Whichever level you are in your career, the worst thing that you can do is to stop pursuing further knowledge.
You may be a very skilled food science professional or consultant, but if all you do in your daily routine is send emails, watch machines and conveyor belts run, take samples for the lab, or mix ingredients and culture in the lab, you are doing yourself and the food profession a disservice.
I recently posted a question to my LinkedIn community on suggestions to some of the courses one would do to supplement a food science major.
The community has experienced professionals from the food industry and other industries as well.
Turns out there are so many other skills; both technical and non-technical that you can learn outside the food science and technology space.
From the responses I got, it was clear that the possibilities are limitless. You just need to find your path in the industry and see what works for you.
I will be sharing the insights from the professionals here and go further to give some details from research I did on the same discussion topic.
Since the global food industry is intertwined and interlinked, the opinions expressed here can apply to any food science professional in the world.
In summary, what many professionals agreed was the need to have numerous technical skills in the initial stages of a food scientist career and later on pursue leadership and management courses in the advanced stages of their careers.
What Does Food Science and Technology Entail?
Before we go deep into the professional jargon, it will be unfair if I don’t let outsiders know the basics of the food industry profession.
To bring outsiders to speed, I will give a brief analysis of the food science and technology profession.
Let’s see what one of the global leaders in the food industry says about the profession.
According to the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFT), food science and food technology are separate but interrelated terms applied in the food industry.
They define food science as the study of the physical, biological, and chemical components that constitute food.
Food technology on the other hand involves the applications of the concepts of food science to the whole food processing chain that incorporates production, preservation, packaging, distribution, and consumption of processed food.
So, food science and technology entails both the theoretical and practical scientific knowledge of transforming raw materials into edible food products.
What do you Study in a Food Science Major?
Before I joined college, I wanted to focus on a major that incorporated a little of the STEM aspects and more of critical thinking and research aspects.
This is how I ended up settling for Food Science as my first major course because I didn’t want to be in an environment where I would be cranking up imaginary numbers and deriving long formulae as a professional.
As much as Food Science is classified as a STEM major, many aspects in it involve biological and chemical experiments that are not very difficult to understand.
Food science students study aspects of food from production, processing, packaging, quality, and preservation.
These are done through subjects such as:
- Food microbiology: This focuses on microorganisms that make and destroy food e.g. the process of fermentation.
- Food chemistry: This focuses on chemical reactions that go on in food and the food environment e.g. the famous food browning or mallard reaction.
- Food engineering: Here, you get insights on how food processing equipment function.
- Food packaging and preservation: This ensures processed food is well kept to increase its shelf life. It involves many aspects of food safety.
- Food analysis: This has everything to do with quality control and quality assurance methods.
- Post-harvest handling: Involves handling of food to minimize wastage between harvesting and manufacturing.
- Food hygiene and sanitation: To ensure food safety and cleanliness in the industry and beyond.
- Technology of specific products: This include meat technology, grains technology, dairy technology, pasta technology, gum technology, confectionery technology, sugar technology, brewing technology, fats and oils technology, and fermentation technology
There are many other subjects offered in different colleges but almost every food science graduate is familiar with the ones mentioned above.
So, Where do Food Science and Technology Professionals Work?
Contrary to what many outsiders believe, food scientists are not cooks or chefs.
You won’t find many food scientists cooking or serving customers in hotels and restaurants. That is the preserve of caterers, waiters and waitresses.
You might probably find a food scientist at the restaurant’s ‘back office’ handling food safety issues or lab-related issues.
Food scientists are also not the same as food nutritionists.
While food scientists oversee the production of food from the farm to the final product, nutritionists take over from there to let us know what the food will do to our bodies.
As different as they are, all these food professionals work together to ensure production of adequate and safe food for consumers.
Most food science and technology professions practice in food processing and manufacturing industry.
These industries are mostly set up in plant or factory settings that have very little to do with cooking.
In these industries, food science and technology professionals help to turn raw materials that include food crops, minerals, water, and cultured microorganisms into another raw material for a third-party manufacturer of a final product for consumers.
You can see how these tasks provide a wide range of opportunities to food scientists.
In essence, food scientists can take three main career routes.
- Food production where you oversee the daily running of machines and other production factors. Here, you focus on efficiency, quantity, packaging, and some aspects of quality control.
- Quality Assurance where you spend time in the lab culturing microorganisms, doing chemical, physical, and sensory analysis to ensure raw materials, in-process food, and the final products are within acceptable specs.
- Research and Development where you do experiments to come up with new products or improve existing products. R&D specialists are often the drivers of food systems in a company.
An all-round food scientist can fit in any of these roles. If you are ambitious and want to see outside the cocoon of food science, you may need more than just that degree in food science.
