of bacteria or types of mould
- Ensuring food manufacturing processes are compliant with government, processing, consumer and industry standards
- Working with food technologists, food engineers, buyers and other industry experts to create new products
- Travelling to manufacturing and production sites to evaluate food safety procedures
- Investigating and evaluating new technologies to aid research, food processing, preservation and storage solutions
- Finding ways to minimise the time and cost involved in food production
Of course, the specifics of the role will vary depending on the area of food science you specialise in and the type of organisation you work for.
Where do food scientists work?
Food scientists work across a number of different organisations, including:
- Retailers eg: Tesco
- Manufacturers eg: Nestlé
- Food services companies eg: KFC
- Government bodies eg: Food Standards Agency
- Universities eg: Manchester Metropolitan University
Food scientists can work in laboratories conducting experiments, in the field determining optimal soil and animal conditions, or in an office working on quality assurance policies or writing up reports. Work environments will vary for food scientists depending on where they work and in what capacity.
What are the challenges and rewards of becoming a food scientist?
- Some unglamorous work
As a food scientist concerned with safety, you are likely to study spoiled food sources at times. Although essential work, it isn’t always pleasant!
- Facing up to food industry problems
Working in food science and technology will open your eyes to several issues within the industry that are also impacting the world at large. These include the scale of food waste, poor treatment of livestock, unregulated markets and unethical or unsustainable business practices.
- Lots of travel
Many food scientists are expected to travel regularly as part of their work, visiting various production facilities and farms around the country or internationally. While this might be a major positive for some, it may pose a problem for others whose lifestyle can’t accommodate this.
The scope of food science is incredibly broad, offering multiple career paths depending on your area of interest. Microbiology, food chemistry, quality assurance, and sensory science are just a few routes to explore.
Food scientists are critical to ensuring the food we eat is safe and are at the forefront of tackling global food supply and malnutrition challenges. For those trying to find a job that contributes positively to society and offers a real sense of purpose, this role should tick both boxes.
- Job security
It’s predicted that we’ll need 45,000 skilled scientists in the food and drink industry over the next decade to tackle the challenges outlined above, spelling good job security for food scientists. Of course, the work of food scientists has always been and remains essential in feeding populations, fending off illnesses, and creating new products in response to changing diet habits.
What food science skills do I need to be a food scientist?
The typical skills and knowledge required of a food scientist include:
1. Data analysis and mathematical skills
A major remit of food scientists is tracking, recording and analysing data as part of their research. A mathematical mind and proficiency using spreadsheets and other relevant software is essential. To hone this skill, students on our online MSc Food Science and Innovation course regularly work with model data from food source analysis, for example, learning how to interpret this to make informed decisions about product quality and safety.
2. Communication skills
As food scientists are required to write reports, discuss their findings and present them along with proposals to various stakeholders, strong written and verbal communication skills are required.
3. Knowledge of the sciences
An understanding of biology and chemistry and their relation to food is particularly important. Understanding how to safely handle and dispose of chemicals is essential.
4. Knowledge of food production
An awareness of existing and emerging trends within food production will stand you in good stead as a food scientist – both of which we cover in the Food Processing unit of our Food Science masters. Students also learn the key principles of food processing and preservation, as well as concepts in food engineering.
5. Attention to detail
As you’d expect, a career in food science requires meticulous attention to detail – when both conducting research and upholding stringent health and safety protocols around food.
What is a typical food scientist salary?
According to GOV.UK’s National Careers Service, the average starting salary for a food scientist is £20,000, rising to £45,000 for those with greater experience.
It’s worth noting that this figure can vary significantly depending on the area of food science you specialise in, the type of organisation you work for, and where you live. Those with additional qualifications including masters degrees or PhDs may be able to attain higher earning roles.
How to become a food scientist in 3 steps
1. Complete an undergraduate degree or apprenticeship
Most paths to a career in food science start with attaining an undergraduate degree (or bachelor’s degree) in an appropriate subject; for example, food science/technology, microbiology, chemical engineering or nutrition.
At Manchester Met, we will accept graduates with a non-relevant degree onto our online masters programme if they have significant relevant professional experience instead.
Alternatively, you may be able to secure an apprenticeship which could allow you to work part-time in an entry-level role while studying. Find out about food science apprenticeships here.
2. Get work experience
As with most professions, one of the most valuable ways to kickstart your career in food science is to gain industry experience so you can apply your learnings from academia in a real work environment. Of course, an apprenticeship offers one way to acquire this experience, and your undergraduate degree programme may also offer industrial placements as part of the course. If not, your university’s careers service or alumni network may be able to help you find relevant opportunities.
3. Undertake a postgraduate degree
A masters degree (known also as a graduate degree) offers a way to sharpen your skills and deepen your knowledge in various areas of food science. For this reason, those with postgraduate degrees, including masters and doctoral degrees after that, are often more eligible for promotion into leadership positions.
How do I grow a career in food science?
If you’ve been working in the industry for some time, or you’ve just graduated in a related subject and want to advance your career, our online masters in Food Science and Innovation might be right for you.
Designed by leading specialists, the course aims to build practical, contemporary food science skills required by employers. And with a dedicated unit on Future Food Sustainability, students are given the chance to fully understand the challenges facing the industry today and develop the tools to innovate and overcome them.
As a 100% online course, you get the chance to:
- Connect with and learn from food science professionals around the world
- Use the virtual laboratory Labster to test your research skills from the comfort of home
- Study flexibly when it suits you with recorded lectures and 24/7 access to learning resources
Ready to lead the future of food? Find out more about our online MSc Food Science and Innovation course today.