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How to become vegan food technologist.

The food industry has so many aspects, from food trucks to food engineering. If you think you might be more interested in the science rather than the art of the food world, then food technology may be a career option you'd like to explore.

Here are your first cyber-stops for background information on this field:

* Institute of Food Technologists: www.ift.org

* Research Chefs Association: www.rca.org

You may want to review the "Vegan Chef" article I wrote for Issue Three 2014 of the Vegetarian Journal, as research chefs are a combination of chef and food technologist.

From your research, you'll see there are food technologists (also called food scientists) who work in research and development with new products, testing, and quality control, to name a few. There are food technology specialties who work in food packaging, food engineering (work with the machinery that produces food), flavors and fragrances, frozen food chemistry ... the list goes on and on.

On your path to food technology, you probably will not specifically pinpoint "vegan food technologist"--that will come after your initial education. After you have completed your education and perhaps a few internships, you can then begin to focus on a specific aspect of food technology. For example, some food technologists may dedicate their entire career to soy foods or to cereal chemistry. Once you have acquired your qualifications, you'll then be able to decide which companies or specialties would work best for you in your vegan food career.

There are many roads to a food technology career. Food techs may have majored in foods and nutrition, biology, organic chemistry, food microbiology, food science or food technology, among other majors. It is possible to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in food science. In addition to general science courses, food science courses will help you understand how to apply science to food safety, preservation, processing, packaging, and use of ingredients.

Although professional licensure is not required by law, (such as what you need to be a registered nurse or a certified teacher), the Institute of Food Technologists and the Research Chefs' Association offer professional certification, as do other professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Cereal Chemists. Certification generally requires a mixture of education and experience, so you'll work as a food technologist prior to obtaining a certification.

There is a wide variety of employment settings for food technologists. Corporate food companies cover the spectrum from fast food chain to elegant frozen entree development. Many national restaurant chains, such as Olive Garden or Cheesecake Factory, have corporate food technologists, usually working within the research and development area, and may be developing new menu items, recommending ingredients and products for menus, and assisting in corporate training.

Corporate food technologists may work with chefs and food service directors to develop and implement "healthy" menu items and recommend ingredients and products. They are available for consumer questions and participate in writing corporate policy and procedure, as well as media releases.

Food technologists develop, test, and oversee the production of fresh and processed products. For example, Chef Wolfgang Puck worked with a team of food technologists to translate his famous pizzas from a fresh product to a frozen product that stands up to the rigors of shipping and reconstituting by the consumer.

Food technologists develop fresh and processed products for restaurants to ensure consistency of taste and quality. For example, a national pizza chain may be known for its great pizza sauce. The sauce was developed in small quantities by a research and development chef and then translated into a mass-produced product by a food technologist. Labeling information, including nutritional analysis, might be developed by a research and development food technologist.

Here is a rundown on some of the many factors you'll want to consider for a food technology career:

LOCATION: You'll need to be located in an area where food is produced. This could be a large farm area where, for example, food companies decide to produce canned tomato products very close to where the tomatoes are grown, or an urban area near food labs, test kitchens, or urban food manufacturing plants.

HOURS: Depending on the corporate culture, food technology can be more 9-to-5 hours than other aspects of the food industry, depending on deadlines, manufacturing parameters, etc.

EDUCATION: You'll definitely want to be interested in food, math, science, and computers! Food technology is more science than art and more test tubes' than 'soup pots.' There is certainly room for creativity and passion in food technology, but you'll need to be able to translate that wonderful pot of sauce into formulas, packaging applications, and quality control considerations.

TIME CONSIDERATIONS FOR TRAINING: If you have the time, you'll get a B.S., M.S., and PhD in food science. Some food technologists enjoy the university and research setting. Earning several food science degrees is a useful networking technique for getting situated in the education or research aspect of food science.

If you don't have the time, you can find a university in your area that has a food science department. They often have extension services for small businesses. Services can include short technology courses and assistance from extension agents. Taking short courses and seminars may help you decide what your emphasis might be once you have completed your basic biology, chemistry, food science, computer, and business courses. Rutgers University, University of California Davis, University of Michigan, University of Florida, and Iowa State University are just a few of the schools offering such services.

