You may not be aware of a food-related scandal that struck China in 2008, caused by unsuspecting parents purchasing powdered milk and infant formula cut with melamine.
More than 50,000 babies were hospitalised after drinking the contaminated milk and 16 died of kidney damage caused by the tainted product.
If ever a case underscores the need for food technologists, China’s milk scandal would be it, especially as the 2008 incident was not the first time an unscrupulous food maker with an eye toward profit put the public in danger.
Four years before, a different Chinese maker and distributor of infant milk powder had tampered with the formula, causing 12 babies to die of malnutrition.
Thanks to the work of food technologists, events such as those are few and far between.
Joining the ranks of those who will combat food fraud that puts the public’s health – nay, their very lives! at risk is commendable.
To get you started, your Superprof wants to help you find every opportunity to train in your metier by finding the best places for you to round out your undergraduate education in food science.
The All-Important Degree
Needless to say, wearing a lab coat with a pocket full of nitrile gloves is not enough to proclaim you as a food scientist; you have to have the requisite higher education credentials to even have a shot at landing a job in a food processing plant or in a lab.
Lucky for you – and for the public at large, several fine universities around the country have an undergraduate program that will qualify you to work in the food industry; we listed them in our article about becoming a food technologist.
What we didn’t expound on in that article was which degree program you should choose to position yourself optimally for the area of food technology that most interests you. Let’s do that now, shall we?
A food nutrition and health degree will qualify you to work more with the public, maybe as a dietitian or a nutritionist.
With such a degree, you may also work in a food processing plant as a quality assurance specialist, making sure that the food quality is not sacrificed to manufacturing efficiency.
A food safety and quality management degree covers the same areas as the food nutrition and health degree but adds management concepts to their curriculum.
Are you curious about what subjects are covered in the standard food technology curriculum?
Such a degree would be perfect if you had your sights set on working in a food production plant, overseeing a team of food technologists and maybe developing and testing new food products.
The degree that carries by far the most weight and would open the most doors is the food science/technology degree.
By choosing food science as your major, you are in effect granting yourself the keys to the entire food science and technology realm.
While still at the undergraduate level, you may take advantage of your school’s work-study program; many UK schools offering a food science technology degree make them a part of their curriculum.
Why stop there? You could slide right into their graduate program, specialising in developing sustainable food research or food analysis.
We’re letting our enthusiasm and excitement run away with us, of course. You may have neither time, means or inclination for any graduate programs. There is nothing wrong with that.
Just know that, unlike other career fields you can enter directly after you’ve finished school, food science is a vocation that you must gain some experience in before you would be considered for a position.
A Word on HNDs
If you are currently contemplating your options in nutrition and food with your Higher National Diploma in hand, you may rest assured that it will qualify you to enter the field of food science and nutrition… with a caveat.
Your area of study must be relevant to the discipline in question.
That means that, if your HND was awarded by The Confederation of Tourism and Hospitality, that is proof that you have received some education in food handling in the culinary industry.
However, if you have an HND awarded by, for example, the Business and Technology Education Council (BETC) and have done no further studies, you may find it difficult to land a quality position in food manufacturing based solely on that one credential.
To that end, your Superprof suggests taking a few elective courses relevant to the field of food technology: life sciences, physical sciences – especially chemistry, mathematics and even nutrition would boost your chances.
Your turn to chime in: what, exactly, is a food technologist?
Gaining Experience Through Apprenticeship
Who wouldn’t want to emulate Leonardo da Vinci?
The most diversely talented human in history, he who is widely considered to be humanity’s prime example of universal genius was apprenticed to the leading painter and sculptor of Florence.
But we needn’t resort to Renaissance Italy for examples of long experience with apprenticeships; our own tradition of learning a trade under the tutelage of a master dates back to around the 11th century.
It is a tradition that still carries on today and, if you were looking for a way to break into the food sciences industry, an apprenticeship would be a sure bet.
Especially when working with foods, a regimented programme that provides a guiding hand is essential – not just because of the potential for harm to the public but because of the skills required to do the job capably.
Those skills include:
- numeracy and problem-solving skills
- time management and organisational skills
- an awareness of the consumer market
- knowledge of the food industry
- knowledge of food product development
- understanding and conducting sensory evaluation activities
- an understanding of the food system as a whole
- working comfortably in a science laboratory
- cultivating attention to detail
- an interest in science as it applies to food and nutrition
As you can see, this list of skills is a blend of professional competences and personal characteristics that can only be cultivated over time, under the guidance of a seasoned veteran attuned to the science and industry of food.
The good news is that, contrary to other countries that do not have the longstanding tradition of apprenticeship that we have, there are loads of opportunities to find just such a position here, in the UK.
You only need to research the Institute for Apprenticeships website to find your internship opportunity.
Considering the far-reaching consequences human food systems have, don’t you think it is a good idea to spend a couple of years learning about the science of food and food ingredients?
Especially before your career choice places the weight of potentially affecting human health entirely on your shoulders?
While You’re Waiting…
Let’s say that your Superprof has overshot the mark.
You are neither at university trying to choose the electives that will best complement your science degree, nor are you looking for career opportunities just yet.
In fact, you may be preparing for your GCSEs… in which case, you don’t need to know about apprenticeships or which major to choose, and membership in the Institute of Food Technologists is definitely off the radar.
Still, you’re interested in food engineering and you want to know more about nutrition and food science.
If that is you, we strongly encourage you to cultivate an interest in the physical sciences with an eye toward microbiology studies.
Conversely, if you’d rather design the equipment used in food processing operations, you may lean more toward maths with an eye toward engineering studies.
The great thing about the food industry is that it is so very broad and it needs keen minds like yours that are attuned to global food trends: growing it, processing it and transporting it.
We daresay that the field is about to blow wide open. Consider, for a moment, the environmental challenges of growing enough food to feed an ever-increasing population.
Challenges such as those – the ethical ramifications of genetically modified organisms in our food systems and the human health implications of chemical treatments on livestock as well as in the fields…
Even if you don’t intend to study food microbiology, there is still plenty of room for you in the sub-field you are keen to enter.
In fact, you can declare your interest right now, by finding part-time work in a food concern.
If you live in a rural area, you may volunteer your services at a dairy farm or any other agricultural venture. If you live in an urban area, you may work in food service – anything from your favourite fish’n’chips shop to being kitchen staff in a high-end restaurant.
Career advisors all agree: if you are set on becoming a food technologist, any kind of experience in the food industry is a bonus.
That makes things very simple: no matter what level you are, try, as soon as possible, to gain access to the food industry. Cultivate your knowledge of human nutrition, food security and food service at every opportunity.
Choose your university degree plan and electives to complement the area of the food industry that most interests you… and then, the sky’s the limit for you!
Now take in our complete guide to becoming a food technologist…