Not my words, but words from industry professionals.
What Industry Professionals Suggest as Good Courses to Add to a Food Science Major
As mentioned earlier, I asked professionals on LinkedIn their opinion on courses that could be added to a food scientist’s knowledge portfolio.
Below is an excerpt of the exact question I asked on the platform.
I asked this because I am still pursuing more knowledge as an established food scientist and also wanted others to learn from peers from across the industry.
Other than my food science major, I have also successfully completed a degree course in Project Planning and Management.
I have also done several other short courses related to food science and management. You can view more on my LinkedIn profile here.
So what did other professionals have to say?
1.Food Safety and Management Systems Certification and Lean Six Sigma
This response came from a well-established professional in the food industry with several years of hands-on experience in operational excellence.
She believes that this certification is vital to implementing food safety systems and carrying out audits which is a common practice in the food industry.
She also recommends taking up a Lean Six Sigma certification as a way to broaden your food science scope.
For those with no idea what Lean Six Sigma is, it is basically a system that helps firms to improve their performance and reduce variations through tools that define, measure, analyze, improve, and control their processes.
This course is still very relevant within the food industry circles. I personally attended a training on it and I must say it was an eye opener especially in waste reduction.
This is a great suggestion and you should try whether you are a food science professional or in any other manufacturing profession.
ISO Management Systems
A very insightful recommendation here from someone with vast experience in quality assurance.
Without auditing our food systems, we will be doing nothing but groping in the dark.
In manufacturing, we say “if it cannot be measured, it cannot be improved.”
She recommends taking courses in ISO 22000 or FSSC 22000 (a food safety management system) and ISO 9001 (a quality management system).
I would also add HACCP certification to this list as a basic requirement that will make the ISOs easier and clearer.
After getting the ropes of these technical aspects of food, she goes ahead to recommend an MBA for those eying management posts in the industry.
Who doesn’t aspire to be a captain of the industry at some point in their career?
NEBOSH/ MSc Occupational Safety and Health (OSH)
This recommendation came from someone with years of experience in logistics and soft commodity exports.
To shed some light on this jargon, NEBOSH is an international occupational safety and Health certification body based in the United Kingdom.
The certificate is recognized worldwide and is held in high regard among the OSH circles, especially in the manufacturing and construction industries.
NEBOSH itself doesn’t deliver courses, but they have accredited institutions around the world that deliver the courses according to the syllabus and assessment methods they set.
An almost equivalent of NEBOSH is the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) which in contrast to NEBOSH, provides health and safety trainings to its members.
He also advocates for an OSHA certification.
OSHA operates within the United States and some neighboring countries. They train members within their geographical jurisdiction and in some areas outside their jurisdiction.
This is something that should be on your bucket list if you are a food scientist aiming to work in multinational companies.
Supply Chain Management
Another insightful suggestion here from someone in logistics and strongly supported by someone else in quality assurance.
As you can see in my comment, I actually contemplated pursuing that course while thinking about the same topic we are talking about here.
I ended up picking a degree in project management as an add-on to my food science technical skills and experience.
I have no regrets because it really opened my mind and made me understand things in the industry I wouldn’t get if I never stepped inside that project management class.
Supply chain management is actually a very good supplement to a food science and technology professional.
Analytical Chemistry or Engineering Diploma
This unsurprisingly came from a food science professional in the food production sector.
Remember what we said about food production career route up there? Yes; it has so much to do with machines.
That is why I find this suggestion very relevant to a food science professional seeking to expand their technical knowledge.
I think a diploma in Chemical Engineering will also be very useful here.
If you can crank the engineering formulae and numbers, go for it.
This was repeated severally in the comments.
I referred to this particular comment because the author broke it down perfectly with timelines.
As a food science professional, you should have a clear route you want to take.
This route is what people in HR call Career Objection.
If you have a clear career objection, just read that comment and thank that professional author later.
I had to squeeze this in here because this is what I did to supplement my food science knowledge.
As I worked in the food industry, I kept applying project management methodologies, especially in the routine tasks.
This significantly improved my performance and made my work easier and more efficient.
For instance, I tried breaking routine tasks into sprints and used the Gant chart to allocate labor and resources in my previous job as a production supervisor.
The results were incredible and it really helped me with production planning and record-keeping.
That is why I keep advocating for project management methodologies to be incorporated in manufacturing in some of my articles such as this one here.
Project management also helped me to better understand some industry jargon and practices in other departments such as HR, logistics, finance, marketing, and customer service.
This is because a course in project management touches on the basics of all these sectors.
I will end this by saying this list is not exhaustive. There are many other certifications out there that you can add in your professional folder.
You just need to define your path and go after them.