When many people hear “food scientist”, they might think of a product developer creating tasty new recipes in a kitchen. But what do you do if you know you want to work in the food industry, but don’t see yourself in a development kitchen, academic research lab and don’t quite enjoy swabbing surfaces for microbiology? What if you’re the food scientist that always sets off the fire alarm when you cook?
Don’t worry! You’re not alone. There is a growing number of food scientists in quality assurance roles, and with the new regulations from the Food Safety Modernization Act, this field is rapidly expanding.
How You Know You Should Consider the QA Route
- You LOVE check-lists and bullet points.
Have you ever put “Eat Breakfast” on your To Do list just so you’d get the satisfaction of crossing something off right away? Do you find it easier to organize your thoughts by thinking in bullet points? Food scientists in quality assurance often think this way. In fact, this “checklist mentality” comes in handy when you are creating a procedure, testing a product for safety and quality compliance, or auditing an ingredient supplier’s manufacturing site.
- You LOVE traveling, even if it’s a trip to the middle of nowhere.
Some people would much rather travel than sit in a cubicle or measure dry powder all day long. Food scientists on the Quality Audit team are always on the go. One week, they’re visiting an ingredient supplier in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. The next week, they’re visiting a manufacturer in Chicago, Illinois. Traveling isn’t always a breeze, but the chance to see different cities, different cultures, and different manufacturing layouts makes the job intriguing.
- You think deviating from a recipe will result in disaster.
You see a recipe like a procedure, and you worry that deviating from that procedure will result in a sub-par product, potentially food waste. Some people just have that sixth sense in the kitchen, and the results are usually wonderful. But you’re not one of those people. If you would rather test the outcome of someone else’s recipe than be in charge of that recipe yourself, you’d fit right in with the food scientists on Quality Assurance/Quality Control teams.
- You get a thrill out of negotiations and debate.
Food scientists in Quality Assurance sometimes have to take an unpopular stance, and stick to it. If a product does not meet the specified standards, or the food safety test results aren’t done in time to get the product out the door, QA must be the strict one. Those who excel in QA take pride in doing what they know is right over what they know is popular. They are even good at explaining their position, ultimately convincing their opponents of the right course of actions.
- You like asking ‘why’ and love solving puzzles
Food scientists in quality love analyzing problems. Say a product is supposed to come out green and it comes out brown. What if a formula made in the test kitchen comes out soft and chewy, but comes out hard and brittle when scaled up to manufacturing size batches? Quality assurance scientists may not always know the answers, but they know how to find the answers. They are good at breaking a problem into pieces and knowing how to work with other people who might hold clues to the solution.
The world needs food science, but not all food scientists are destined for product development or research. Don’t be afraid to consider the alternative paths. As we forage ahead with new technology and adapt to the rules of the FSMA, we should consider how much the industry needs good food scientists in quality assurance.