Food scientists study physical, microbiological, and chemical makeup of food; develop ways to process, preserve, package, and store it, according to the specifications and regulations of industry and government.
Supermarket shelves hold thousands of kinds of food: meat and fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, cheese, and eggs, soup and ice cream, bread and cereals.
Americans buy food in jars, cans, boxes, cartons, and plastic containers. Yet they seldom think of the vast food industry and the researchers who develop the means to deliver tasty, nutritious, convenient, and safe foods.
Food processing has a long history. For thousands of years people salted, dried, smoked, pickled, and chilled their foods. Canned and frozen foods are a fairly recent development. Dried and freeze-dried foods are now common. Researchers over the years have found new and better ways to process, package, and preserve foods from the time of the harvest to the time they go on the table.
The food processing industry is vital to the economy. Food scientists hold an important place in their field. Their efforts make more nutritious food available to the public, to developing countries, and to countries suffering from famine.
Food scientists use the laws of science and engineering to produce, process, evaluate, package, and distribute foods. The kind of work they do depends on the firm they work for and the products they work on. Food scientists may concentrate on basic research, product development, quality control, processing, packaging, labeling, technical sales, or market research. They may work in production or technical management. They check on food standards, laws, and safety. They look into sanitation, water supply, and waste management.
Food scientists in basic research study the sensory, chemical, physical, and microbiological properties of foods and their ingredients. They test samples for bacteria, yeasts, and molds that may make products unsafe or reduce their shelf life. They test the texture, color, flavor, and nutritive value of food products. These specialists create new foods and find new or better ways to process foods to improve the quality or to make them more economical.
Most large food processing companies have test kitchens. They staff them with home economists and sometimes professional chefs. Food scientists work closely with test kitchen staff. They try different formulas until they get the best product possible. In devising food production processes, food scientists also work with engineers, microbiologists, flavor experts, sensory evaluation experts, packaging specialists, statisticians, and marketing people. They also work with field buyers, production line people, and warehouse staff.
After they develop a product, food scientists set up methods to produce the food in wholesale quantities at a low cost and to set quality and safety standards.
Food scientists in quality control work with production departments. They sample and check raw products to see if they are fresh and conform to purchasing speeifications. They see that operators monitor each processing step to make sure the products meet government, eompany, and industry standards. They check warehouses and storage space for sanitation, temperature, and humidity.
Production lines turn out items such as packaged meat, baked goods, canned or frozen vegetables, candies, and spices. Food scientists check items and assess them against processing guidelines. They correct procedures to insure that the quality of the product meets standards established by consumer testing. They test foods for sugar, starch, protein, fat, vitamin, mineral, and water content.
Food scientists may work with one food group. They may study grains, dairy products, meat and poultry, fats and oils, or fish and seafoods. Others may work with prepared foods, beverages, or vegetable produces. Some food scientists conduct research into stabilizers, antioxidants, acidulants, flavors, and food additives.
Food scientists advise people in management on new equipment and new sources of supplies. They work with marketing people to test public aceptance of new products.