What do Food Scientists Do? 10 Facts About This Bountiful Career


food scientist

Food scientists and technicians research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural processes and products.

Food scientists maintain and expand the nation’s food supply.

Many work in basic or applied research and development.

They conduct basic research to understand the biological and chemical processes that crops and livestock use to grow.

Job Affirmations for Food Scientists

  1. My work helps to make the food supply safe and plentiful.
  2. I embrace new ideas to solve old problems.
  3. As my curiosity grows, my success grows.
  4. I keep going despite setbacks and frustration.
  5. I communicate my research clearly.
  6. Patience and perseverance are key to problem-solving.
  7. My work puts food on the table.

1. Their Mission is to Improve Food

Food scientists perform tasks including the following.

  • They conduct research and experiments to improve the productivity and sustainability of field crops and farm animals
  • They create new food products.
  • They develop new and better ways to process, package, and deliver food.
  • Food scientists study the composition of soil as it relates to plant growth, and research ways to improve it
  • They communicate research findings to the scientific community, food producers, and the public

Applied research finds ways to improve the quality, quantity, and safety of agricultural products.

2. They Work Autonomously

Many agricultural and food scientists work with little supervision, forming their own hypotheses and developing their research methods.

In addition, they often lead teams of technicians or students who help in their research. Agricultural and food scientists who are employed in private industry may need to travel between different worksites.

Agricultural and food scientists in private industry commonly work for food production companies, farms, and processing plants. They may improve inspection standards or overall food quality.

3. You Can Find Them in the Lab or an Office

They spend their time in a laboratory, where they do tests and experiments, or in the field, where they take samples or assess overall conditions.

Other agricultural and food scientists work for pharmaceutical companies, where they use biotechnology processes to develop drugs or other medical products. Some look for ways to process agricultural products into fuels, such as ethanol produced from corn.

At universities, agricultural and food scientists do research and investigate new methods of improving animal or soil health, nutrition, and other facets of food quality.

They also write grants to organizations, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to get funding for their research.

In the federal government, agricultural and food scientists conduct research on animal safety and on methods of improving food and crop production. They spend most of their time conducting clinical trials or developing experiments on animal and plant subjects.

Agricultural and food scientists may eventually present their findings in peer-reviewed journals or other publications.

Agricultural and food scientists spend most of their time in laboratories and offices.

Food scientists and technologists held about 13,460 jobs as of May 2019.

The largest employers of food scientists were as follows:

Industry Employment Hourly Average Wage Annual Average Wage 
Other Food Manufacturing 1,990$37.62$78,240
Management of Companies and Enterprises 1,500$39.55$82,250
Dairy Product Manufacturing 1,280$32.88$68,400
Grain and Oilseed Milling 1,140$41.05$85,370
Scientific Research and Development Services 1,120$42.05$87,460
OES

4. Biosecurity and Uncomfortable Locations are Part of the Job

When visiting a food or animal production facility, agricultural and food scientists must follow biosecurity measures, wear suitable clothing, and tolerate the environment associated with food production processes.

This environment may include noise associated with large production machinery, cold temperatures associated with food production or storage, and close proximity to animal byproducts.

Certain positions may require travel, either domestic, international, or both. The amount of travel can vary widely.

Agricultural and food scientists typically work full time.

5. Become a Food Scientist With a Bachelor’s Degree from a Land-Grant College

Agricultural and food scientists need at least a bachelor’s degree.

Every state has at least one land-grant college that offers agricultural science degrees. Degrees in related sciences, such as biology, chemistry, and physics, or in a related engineering specialty may help you get a food scientist job.

Students preparing to be food scientists take courses such as food chemistry, food analysis, food microbiology, food engineering, and food-processing operations.

Students also are encouraged to take humanities courses, which can help them develop good communication skills, and computer courses, which can familiarize them with common programs and databases.

A bachelor’s degree in agricultural science is a useful background for farming, ranching, agricultural inspection, farm credit institutions, or companies that make or sell feed, fertilizer, seed, or farm equipment.

Combined with coursework in business, agricultural and food science could be a good background for managerial jobs in farm-related or ranch-related businesses. For more information, see the profile on farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers.

Many students with bachelors’ degrees in application-focused food sciences or agricultural sciences earn advanced degrees in applied topics such as toxicology or dietetics.

Students who major in a more basic field, such as biology or chemistry, may be better suited for getting their Ph.D. and doing research within the agricultural and food sciences.

Advanced research topics include genetics, animal reproduction, agronomy, and biotechnology, among others. Advanced coursework also emphasizes statistical analysis and experiment design, which are important as Ph.D. candidates begin their research.

Food Scientists keep out food supply safe

7. Food Scientist Resume Sample

Food scientist resume page 1
Food Scientist Resume Sample
Food Scientists resume example page 2
Food Scientist Resume pg 2

Skills You Need for the Job: Thinking and Speaking

Communication skills are critical for agricultural and food scientists. They must explain their studies: what they were trying to learn, the methods they used, what they found, and what they think the implications of their findings are.

Critical-thinking skills: Use your expertise to decide the best way to answer a research question.

Data-analysis skills are needed to collect data using a variety of methods, including quantitative surveys. Use of data analysis techniques to understand the data is also a must.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certifications are generally not required for agriculture and food scientists, but they can be useful in advancing one’s career.

Agricultural and food scientists can get certifications from organizations such as the American Society of Agronomy, the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists(ARPAS), the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), or the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), and others.

Qualification for certification is generally based on education, previous professional experience, and passing a comprehensive exam.

Scientists may need to take continuing education courses to keep their certification, and they must follow the organization’s code of ethics.

9. Salary and Job Outlook

The average annual wage for food scientists was $76,190 as of May 2019. The median annual wage for food scientists and technicians was $68,970.

Employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average.

Research into agricultural production methods and techniques continues to drive this growth. Challenges such as population growth, increased demand for water resources and changes in climate create demand for research in agricultural efficiency and sustainability.

10. More Resources

For more information about food and animal scientists, including certifications, visit:

American Society of Agronomy

American Society of Animal Science

American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists

Future Farmers of America

Institute of Food Technologists

Being a Food Scientist is a Good Job For

O*NET Interest Profiles

investigative job

A food scientist career is an investigative career with realistic and conventional as secondary interests. 

Investigative jobs work with ideas, and require an extensive amount of thinking. These occupations can involve searching for facts and figuring out problems mentally.

Realistic jobs include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. 

Conventional jobs follow set procedures and routines. These occupations can include working with data and details more than with ideas. Usually there is a clear line of authority to follow.

Food Scientist Personality Type

INFJ personality type

The INFJ personality type is a great fit for a food scientist career.

If you don’t know your personality type, this post describes the test at 16personalities.com. It’s based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. The test basically determines which one of 16 personality types you fall into.

The INFJ personality type is labeled as the “Advocate” or the “Idealist.” INFJ personalities are creative, gentle, and caring.

They can be reserved, but under that cool, confident veneer, they are tuned in to what others are feeling. 

You also want to understand why other people do what they do. You are conscientious and committed to your values.

You want to work for the common good and are good at making decisions that help you achieve that goal. A food scientist works to improve and protect our food supply. This can be very appealing to a more analytical INFJ.

Tracey Lamphere

Tracey Lamphere, M.S. IMC is the editor of Job Affirmations, a publication that provides information and ideas to use mindfulness, positive affirmations, and visualizations to transform your career.

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