Food Scientist/Technologist

The Job and What's Involved

As people become more concerned about 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 including researching food safety. They use their knowledge of the way food behaves under certain conditions (for example freezing) to devise ways of keeping food fresh, safe to eat and attractive. They may be involved in quality assurance, checking the quality of both raw materials and food products. Their work could involve minimising the risks of food contamination by ensuring that food safety systems, such as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), are in place.

The work of food technologists usually involves converting raw foodstuffs into food products. They could be employed to create recipes using new ingredients or to devise healthier versions of popular foods, such as low fat or low salt alternatives. Some food technologists are involved in developing new products and processes. This could involve designing machinery and packaging.

Food science and food technology use a range of scientific disciplines including IT, biology, chemistry, physics, biochemistry, microbiology, genetics, biotechnology, enzymology and nutrition. 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.

Food scientists and technologists usually work between 35 and 40 hours a week. Many employers operate a shift system which may involve weekend working.

Food scientists often work in laboratories, 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 environment must be scrupulously clean to avoid contamination of the food. Protective clothing is often worn.

Some jobs may involve travelling to warehouses, distribution centres, suppliers' factories and sometimes to suppliers who are based abroad.

Salaries start at around £25,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

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 young 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 New Scientist and Food Manufacture.

Education and Training

Most food scientists and technologists have a degree or an HNC/HND. Relevant subjects include food sciences, food studies and food technology. Other science subjects are acceptable, including biology, microbiology, biochemistry, biotechnology or chemistry. There are also specialist courses in areas like baking or meat technology.

For a degree course, candidates usually need at least two A levels/three H grades, often including chemistry or biology, and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications. For an HNC/HND course, they usually need at least one A level/two H grades and three GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications. Candidates are advised to check exact requirements with individual institutions.

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

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 GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) 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.

It may be possible to enter this career through an Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

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.

The Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) offers a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme for its members.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

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.

Your Long Term Prospects

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.

Get Further Information

Civil Service Recruitment
Website: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/civil-service

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

Improve Limited, Ground Floor, Providence House,
2 Innovation Close, Heslington, York YO10 5ZF
Tel: 0845 644 0448
Website: www.improveltd.co.uk

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

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