A food chemist conducts research into the chemical properties of food. This work can improve the quality, safety, and reliability of food products for commercial and institutional uses. Food chemists work for private companies, government agencies, and research facilities with an interest in quality and safety. Some may choose to specialize in particular topics, like dairy products or starches, to become experts in these areas.
Food chemists test products to learn more about their chemical properties and for activities like accurate nutrition labeling. Their jobs include tasks like quality control to ensure all foods from a facility meet certain standards. This can also be important for public safety, as contamination of foods with chemicals, bacteria, and other unwanted additions can be a cause for concern. Members of the public exposed to contaminated foods could become sick. A food chemist can work to prevent contamination and identify its sources when it does appear.
Another aspect of this job in the chemistry field can involve determining how best to prepare, package, and stabilize foods for transport. Many products do not perform well under storage in their natural state. This can necessitate some chemical changes during manufacturing to deliver them to consumers in a fresh, tasty, and healthy condition. For example, a food chemist can work with dairy products to pasteurize and homogenize them to create uniform, reliable milk, yogurt, and similar products.
Chemists can also be concerned with the improvement of food. They research topics like color and flavor additives that can change the taste and appearance of products to make them more palatable. Their work can include the development of foods to meet specific nutritional needs. Nutrition bars, for example, may involve the input of a food chemist to determine how to add necessary nutrients and keep them stable until the consumer actually eats the bar. This typically requires cooperation with nutritionists, health care providers, and other parties with an interest in the subject.
Some food chemists work for government agencies, testing products prepared for sale and enforcing regulations. They can determine if unsafe ingredients are present, or if foods do not actually match their stated nutritional labels. This includes testing of animal as well as human food; for example, pets can experience dangerous nutritional deficiencies if commercial food labeled as suitable for general feeding lacks key nutrients. A food chemist can test the product to confirm that it contains all the nutrients needed for balanced pet nutrition.