Have you ever wandered down a supermarket aisle, wondering why there are ‘best by’ dates stamped on virtually every food product in the store and how those dates are established?
What about when you see a label – on a tin, bag or ready-to-eat product that proclaims it to have a new recipe? Do you wonder what was so wrong with the old recipe and why it is was changed?
Maybe you’ve read about the mad cow tragedy in the last part of last century.
At the time, it was common practice to feed young cows and dairy herds a mash containing meat and bone of other animals that had died.
Unfortunately, some of those animals that were fed to those calves were afflicted with a disease caused by a misfolded protein that turned their brains into pockmarked, sponge-like organs, leaving them unable to function.
And then, when humans consumed the animals that had eaten the meat-and-bone mash, they too got sick and died.
To date, more than 200 people have died of mad cow disease, a terrible affliction that started here, in the UK.
What do a terrifying disease, new food recipes and ‘sell by’ date recommendations have in common?
You might have already guessed: they all fall under the umbrella of food science.
Today, much of our food supply is processed and shipped to stores from a manufacturing plant; even our meats, vegetables and bread were processed before they hit any store’s shelves.
Naturally, the more a food is handled, the more risk there is for contamination. Some argue that is the best reason to eat only organic foods but that simple solution is not practical for our world’s growing population.
Besides, organic foods are processed too, albeit to a lesser degree than ordinary foods. So, how can we know our food supply is safe?
Generally, our first line of defence against contamination, improper production or outdated food is food scientists; specifically food technologists.
The food scientist is the unsung hero of the food industry; a shadow operator poised at every point along the food chain, from our nation’s farms to the factory production lines, making sure our food is both nutritious and safe to eat.
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What Is a Food Technologist
People who work as food technologists have certain traits in common besides a desire to see to public safety and an interest in science and food.
Food technologists are unusually attentive to detail; the nature of their work – spotting patterns and deficiencies, demands it.
Think about this: let’s say you work in the quality assurance department of a major food processing plant. You are monitoring food on a production line, maybe tinned beef, and you notice the colour is a bit off.
Naturally, you would stop production, take a few samples, head back to your lab and test them… all because the beef didn’t look quite right to you.
You may well have averted a public health crisis!
Besides being meticulous about noticing the smallest details, food technologists firmly believe that everyone who comes in contact with food, be it the farmer, the production line worker or the supermarket employee, should maintain sound hygiene.
If you worked in a food production plant, a part of your job would be overseeing the cleanliness of the plant and equipment. You would also ensure that anyone who comes in contact with food wears proper attire, including hairnets and gloves.
What would you do if you saw someone on the production line, sneezing and sniffling and blowing their nose while they were handling food?
Here, another characteristic of food technologists comes into play: leadership qualities. You would have to wield the authority to remove that person from the production line and maybe even send them home.
Naturally, not every food technologist works in food manufacturing. The need for food technologists in government, in laboratories and even in the corner shop is great and demand is growing.
You can read about the entire range of jobs that a food technologist may do in our full-length article on the subject.
How Can You Become a Food Technologist
We mentioned earlier that an interest in science is vital to succeeding as a food technologist but we didn’t way what kind of science.
The science of food is extensive, ranging from microbiology to organic chemistry. So, if you’ve set your sights on becoming a food technologist, rest assured your undergraduate program will include a lot of science.
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Why not get started studying science now?
If you’re still in secondary school, you could add chemistry to your GCSEs; if you’re getting ready for A-Levels, including one or more of the life sciences is a sure way to gain entrance to the university of your choice.
Leaving aside all of the studying you will have to do, the path to becoming a food technologist is fairly straightforward:
- Get your university education – several fine schools around the UK have food science degree programs
- Get some experience: the field of food science and technology is unique in that it requires entrants to the field to undergo an internship before being hired outright
- Join a professional organisation: membership in the Institute of Food Technologists will prove to be vital to your continuing development
- Network: establishing a network of colleagues that you might collaborate with is essential.
It sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Naturally, each step is more involved than a lone sentence could accurately describe; that is why there is a whole article devoted to the subject.
Where Can You Train to Become a Food Technologist?
Here, again we pose a trick question!
Do we mean where you can get an education in food science and nutrition or how you can gain experience in the field while you work toward your undergraduate and graduate degree?
As noted above, in spite of the time spent in school absorbing scientific knowledge, you have to have some sort of practical experience in the food industry before being hired as a food technologist.
Luckily, that experience doesn’t have to be gained under the watchful eye of a mentor in a biochemistry lab or even shadowing a food safety specialist as s/he makes their rounds.
Holding down a job in some food-related venture is enough to start; you may work in a restaurant as a food handler or kitchen porter. If you live in the countryside, you might consider putting in a few hours in at one of your neighbours’ farms.
Once you start your degree program at university, you may ask your advisor for help finding part-time work anywhere along the food system.
There are many ways you can train to be a food technologist; some of them might even surprise you!
What Subjects Are Covered in the Food Technology Curriculum?
As we mentioned before, the field of food science and technology is so vast, it takes more than one area of study to cover them all.
For instance, if you wanted to be a nutritionist, you wouldn’t need to study microbiology; on the other hand, if you are intent on being a food scientist, you should prepare yourself for a rigorous syllabus.
Whether you are interested in food engineering (you will study life sciences, physical sciences and engineering), food science with industrial training (to work in a food processing plant) or food technology with bioprocessing, you can count on studying these core subjects:
- food microbiology
- food processing and engineering
- microbiology and the living cell
- human physiology and nutrition
- composition and properties of foods
- food product development
- food safety and quality
- sensory evaluation of food
- development of food products
Besides these intriguing subjects, you will have a wealth of electives to choose from and you will most likely be expected to complete an original research project before you graduate.
While researching the topic of food technology, we found 10 great schools scattered all over the UK and Northern Ireland that have a food science program, each with a slightly different curriculum and a slightly different elective selection.
Whether you’re interested in food and nutrition or food packaging – the hot topic today because how food is packaged has a direct impact on the environment, there is a course list waiting for you at the school of your choice.
If you are still deciding whether you are more interested in human nutrition or food preservation so that you can select the right course for you, you might appreciate our expanded overview of the food technologist curriculum.
Naturally, once you make up your mind and establish yourself at your new school, your Superprof will be there to cheer you on and lend a helping hand if you need a tutor in food chemistry or for your biotechnology course.
Good luck! Let us know how you get on, won’t you?
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