Relevant work experience is the key to a successful career in the increasingly competitive food technology industry
As a food technologist, it is your job to make sure food products are produced safely, legally and are of the quality claimed. You could be involved in developing the manufacturing processes and recipes of food and drink products and may work on existing and newly-discovered ingredients to invent new recipes and concepts.
Technologists modify foods to create products such as fat-free items and ready meals. You will often work closely with the product development teams to help deliver factory-ready recipes based on the development kitchen samples.
Some food technologists are involved in conducting experiments and producing sample products, as well as designing the processes and machinery for making products with a consistent flavour, colour and texture in large quantities. This must be done within a strict and ever-changing regulatory framework around the treatment of foodstuffs. For this reason, you are responsible for keeping up to date with relevant legislation.
The work may involve building relationships with suppliers and customers, as well as ensuring products are profitable.
The job can vary depending on the type of employer, the area of work, e.g. manufacturing, retail or public sector, and the area of specialism. However, tasks may include:
In food manufacturing, the work may also involve:
In retailing, additional tasks include:
In the public sector, the work can involve:
Higher salaries usually bring increased managerial responsibility.
You may be entitled to additional benefits, such as a performance-related bonus, private health plan, pension, company car (depending on the nature of the work) and ongoing professional development opportunities.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours in the retail and public sector are usually 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday, possibly with some extra hours. However, shift work is usual in the private sector (for example in factories) up until management level.
Shift work may sometimes be required when running production trials, where auditing hours are according to the site production times. You will need to be flexible but, where time is taken out of hours you will, in most cases, be given the time back.
Part-time work and flexible hours may be available.
You will benefit from having a food-related degree for entry into this area of work. The following subjects in particular are relevant:
Other relevant science subjects include physical, mathematical, life and medical science. In particular, subjects such as nutrition, microbiology and applied chemistry are helpful.
You can enter this profession with a relevant HND, although having a HND alone, without further study or experience, may restrict your career progression.
Entry without a degree or HND is sometimes possible but this will be at technician level. You may be able to move on to become a food technologist if you gain further qualifications and experience.
If you have an unrelated degree, postgraduate study in areas such as food quality management may significantly increase your chances of entry. Choosing a relevant dissertation in your final year will help to show your enthusiasm and commitment to the role. Search for postgraduate courses in food technology.
A list of universities that offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses in, or related to, food technology is available from the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) - UK Universities.
You will need to show:
Try to gain as much practical experience as possible.
Work experience in the food manufacturing industry is advantageous. Apply for summer work as a laboratory technician or on the production line in food companies and make sure you network and make contacts while on placement.
Volunteering for projects also provides valuable experience. Technical experience in retail or manufacturing is also valued.
Food technologists are employed by a range of companies and organisations within the food industry across both the public and private sectors.
Job roles and titles vary widely and there is considerable crossover between the sectors. Typical types of organisation and associated job roles in the main industry sectors include:
Look for job vacancies at:
Recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies. Other useful sources of contacts for speculative applications are directories such as The Grocer Directory of Manufacturers & Suppliers.
Competition is strong for posts with well-known companies and for graduates with non-relevant degrees. Major companies start recruitment in the autumn/spring term of your final year. It is also worthwhile making speculative applications to companies. If you are flexible about location, it will be of benefit when looking for jobs.
Some major employers have graduate training schemes. If you have a degree in a different science discipline such as microbiology or biotechnology you will usually get additional training from your employer. Smaller employers may not have formal training schemes but will carry out on-the-job training.
There are various short courses that can be taken throughout your career in areas such as food hygiene or meat safety, or in a specific subject that relates to your role such as advanced baking. Other relevant courses include subjects in science and technology or sales and marketing. Courses may be paid for by employers.
Some food technologists choose to undertake full or part-time postgraduate study in a related area. Courses are offered in areas such as:
The Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) has a continuing professional development (CPD) scheme, which helps food technologists to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. It gives advice on what can be included as CPD activities and how to plan and record them. For more details see IFST - CPD and Learning.
If you would like to move into food inspection (e.g. working in a local authority environmental health department), there are a number of courses that are accredited through the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH).
If you are interested in the food standards element of the work, you can find course information through the Trading Standards Institute (TSI).
In larger organisations, promotion is to more senior technologist posts with greater management responsibility for staff and resources, eventually leading to management posts with strategic responsibility for related areas. A typical career path might be:
Alternatively you could specialise in a particular area, such as quality or process management.
It is also possible for you to move to other business areas, such as technology, business development or sales, where specialist knowledge will be a real advantage.
While larger companies offer more opportunity for cross-functional moves, small and medium-sized companies generally offer greater responsibility earlier in your career and the chance to gain skills and experience across a range of business areas quickly.
To gain promotion or to increase salary level, you may find it necessary to move between employers. In some cases, this may require relocation.
The IFST provides a route for professional recognition as a Chartered Scientist (CSci) for appropriately qualified members. For full details see IFST - Chartered Scientist.