Food science is a very broad research field, incorporating studies on food composition, processing, safety, nutrition, cooking, and consumption. Scientists may work in a variety of different settings, depending on their specialties. The majority of food science research occurs in university laboratories and research and development institutions, where experts investigate the composition of foods and determine their nutritional values. Food science experts may also work as quality control specialists or health investigators with the government.
Much of food science is dedicated to understanding the chemistry and microbiology behind different foods. Scientists attempt to break down foods into their most basic component parts, compounds such as starches, fats, and carbohydrates. Chemists and microbiologists analyze the structure and chemical function of these compounds to determine their importance in food composition and the effects they may have on human digestion. Many experts experiment with probiotics and living cultures to better understand their significance in the creation of food products. Scientists often study the biology and chemistry behind dangerous foodborne pathogens, and experiment with different methods of removing harmful bacteria and viruses from food products.
Food preparation, processing, packaging, and storing are thoroughly researched by food scientists to ensure safety of and prolong its shelf life. Scientists might engage in research about new preservatives or packaging techniques to keep food from spoiling. They may also try to process or store food at different temperatures to determine the best way to maintain safety and quality. Dedicated food scientists have had many breakthroughs in processing and storing technology, such as pasteurization of dairy products and freeze-drying goods.
Engineers in food science design new and more efficient processing equipment. These professionals often focus on increasing the level of automation in machinery to ease the load on workers. Engineers design computer equipment to monitor processing and detect the presence of harmful bacteria. As automatic machinery becomes more popular in processing plants, food scientists typically spend more time interpreting data from computer programs and less time physically manipulating food in its manufacture.
Food science professionals may work for government agencies or parent companies within the food industry to perform routine health inspections and quality control at processing plants. Quality control personnel select samples of processed goods and perform various tests to make sure they are safe for distribution to the public. Scientists may test the chemical composition of finished products, set expiration dates, and perform taste tests. The safety and quality of groceries that consumers buy is dependent on the work performed by skilled food science experts at all levels of production.