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Overview Food Science Technology

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Food scientist? Food engineer? What do these people do anyway? A common misconception is that a food scientist understands all the nutritional aspects of food. However, food science is a much broader field of studies than nutrition. Food science and technology studies the ingredients that are put into food, how the food is processed, how long the food will last, as well as nutritional qualities.

One of the first tasks of those in the food science industry is to determine the ingredients of a food product and their purpose. You know those unpronouncable ingredients like polysorbate 60 and xanthan gum? Well, food scientists actually know where these come from and why they're in the food you're eating. (Polysorbate 60 is frequently in frostings and helps keep the oil in the frosting, while Xanthan gum is a thickener that is commonly in ice cream). Whenever a new food product is introduced to the marketplace, food scientists have formulated the product so that it will stay fresh at varying conditions and have the right texture, color, and flavor.

Another aspect of food technology is determining how a particular food is processed. At home in the kitchen, baking and cooking consists of using the stove, the oven, and possibly air drying. In a large scale food operation, these common methods do not work. Engineers must figure out how to make 20,000 pounds of cookies in an hour, rather than a few dozen. Equipment such as heat exchangers, extruders, 6000 pound mixers, spiral coolers, and huge conveyor belt systems, are used to make a large system that mirrors the normal kitchen process.

One last major task of food science is quality. When a consumer goes to the grocery store, they expect the Kraft Singles and Cinnamon Toast Crunch to taste the same regardless of the day. Food scientists develop quality monitoring tools to ensure that this consistency exists. They also determine the "shelf life", which is how long the product lasts after it has been produced. The "sell by" and "use by" dates are indicators of how long the product will definitely be safe and tasty. Food scientists use studies where food is kept at various temperatures for long periods of time. They test the food at specified time periods for mold, flavor, color, and other key characteristics.

Overall, food science and technology studies how to make your life easier at the grocery store. There are different flavors of food (think about all the different yogurt flavors), frozen foods (frozen pizza), food that lasts for an extremely long period of time (think canned food), as well as fresh foods. So next time you're at the grocery, think about all the research and science that goes into making those foods you count on.

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