If you have checked out any of my food science corner articles than you would know that I love food science.
My love of science and particularly food science started at a young age. I remember that my grandfather and I would discuss what we had read that week and he would quiz me on a “trivia question of the day.” I was known for taking books out of the library on food and making notes on them.
I also remember loving (and still do!) the show Good Eats hosted by Alton Brown, an American television personality and cook. Each episode explored the science and techniques behind cooking, the history of different foods and the advantages of distinctive cooking equipment. He is well known for being an authority on food science despite never actually being a food scientist!
Thinking about it now there are so many things that led me where I am today as a researcher. I love food science and I think it is simply the best science.
Though what is food science? Well according to Potter and Hotchkiss authors of the well-known “Food Science” text book food science is the application of basic science and engineering to study the fundamental physical, chemical and biochemical nature of foods and the principles of food processing.  Often used interchangeably is the term food technology which is use of the information generated by food science in the selection, preservation, processing, packaging and distribution as it affects the consumption of safe, nutritious and wholesome food. 
In other words, food science is the understanding of food while food technology is the application.
As seen in the definition itself food science is an interdisciplinary approach that uses biology, physics, chemistry and other disciplines to look at food as a material. When going to the grocery store you will see rows upon rows of food that have been created with science behind it. Take for example sour cream, it isn’t just something someone whipped up in their garage. Instead, a lot science was involved in developing this product which likely included developing the flavour, choosing the right microbes (to sour the cream), engineering a factory that could place it into tubs and studying the shelf life of the product. There are so many other avenues on how science is used to develop food products.
When it comes to the term food scientist there is no defined credentials of what a food scientist is as the educational backgrounds of these scientists are diverse. Some individuals graduate from university with food science degree programs while others have college degrees. Even within the spheres of these degrees is a range such as degrees in biology, chemistry, baker/patisserie apprentice and many more.
What I am trying to get at is that food scientists come from all walks of life. Personally, I am a self-proclaimed food scientist but I think it is fair title when I spend most of my days studying the physical processes behind food emulsions through my master degree program “Molecular Science.”
However, in North America there does exist a way for individuals to become “certified food scientists” and that is through the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFT). They offer a Certified Food Scientist (CFS) certification that acknowledges the applied skills of food scientists, provides differentiation in the marketplace, and ultimately, helps demonstrate the professions’ commitment to safe and nutritious food for consume. The certification includes a written exam that includes topics such as:
- Product Development (34%)
- Quality Assurance and Quality Control (17%)
- Food Chemistry and Food Analysis (10%)
- Regulatory (10%)
- Food Microbiology (9%)
- Food Safety (9%)
- Food Engineering (6%)
- Sensory Evaluation and Consumer Testing (5%)
There are some clauses in eligibility so find out more on their website. One day I aspire to become certified but this requires me to get more food industry experience as co-ops are not included in your work experience.
Regardless, there are many universities and colleges that offer food science as a degrees including the University of Guelph, Niagara College and so many more.
So what do you learn in a food science degree? Well according to the University of Guelph here are some the courses you will take in your four year degree:
- Introduction to Molecular and Cellular Biology
- General Chemistry I
- Elements of Calculus I
- Communication in Food Science
- Food Microbiology
- Fundamentals of Nutrition
- Statistics I
- Advanced Food Analysis
- Food Product Development I
So as you can see there is a lot to food science and it is a interdisciplinary program. There are so many different moving parts that come together because simply put food is a complex material. This can best be exemplified by breaking down the types of science you need to make something as seemingly simple as sour cream!
First, you need microbiology in order to the actually produce the sour cream. It is a cultured cream product in which pasteurized cream is fermented. Now you can’t use any microbes but need ones that are food safe and produce a good flavour. Not to mention microbiology applies to food safety as well. Having an understanding of how food borne illnesses work help to create safe foods.
The next food science you need to apply is food chemistry. One might look at this from the perspective of shelf life. Sour cream is an acidified dairy product which must remain at a certain pH. A food scientist must understand how pH correlates to flavour and how to maintain the chemical properties of sour cream over time. This might include adding chemical compounds or even preservatives.
Thirdly is food engineering, food production is all about the processing. How will it move around the factory. How do you to heat it up and cool it down. How will the product be transported throughout the manufacturing facility from one side to another. Foods scientists (sometimes called food engineers) will work with a production to figure how to manufacture product and get it to customer shelves.
Mathematics are a given considering you need to use specific measurements when figuring out recipes. However, statistics are just as important. Some food scientists specialize in statistics because they can use this information such as those obtained in a sensory panel to determine which products taste best based on consumer demand. Can you reproduce this sour cream 100s of times? Are your results consistent in that you can create the exact same sour cream 1000s of times?
There are a lot of other scientific disciplines that food science touches upon such as nutrition and even psychology but I won’t get into that.
One more reason why I love food science is that as a food scientist it allows you to address world problems. Even though arguably food is causing some of the problems. I believe that by studying and having a fundamental knowledge about food you produce allows you to properly tackle properly these problems.
It is an extremely exciting time to become a food scientist because there is a lot of research going on in the alternative food proteins space. It is still hard for me to believe that the future is now and we well on our way to creating lab grown meats. I already know how much time and science is needed for these meat alternatives.
Overall, food science is the best science. It can be used to address world problems, it is interdisciplinary and it sure is fun!
Author: Veronica Hislop is a Master’s thesis student in the Molecular Science program at Ryerson University. She is also a career partner with FoodGrads and has work experience in the food processing industry working both in R&D and QA.
Currently, she is performing research on water-in-oil emulsions stabilized by fat crystals. When she is not following her scientific endeavors you can find her enjoying Japanese anime, manga and video games.
- Potter, N. N and Hotchkiss (2003). Food science. Springer.
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