Here are links to several university food science programs:

* Rutgers University--http://foodsci.rutgers.edu/

* University of California Davis--http://foodscience. ucdavis.edu/

* Cornell University--http://foodscience.cornell.edu/

* Iowa State University-http://www.fshn.hs.iastate.edu/

* Michigan State--http://www.fshn.msu.edu/

* University of British Columbia--http://www.landfood. ubc.ca/graduate/programs/food-science-msc

* University of Manitoba--http://umanitoba.ca/afs/ food_science/

Here is a snapshot of a "newly minted" food technologist:

Benjamin Ross is a junior food technologist for an East Coast company that develops natural flavors and additives for beverages, health bars, and cold cereals. His company has ridden the crest of the functional foods trend. In the past two years, the company has done a lot of research on applications for soy and botanicals (ginseng, gingko, St. John's wort, etc.) in foods.

Benjamin earned his undergraduate degree from Rutgers University in organic chemistry. Before going on to earn his Masters degree, he wanted to work in the industry to get some real-life experience. He had been hoping to get into organic food research and development, but the job market in that area was not open when he started his job search.

His first job after college was as a laboratory technician for a flavor and fragrance company in New York City. Working in New York City was exciting, but he found the work uninspiring after a while. As a lab tech, he performed basic tests on a routine basis (such as pH, soluble solids and color measurements), maintained the lab equipment, and spent some time on computers.

One of his friends was working for another company and suggested he apply for a position there. It required a basic understanding of nutrition, computers, and laboratory skills. Benjamin had taken an undergraduate nutrition class and one introductory food science class. Along with his chemistry background, he qualified for the job. His current responsibilities include developing ideas for new products, working up templates and protocols and budgets for lab experiments on the computer, experimenting with new flavors and additives to establish their properties, coordination of organoleptic evaluations (taste tests) for proposed products, and participating as a team member for new product development. His current project is a soy-enhanced carbonated fruit juice. Benjamin is enjoying his position and hopes to advance to senior food technologist.

HIS ADVICE: If you're interested in developing food products, be sure to take basic chemistry, nutrition, and food science, and supplement these with courses that offer experience with laboratory techniques, applied nutrition, and the industrial side of food science.

HOW TO GET THERE FROM HERE: An undergraduate degree in nutrition with a minor in food science, or vice versa, would start you on the road that Benjamin is on. Food technologists must have a firm understanding of the nutritional, chemical, and physical properties of food, along with an understanding of consumer trends and business management. You have to be comfortable with science and nutrition.

Food technologists can obtain advanced degrees, specializing in certain areas such as packaging, fresh products, or nutraceuticals (healthful ingredients naturally found in food). Food technologists can work in research and development and quality control labs, in test kitchens for food corporations, in restaurant and hotel corporate kitchens, and in private and public food and health labs.

A recent Southern California Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) newsletter listed the following openings for food technologists: quality assurance supervisor for a baking company, university faculty positions to teach food science and foods and nutrition, sensory lab technician, food scientist for a nutraceutical company, technical sales people, and research and development management. IFT Junior membership is available for students and regular membership for food professionals. Food technologists who distinguish themselves can receive professional member or fellow status, as well as different certification levels. The IFT publishes two monthly magazines, Food Technology and The Journal of Food Science. The IFT is very supportive of undergraduate and graduate students. Many larger cities or areas have their own branches of the IFT that offer networking, scholarship information, and research internships for students.

FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR SALARY:

One thing we can promise about the food industry is that there is very little conformity as to job descriptions or salaries. Salaries will depend on the type of operation, such as corporate hotel versus small independent versus part-time caterers, franchise operations versus free standing restaurants, etc. You may be able to get a feel for the local economy and pay rates by looking through some of the larger employment websites, such as Monster.com.

Aspects to consider, beyond salary, are benefits (health, sick days, vacations, tuition reimbursement, and chances to travel), opportunities to learn and advance, ethics and business philosophy, working conditions, neighborhood, willingness to work with your schedule, and job security.

There are many opportunities in a food technology career, including opportunities to travel extensively or to be situated in a community. You may want to stay with one ingredient for a lifetime or to work with a cornucopia of products on a short-term basis.

By Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE

Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE is The Vegetarian Resource Group's Foodservice advisor. She is a chef, registered dietitian, and has a degree in food technology.
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Author:Berkoff, Nancy
Publication:Vegetarian Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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