You are here

Food Scientist

Food Scientist/Technologist

Food scientists and technologists play an increasingly important part in ensuring the quality and safety of our food. Although food scientists and food technologists have separate roles, their duties often overlap.

Food scientists investigate ways of keeping food fresh and attractive to the senses, and check the quality of both raw materials and food products.

Food technologists are concerned with converting raw foodstuffs into food products, usually in a large and busy manufacture environment. This could involve:

  • working in product development, creating recipes using new ingredients
  • devising healthier versions of popular foods such as low fat or low salt alternatives
  • working on developing new products and processes.

Food scientists and technologists usually work between 35 and 40 hours a week. Food scientists may work in laboratories, research units or quality control departments. Food technologists usually work in factories. Some jobs may involve travel in the UK and abroad.

Salaries may range from £20,000 to over £50,000 a year.

Food scientists and technologists should:

  • be good at biology and chemistry, with some ability in physics and maths
  • be logical, with good problem-solving skills
  • have high standards of cleanliness
  • be interested in food and the way it is produced.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 people work as food scientists and technologists. Employers are based all over the UK and include food manufacturers, retailers, supermarket chains, local and national government, universities and research and development organisations.

Most food scientists and technologists have a degree or an HND in a subject such as food sciences, food studies or food technology. Biology, microbiology, biochemistry, biotechnology and chemistry are also acceptable subjects. Some entrants have a postgraduate diploma or an MSc in food sciences. It is also possible to enter these careers as a laboratory assistant or technician and progress through further experience, training and qualifications.

It is important for food scientists and technologists to keep their knowledge and skills up to date through continuing professional development (CPD). The Institute of Food Science and Technology offers a CPD scheme to its members.

In larger organisations there may be opportunities for promotion to positions like team leader, project co-ordinator, manager and technical director. It is also possible to specialise or to move into related areas. People working for smaller organisations may have to change employers to gain promotion. There may be opportunities to work abroad.

What is the work like?

As we become more concerned about having a healthy diet, food scientists and technologists play an increasingly important part in ensuring the quality and safety of our food. Although food scientists and food technologists have separate roles, their duties often overlap.

Food scientists are involved in many areas of food production, including:

  • Research into food safety.
  • Using their knowledge of the way food behaves under certain conditions, such as freezing, to devise ways of keeping food fresh, safe to eat and attractive to the senses.
  • Minimising the risks of food contamination by ensuring that food safety systems, such as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), are in place.
  • Quality assurance of both raw materials and food products. For example, they may need to analyse ingredients as they enter a factory to make sure they have not come in contact with dangerous chemicals.

The work of food technologists usually involves converting raw foodstuffs into food products within a large and busy manufacture environment. This could include:

  • being employed within product development departments to create recipes using new ingredients
  • devising healthier versions of popular foods, such as low fat or low salt alternatives.

As well as product development, food technologists are involved in developing new processes which might include, for example, installing a new bakery plant which could involve designing mixing equipment and installing ovens, machinery and packaging.

Food scientists and food technologists use a range of scientific disciplines including, biology, chemistry, physics, biochemistry, microbiology, biotechnology, enzymology and nutrition as well as IT. The work may also involve chemical engineering, toxicology, statistics, production planning, supply chain management, marketing, consumer research and financial management.

Food scientists and technologists use specialist equipment ranging from computers and laboratory equipment to processing and production machinery. They work closely with colleagues in retailing, commercial sales, production and finance, as well as with suppliers and customers. They are often involved in production and process management and general management.

Hours and environment

Food scientists and technologists usually work between 35 and 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday.

Food scientists often work in laboratories or research units or in the quality control departments of food manufacturing and processing factories. Food technologists usually work in factories, ensuring that production processes and machinery run smoothly and efficiently. Working conditions vary from job to job, but the working environment must be very clean to avoid contamination of the food. Protective clothing is often worn.

Some jobs may involve travel. Visits may be made to warehouses, distribution centres, suppliers' factories and sometimes to suppliers who are based abroad.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Salaries may start at around £20,000 a year.
  • With more experience this could rise to £30,000.
  • Those in senior management positions could earn over £50,000.

Skills and personal qualities

Food scientists and technologists should:

  • be good at biology and chemistry
  • have some ability in physics and maths
  • be logical, with good problem-solving skills
  • have high standards of cleanliness and be able to follow strict hygiene and health and safety rules
  • pay attention to detail
  • have excellent communication skills to explain ideas to colleagues with varying levels of scientific and technical knowledge
  • be good at teamwork
  • be well organised and able to prioritise a range of different tasks.

Interests

It is important to be interested in:

  • food and the way it is produced
  • people's concerns about food
  • the sort of food people want to eat.

Getting in

Between 8,000 and 10,000 people work as food scientists and technologists. Over recent years there has been a decline in the number of people graduating from food science and food technology degree courses, and the industry is keen to encourage more people to consider these careers.

There are opportunities throughout the UK. Employers include food manufacturers, retailers, supermarket chains, local and national government, universities and research and development organisations.

Vacancies are advertised in local and national newspapers, on the websites of food manufacturers, retailers and recruitment consultancies, and in specialist magazines such as Food Manufacture.

Entry routes

Most food scientists and technologists have a degree or an HND. Relevant subjects include food sciences, food studies and food technology. Other science subjects are acceptable including biology, microbiology, biochemistry, biotechnology or chemistry.

Many degree courses require three A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C). HND courses usually require at least one A level and three GCSEs (A*-C). Subjects such as chemistry and biology may be needed and equivalent qualifications are often considered. Candidates are strongly advised to check exact requirements with individual institutions. Those without the usual qualifications may complete an Access course in order to meet the necessary entry requirements for a degree.

There are also foundation degrees in subjects like food management and food safety.

The Diploma in manufacturing and product design may help prepare students for a degree or career in this area of work.

Some food scientists and technologists have a postgraduate diploma or an MSc in food sciences. A postgraduate course normally requires a good first degree in a relevant subject.

Some begin their careers as laboratory assistants or technicians. Employers usually look for candidates with at least four GCSEs (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications, usually including English, maths, biology and chemistry (or a double award in science). With further experience, training and qualifications it may be possible to gain promotion to food scientist or technologist positions.

Training

Ongoing research into food and health and the introduction of new ideas, ingredients and technology mean that it is essential for food scientists and technologists to keep their knowledge and skills up to date.

Scientists and technologists with the appropriate qualifications or experience can become members of the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST). The Institute offers a continuing professional development (CPD) scheme for its members.

Getting on

Food scientists and technologists working in larger organisations may have opportunities for promotion to positions like team leader, project co-ordinator, manager and technical director.

There may be opportunities to specialise or to move into related areas such as buying raw materials, marketing, technical sales or production management.

People working for smaller organisations may have to change employers to improve their promotion prospects.

There may be opportunities to work abroad, particularly with larger organisations.

Further information

Careers in Food and Drink (CIFAD), William Reed Group, Broadfield Park, Crawley, West Sussex RH11 9RT. 01293 613400. Website: www.careersinfoodanddrink.co.uk

Food and Drink Federation, 6 Catherine Street, London WC2B 5JJ. 020 7836 2460. Website: www.fdf.org.uk

Improve Limited, Ground Floor, Providence House, 2 Innovation Close, Heslington, York YO10 5ZF. 0845 644 0448. Websites: www.improveltd.co.uk and http://www.improve-skills.co.uk

Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST), 5 Cambridge Court, 210 Shepherd's Bush Road, London W6 7NJ. 020 7603 6316. Website: www.ifst.org

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

Career and Course Articles: 

online magazines