Food Technology Degrees: Associate's, Bachelor's & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a degree in food technology? Find out degree requirements, online options and info on courses and food technology programs.
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Studying Food Technology: At a Glance

Degree programs in food technology offer students a scientific understanding of the foods we eat and how they are made, packaged and sold. Graduates may find work in the food processing industry, test kitchens and food processing lines for private companies. Jobs can also be found in government testing laboratories for regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. With relevant work experience and perhaps additional education, you may be able to find jobs where you're responsible for developing new ingredients, food products and packaging.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), food scientists and technologists earned a median annual wage of about $58,000 in 2011. The BLS reported that employment for food scientists was expected to grow by 10% from 2010-2020, which is about as fast as the average of all occupations. Food technicians were projected to see only a 7% increase in jobs between 2010 and 2020, which was slower than the average of all occupations.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Students interested in getting a strong foundation in food science for entry-level positions Students who want to advance in the food technology industry and become scientists or get involved in food packaging and design
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Agricultural and food science technician ($34,000)*
- Agricultural inspector ($40,000)**
- Food scientist or technologist ($58,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 7-10 food services/technology courses
- Science and math courses
- About 18-25 food science courses
- Chemistry, biology and math courses
- Research project/seminar
Prerequisites - A high school diploma or GED with a strong background in math and science - A high school diploma or GED with a strong background in math and science
Online Availability No No

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), Salary.com figures (as of 2012).

Associate's in Food Technology

Graduates with an associate's degree in food technology may find work as food technicians, nutritional analysts or food inspectors. During your study of food technology, you'll explore the chemical and biological characteristics of food and how these properties influence food processing, packaging and distribution. Most associate's programs are strictly coursework-based, so your opportunities for hands-on learning may be limited. These programs offer a solid foundation in food science and technology for many entry-level jobs, but you may need a bachelor's degree if you wish to advance in this industry.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Only takes about two years to complete the program
  • A background in biological sciences is usually preferred by employers, which you can gain from an associate's program
  • Associate's programs cover a broad spectrum of food technology subjects, which can prepare you for many different types of work

Cons

  • Many of the jobs you're qualified for are in environments that are noisy and unpleasant*
  • You typically have very few elective options, so you won't be able to focus your studies on the particular area of food technology that you're hoping to work in
  • An associate's degree is not enough to qualify for higher paying food technology jobs, so you'll likely have to go back to school if you desire advancement opportunities

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Degree programs in food technology usually consist of a combination of science and food courses. Over the span of the 2-year program, you may end up taking about ten courses directly focused on food production, processing and regulations. Some of the courses commonly offered in an associate's program include:

  • Meat science
  • Food plant operations
  • Food chemistry
  • Food preparation and storage
  • Food and quality assurance
  • Sanitation and food safety

You typically won't have to worry about any other requirements other than satisfactorily completing your coursework.

Online Degree Options

Strictly online associate's programs in food technology do not exist at this time. However, some schools may offer a few of the required courses online. If you do come across any programs that claim to be solely online, make sure those programs are accredited by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Stand Out with this Degree

Food technology is one of the few science-related fields where you can get valuable job experience with just a high school diploma, so finding a job while you complete your degree program may give you an edge after graduation. If you're able to find an internship or job with a company you're interested in working for, you could have most of your training completed by the time you get your degree. You may also want to keep up with food safety regulations, which can come in handy for most careers in food technology.

Bachelor's in Food Technology

Just like the associate's program, you can begin this degree program right out of high school. You're typically qualified for more advanced positions with a bachelor's degree than if you just have an associate's degree. Through your selection of course electives or specialization options, you typically have more opportunities to focus your studies on the particular area of food technology that interests you. You're generally prepared to work for a number of different employers if you have a bachelor's degree in food technology, including government agencies, food production corporations and food research organizations. Some of the concentrations that may be offered include food systems management, food packaging and food communications.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You can usually select a specialization or pick electives that correspond with your career goals in food technology
  • You generally qualify for more positions and advancement opportunities than associate's degree holders
  • High-level math and science courses can make you more appealing to employers

Cons

  • You'd have to commit more time and money to complete a bachelor's program (typically four years at minimum)
  • You'll be competing with Ph.D. holders for many food scientist positions
  • Some of the fieldwork may require you to be in unpleasant environments (near animal odors and waste)

Courses and Requirements

Food scientists need a solid foundation in biology and chemistry so you should be prepared to take multiple courses in these subjects in addition to your food technology courses. These programs cover a wide range of food-related topics, but you'll usually be able to choose a concentration or some elective courses for a more tailored learning experience than what you'd get from an associate's program. You can expect to complete a research project or seminar towards the end of the program. Some schools also require you to get field experience as part of your curriculum, which may allow you to get out of the classroom and actually work on food processing or food packaging. Common courses include:

  • Food chemistry
  • Food processing
  • Food microbiology
  • Food safety
  • Food fermentation
  • Evaluation of food quality

Online Degree Options

There are currently no accredited schools that offer online bachelor's degree programs for food technology. However, similar to associate's programs, you may be able to take some of your courses in an online format. Make sure you find out if a school is accredited by a legitimate agency if you do happen to find one that offers an online major in food technology.

Stand Out with this Degree

Real-world work experience is a good way to stand out with this degree. Many schools offer internship opportunities as part of their degree programs, so most students should have some degree of experience by the time they graduate. Consider your internship as an opportunity to impress prospective employers and make sure you do your best work. If you notice any areas you need to work on during your internship, you can choose some electives to help you improve those areas.

Depending on what sort of career you choose after you graduate, you may want to look into obtaining a relevant certification. The BLS noted that you'll typically need to pass an exam and meet the education and experience requirements to become certified.

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