Most of us are unaware of the science behind the food we consume. While food science involves chemistry, biology, physics, biochemistry, microbiology, nutrition, and engineering, the major portion of a food science curriculum is chemistry.
Food chemists develop and improve foods and beverages and analyze methods of heat processing, canning, freezing, and packaging. They also study the effects of processing on the appearance, taste, aroma, freshness, and vitamin and mineral content of food. Some food chemists are involved in testing samples to ensure compliance with food safety standards, while others experiment with new foods, additives, and preservatives. Food chemists work with everything from raw agricultural materials to
consumer end-use products.
In basic research, food chemists study the properties of proteins, fats, starches, and carbohydrates, as well as microcomponents such as additives and flavorants, to determine how each works in a food system. In applications research, they often develop new ways to use ingredients or new ingredients altogether, such as fat or sugar replacements.
Typical career areas in food science:
- Agricultural Chemists: Help develop new chemicals to increase crop production and yield, defend against pests, and protect the environment.
- Animal Scientists: Conduct research concerning animal nutrition, work for more efficient means of food production by studying animal genetics, nutrition, reproduction, diseases, and growth.
- Flavour Chemists/Flavourists: Use knowledge of the chemistry of food ingredients, instrumental analysis, and creativity to create new and improved flavors.
- Food Chemists: Help with processing, packaging, preserving, storing, and distributing foods and drinks to make them safe, economical, and appealing for consumers. Flavor chemists use natural or artificial
ingredients, sometimes in combination, to develop flavors.
- Nutritional Chemists: Perform research on the physical and chemical properties of nutrients and how Mother Nature packages them in the foods that we enjoy every day.
- Molecular Gastronomist: A relatively new subdiscipline of food science, concerned with applying scientific principles to the practice of cooking.
- Soil and Plant Chemists: Examine the scientific composition of soil and its effects on plant growth and develop methods to conserve and manage it. Closely aligned with environmental science.
- A strong understanding of organic chemistry.
- Careful observation of samples, data, and changes over time is often required.
- Decision-making skills are also important, as well as the ability to look at the bigger picture and see how their data can, or should, impact the food supply, farms, or other agricultural or food products.
- Food chemists use critical thinking to determine the best way to get the data they need, and data analysis skills are used to interpret the results.
- Interpersonal skills are required to work with others, and communication skills are needed to share the methods, results, and implications of their findings. Food chemists must also be able to communication directions effectively to technicians and assistants.
Since food science touches so many aspects of our lives, there are many areas into which food chemists can effectively transition. Food chemists’ career paths are guided by the area they choose to work in, such as regulatory, processing, quality assurance, or research and development. They might choose to work in one area for a while and then later specialize in a different area or maybe even start their own food processing and scientific testing company. Food chemists who work for the government may move from laboratory positions to management level positions.
Original content at acs.org