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5 fascinating roles in Food Science and Technology

5 min read
AUTHOR: Ross Carver-Carter
Male bold chef dressed in black is concentrated on cooking modern molecular dish with pincers and liquid nitrogen. Kitchen background. Molecular cuisine. Food art

Requiring a strong grounding in chemistry and biology, food scientists study the chemical properties of food to improve the flavour, texture, shelf-life, and nutritional value of new products. They also hone processing methods to ensure food products are safe and legally compliant.

Without food scientists, we’d be at risk of global food insecurity, food-borne diseases and wide-spread adulteration in the food system. And yet despite its importance, the industry has been historically neglected, receiving little publicity or PR, until now…

National Food Science and Technology Week

Ever wondered how NASA preserves food for its astronauts? Or how military rations can last up to 3 years in the field? After munching away on a vegan “nugget”, have you ever pondered what makes them so convincingly chicken-like? Or how Oreos taste creamy and delicious, even though they contain no milk?

Food scientists have a hand in all four examples, utilising their training to create tasty, nutritious, and shelf-stable products for people on earth – and in space. In acknowledgement of their work, the Institute for Food Science and Technology has launched a landmark event celebrating the exciting work in this field.

The 5-12 June marks National Food Science and Technology Week, a new event for 2023 celebrating the work of food scientists across the globe. This years theme is careers, with professionals from across the industry sharing their pathway into food science.

In honour of the event, we’re taking a look at 5 fascinating roles within food technology, from developing meals for astronauts to engineering the next generation of alternative proteins. Let’s jump in:

1. NASA food scientist

Eating in space presents many unique challenges, including limited storage space, a lack of fresh produce and of course, zero gravity! With astronauts in orbit for around 6 months at a time, it’s also important that food is shelf-stable.

Food scientists are tasked with overcoming such challenges, playing a key role in the formulation and preservation of food for space-explorers.

Whilst the international space station is currently supplied by semi-regular rocket deliveries, this won’t be an option for missions further afield in the future.

At NASA’s Space Food Systems laboratory, food scientists are busy engineering new solutions for long-haul space missions to Mars and beyond. In these future missions, astronauts will require food packages with a shelf-life of at least 5 years.

NASA has even launched a public competition, the Deep Space Food Challenge, in a bid to identify innovative ways of feeding astronauts as they navigate the distant cosmos. Who knows, maybe you could be part of the team that fuels a real life Interstellar mission…

2. Military food technologist

An army marches on its stomach, and it’s food scientists who are tasked with developing nutritious, tasty, shelf-stable meals to keep soldiers well-provisioned.

These differ around the world, but the most famous today is the United States standard issue Meal Ready to Eat. These are heat-stabilised food pouches that can last up to 3 years in the field, all whilst weighing far less than canned foods.

Historically, the Meal Ready to Eat won few advocates in the army, with soldiers dubbing them “Meals Rejected by Everyone”. The United States omelette ration was particularly notorious among soldiers, earning the nickname “vomelet”. Thanks to the work of food scientists, however, tastier options are appearing on the menu.

Above them all stands the pepperoni pizza MRE, the result of 20 years of research by military food scientists. Alongside beef tacos and cheese spread, it’s quickly becoming a favourite among troops.

Follow the link below to explore expected salary, job responsibilities and the best courses for an aspiring food technologist.

3. Alt-protein scientist

Meat and dairy production accounts for around 14-15% of global carbon emissions, with livestock farming guzzling fresh water supplies and monopolising land. The end result is diminished biodiversity, polluted waterways and water shortages.

Alternative proteins are being heralded as an effective way to reduce global meat consumption, driving high demand for plant-based meat alternatives and the food scientists who create them.

A degree in food science can put you at the forefront of the alt-protein revolution, allowing you to play a key role in feeding a growing population sustainably. Listen to our podcast with the Alt-Protein Project to hear how food science students around the world can help accelerate the adoption of alt-protein research.

4. Food packaging technologist

Plastic packaging pollutes our soil and waterways, harming both aquatic and land-dwelling animal life. In turn, humans eat these animals thereby consuming micro–plastics themselves.

Seeking to stem the tide of plastic pollution, food technologists are working on a range of innovative packaging solutions to maximise shelf life whilst minimising environmental damage.

From edible orbs of water to bio-degradable seaweed-based containers, there is already exciting innovation in this field. Find out how you can get involved in food packaging technology by following the link below.

5. Molecular gastronomist

Molecular gastronomy is a branch of food science that focuses on the physical and chemical processes involved when cooking. A molecular gastronomist uses a deep knowledge of food chemistry to create flavourful dishes, often serving boundary-pushing meals that trick the senses.

Heston Blumenthal is the most famous practitioner of molecular gastronomy, something he has perfected at his restaurant The Fat Duck. Diners can enjoy “meat fruit”, the “perfect triple cooked chips” and “mock turtle soup”, magical creations engineered through a thorough grounding in the science of food.

Find your dream job with our Inspiring Careers guide and online resources!

Head over to our Careers page to explore a range of food and drink careers, be that in science, technology, hospitality, nutrition, media or agriculture. You can also learn about opportunities in the Food and Drink sector with our Inspiring Careers guide, a digital publication with insights and inspiration for those considering a job in the food industry.