Becoming a Food Scientist: Job Description & Salary Info

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A food scientist's mean annual salary is around $67,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a food scientist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Food Scientist

As a food scientist, you work to ensure food safety and nutritional content. Continue reading to learn about the pros and cons of becoming a food scientist to decide if it's a good career choice for you.

Pros of Becoming a Food Scientist
Above-average salary (about $67,000 as of May 2014)*
Develop new foods available to the public*
Job opportunities in many sectors (private labs, food companies, government agencies, etc.)*
Problem-solving involves creativity (designing new experiments, finding ways to answer scientific questions)**

Cons of Becoming a Food Scientist
Possible exposure to biohazards or unpleasant conditions at farms or processing plants*
Job growth predicted to be 11% in a small field, translating into total overall job growth of only about 2,100 jobs*
A minimum of a bachelor's degree is typically required*
In some workplaces, noise levels are a distraction***

Sources: *The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **ONet Online, ***I Have a Plan Iowa.

Career Info

Job Description and Duties

Food scientists often find ways to increase the quality and amount of food products from farms or food processing plants. As a food scientist, you might create new food products or develop processing and packaging techniques that are cost-effective and safe. You could perform clinical trials involving animals and crops and report your findings to the greater scientific community. Some food scientists make sure that food processing and shipping areas are safe and clean.

Food scientists may focus on either basic or applied research, and they often work at farms, processing plants, packaging plants, government agencies, pharmaceutical labs or food production companies. Your work might involve some travel, especially if you're employed by a regulatory agency. It's possible that you could be exposed to toxins, such as animal waste or chemicals, but you'll take safety precautions to avoid any contamination.

Job Growth and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), food scientists and technologists earned a mean annual salary of roughly $67,000 as of May 2014. They made the most in Minnesota, with annual mean wages of about $77,000. The number of employed food scientists and technologists was expected to increase by 11% from 2012-2022. During this time, job growth may be driven by heightened food safety requirements and new food products.

Career Skills and Requirements

Food scientists generally hold at least a bachelor's degree, though it's common amongst the larger field of agricultural and food scientists to obtain a graduate degree. Many schools offer degrees in agricultural science and related fields, like biology and chemistry. For food scientists, classes in food analysis, food processing and food microbiology are especially relevant. In general, all food scientists should possess the following:

  • Good communication skills in order to explain research to others
  • Decision-making ability when drawing conclusions from tests
  • Good critical thinking skills in order to answer scientific inquiries
  • Ability to make accurate observations of experiments and data

Job Postings from Real Employers

Many employers look for candidates with multiple years of experience, sometimes within the same industry or type of department as the posted position. A bachelor's degree is necessary as well. While the list below is by no means exhaustive, it's a sampling of the jobs that were available to food scientists in April 2012:

  • A New Jersey company producing healthy alternative food products was looking for a food scientist. Duties included conducting experiments to develop new food products and identify nutritional content. Applicants needed a bachelor's degree in food science and at least 5 years of experience working with fats and oils, buttery spreads or other dairy products.
  • A pizza company in Wisconsin advertised for a senior food scientist to work on research and development products. A bachelor's degree in food science or a related field was required, and candidates needed 5-7 years of experience working in a food manufacturing environment.
  • A large food production company in New Jersey was seeking a senior scientist to work in its snacks and confectionary department. The position involved monitoring product packaging to ensure accurate information. Duties included managing other staff members, and applicants needed experience with FDA regulations. A small amount of travel was required.
  • A Chicago food manufacturing lab was looking for a principal food scientist to design and perform experiments and identify areas of potential future research. A bachelor's degree and at least eight years of experience were required, though less experience was necessary when paired with a more advanced degree. Previous experience working with meats and proteins was a plus.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

To prepare for postsecondary studies, high school students should take available classes in biology, chemistry and physics. Since hands-on experience is a crucial part of the food science field, students should seek out work opportunities with farms, laboratories or other organizations related to food production and regulation.

Get Certified

Depending on the type of work you perform as a food scientist, you can earn professional certifications that demonstrate your competence in the field. For example, the Research Chefs Association offers the Certified Culinary Scientist designation to applicants who meet education and experience requirements. The American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists offers certifications in a few different disciplines, including animal nutrition and animal food science (which focuses on meat, dairy and eggs). Membership in an affiliated society and a master's degree or higher is required, in addition to the completion of an exam.

Other Fields to Consider

Environmental Scientist

Maybe you're more interested in issues that pertain to the environment instead of food. In that case, you might consider becoming an environmental scientist. You'll use your scientific background to analyze problems facing the environment and the population in general. Many specialties are available. While entry-level jobs may be found with a bachelor's degree, a graduate degree is often necessary for advancement in the field. The BLS predicted job growth to be as fast as average from 2010-2020 at 19% and notes that environmental scientists made a mean annual wage of about $69,000 per year as of May 2011.

Farmer or Rancher

If you'd rather work out in the field than be cooped up in a lab, consider becoming a farmer or rancher. You'll be in charge of an establishment that grows crops and livestock. While on-the-job training and a high school diploma are sometimes sufficient, many farmers and ranchers are now finding a bachelor's degree in agriculture to be an advantage. Farmers have many duties, which range from selecting seeds and fertilizers to maintaining the facilities, including fences, animal shelters and machinery. These professionals made a mean annual wage of about $70,000 per year in May 2011. However, the number of employed farmers is expected to shrink by 8% from 2010-2020.

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