Food Science: the Major That Feeds Your Passion to Feed the World

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1. What is Food Science ?

Have you ever wondered how your favorite ice cream is made or why your partially eaten apple turns brown when left in your room even for a short period of time? If so, food science may be the major for you. According to the Institute of Food Technologist (IFT), food science is the study of the physical, biological, and chemical makeup of food; the causes of food deterioration; and the concepts underlying food processing. The technology that applies the principles of food science to the selection, preservation, processing, packaging, distribution, and use of safe food is termed Food Technology. These descriptions of food science seem complex but personally I see Food Science and Technology as simply the science and technology that enable us to feed more than 7 billion people on the planet.

Many people confuse food science with cooking. While the knowledge that one gains by learning food science is certainly useful in culinary applications, the food science major is not intended to train you to become a chef. Food science and technology is a broad field of study which can be further subdivided into three primary disciplines of study: Food Chemistry, Food Microbiology, and Food Engineering & Processing. Food Chemistry explores problems such as why our partially eaten apples turn brown due to a biochemical process when exposed to air. It is a study of chemical and biochemical aspects of food and food ingredients. Food Microbiology addresses questions such as why our loaf of bread gets moldy after storing it in our cabinet for weeks and whether it is still palatable and safe to eat. This discipline addresses both the beneficial and harmful roles of microbes such as bacteria, yeasts and molds in food safety, processing, and storage. Food Engineering applies engineering principles to the equipment used during food processing. Food processing is illustrated in the stages in which raw milk is transformed into indulgent ice cream that we’ve come to know and love. In addition to these three fundamental areas of study in food science, there are other more advanced areas such as sensory science and nutrition which are extensions and applications of these basic principles.

2. Where to study Food Science ?

One of the first things that you will notice when searching for universities in the U.S. that offer a food science major is that, compared to engineering and business majors, there are not that many universities offering the major. I am not exactly sure why this is the case but there is no need to be disheartened. Quite the opposite, you should be happy because you will have an easier time when deciding between which university you want to enroll in. Although food science is an applied science study with a broad range of disciplines but each university usually has a narrow focus on the type of food being studied. In the United States, each university that offers the food science major typically specializes in the research involving one or two types of food commodity. For example, if you are interested in the science and technology of dairy foods, University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Midwest and Cornell University in East Coast each has excellent professors that teach dairy science and conduct research on various kinds of dairy foods like cheese and yogurt. If grains and cereal science fascinates you, either Purdue University or University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign may be the university of choice for you. If you are fond of drinking wine and want to learn more about the science behind it, University of California-Davis may be the appropriate institution for you. Food science faculty and students in these universities are typically organized in a relatively small department and the advantage of this is that students are in a tight-knit community as they will inevitably get to know each other well through classes and term projects. As a reference, a typical food science class in the U.S. has no more than 40 students in it.

3. What to do with a Food Science degree ?

Career paths for food scientists are as diverse as the areas of study within the major itself. Food scientists are needed in various areas in the food industry. These include but are not limited to Food Product Development, Quality Assurance, Regulation, Food Marketing & Distribution, and Food Manufacturing & Quality Management. Employment can be found with companies that manufacture retail food products as well as companies supporting food manufacturers by supplying food ingredients, processing equipment, and packaging materials or providing services related to institutional feeding. Technical and administrative positions are also available in various government agencies and independent testing laboratories. Students with an interest in teaching and research may find rewarding scholarly careers in educational institutions. An academic career usually requires a PhD degree and research specialization in a particular area, such as food chemistry, microbiology, toxicology, engineering, or nutrition. In addition to these traditional career paths, entrepreneurial food science graduates may combine their expertise in food product development and food manufacturing to establish their own food manufacturing companies. Alternatively, those who are passionate about cooking can go on to culinary schools and marry their flairs for culinary excellence with a robust understanding of food safety in order to work as chefs or restauranteurs.

4. How do you know that Food Science is right for you?

You probably have heard of common catchphrases like “you are what you eat” and “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. If you are interested in delving deeper into some of the reasons why these phrases make sense, then food science may be right major for you. Food science and technology is about understanding the composition of food and, in a way, ‘reinventing’ it. Understanding the science behind food production and preparation can enable you to enhance the taste and nutritional content of foods while making sure they are safe to eat for a long time. Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, with more than 250 million people as of 2014. It is crucial that our country has an effective production-to-consumption food system in order to feed and nourish all of Indonesia. Some of you will plan to return to Indonesia after getting your degree aboard. In my opinion, a food science degree can provide you with the skills and knowledge you need to contribute to the food or even the agriculture industry in Indonesia which is growing rapidly in both size and diversity. The food production and distribution system in Indonesia is behind that of many developed countries like the U.S. Through my food science education, I have come to believe that there are plenty of opportunities for food science graduates to implement some of the more efficient elements of the food system aboard in Indonesia in order to improve the food system we have back home. Whether it is improving the quality and affordability of packaged foods or ensuring food safety at foodservice establishments, there are many avenues in which food science graduates can fulfill the need of our people for tasty, safe, nutritious and affordable food. I hope this article has successfully addressed some of the questions you may have about food science and hopefully encourage more of you to pursue this career path so that Indonesia can play a greater role in developing scientific and technological advancements that are capable of feeding the world’s growing population.

The image was taken from http://www.experiumscienceacademy.com/events/molecular-gastronomy/

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Davin Bong
Davin Bong calls Jakarta his hometown, was educated in Singapore and currently works as a R&D Food Technologist at San Francisco Bay Area in the U.S. He holds a Master degree in food science & technology from Cornell University and received his honorary Bachelor degree in the same major from University of Wisconsin-Madison. A lover of the outdoors, Davin enjoys running, golf and travelling in his spare time. Davin has an adventurous palate and enjoys trying out new cuisine. He is presently exploring his interests in culinary & website development and aspires to be a foodtrepreneur in the near future.