What Is a Food Technologist? (With Skills, Duties, and Work Environment)

Updated March 31, 2023

Food technologists work in the fast-paced food and beverage industry to ensure consumers can enjoy safe and appetizing products. This can be a rewarding career for people who have an understanding of scientific principles and enjoy working in laboratory, manufacturing, or research environments. Learning more about food technologists and what their role entails can help you decide whether it's a career path that interests you.

In this article, we explain what a food technologist is, share some valuable skills they use, explore some academic requirements, list some of the role's primary duties, discuss career advancement opportunities, and describe the typical work environment.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

What is a food technologist?

A food technologist, or food science technologist, is essential to the food production industry by providing consumers with safe, nutritious, and appetizing food. They support scientists with the analysis, development, processing, quality assurance, packaging, and distribution of food products. Food science technologists typically work with other team members within a lab environment to ensure everyone follows safe food handling practices and complies with relevant regulations. They apply their in-depth knowledge of nutrition, engineering, chemistry, and microbiology to create food products that meet the needs of the consumer.

Food technologists have access to several career opportunities in different environments. This can be an appealing path for people who want to explore professional development opportunities or flexibility in making a future career change. Working on innovative food products and improving the quality of existing ones can be rewarding for people in this role.

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Valuable skills for the role

Food science technologists can benefit from several soft and hard skills to be successful in this role. Here are some notable abilities they apply often:

Knowledge of local and national regulations

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) creates and enforces regulations to ensure food and beverage products across the country meet high safety and quality standards. This includes the testing, production, packaging, and transport of various products so they can reach consumers in the same condition in which they left the production facility. Governmental regulations also include the accurate labelling of products so consumers can make informed choices regarding their health and nutrition. It's important for food science technologists to be familiar with these regulations, and to stay updated with developments or changes.

Related: 8 Food Safety Certifications (With Definition and Benefits)

Data analysis

Food science technologists use several types of data analysis and different techniques in this role to evaluate product quality, consistency, and safety. For example, they may use data analysis to predict a reasonable shelf-life or assess consumers' perception of a product.

They also apply statistical process control (SPC), which is a data analysis tool they can use to measure and detect trends and deviations from set standards. They can use this information to identify the cause of these variations, adjust production processes, and improve a product's consistency and quality. Courses, such as those provided by the National Sanitation Foundation's (NSF) international division, can help food science technologists learn more about important concepts to apply when conducting data analysis.

Read more: 12 Data Analysis Software Programs You Can Use at Work

Use of technical equipment

This role involves the use of several different types of technical and safety equipment that may differ depending on the work environment. Technologists who work in labs use equipment, such as microscopes, pH metres, moisture meters, and spectrometers, to analyze food and beverage samples. They use personal protective equipment (PPE) when working on a factory floor or in a laboratory, and wear items to prevent cross-contamination when handling food products. When working in a production plant environment, they may also learn to use, clean, and maintain packaging and labelling equipment.

Quality control

Understanding how to follow or create effective quality control processes can ensure the products technologists work with are consistent. This can be highly important when considering a product's safety, but also ensures consistent quality and can lead to customer satisfaction. Technologists who can demonstrate excellent quality control and attention to detail may specialize in this area of food science at a manufacturing plant or factory.

Related: Differences between Quality Control vs. Quality Assurance

Sensory evaluation

Conducting sensory evaluations is an effective means of predicting how consumers may react to a product before its launch. Food science technologists may work with focus group facilitators to conduct market research and gather feedback on a food or beverage product's taste, smell, visual appeal, or texture. Depending on this feedback, they may conduct more tests or modify the project to suit consumer expectations and preferences. This is a valuable skill, as it can ensure a product is likely to be well-received when it enters the market, increasing food production companies' revenue.

Education requirements

A college diploma is the minimum academic requirement to become a food science technologist. Several universities across the country also offer bachelor's degrees, also known as undergraduate degrees, which take three to four years to complete. College programs are typically more practical and include hands-on learning opportunities over two to three years, while university programs are more academic and focus primarily on theory and research.

As university degrees are more advanced qualifications, they may make you a more competitive candidate during your job search, but are not a requirement. Some program topics to consider include food safety, product development, microbiology, and biochemical engineering.

Related: 10 Careers in Food Science (With Salaries and Duties)

Primary duties and responsibilities

A food science technologist's primary focus is to develop and improve food and drink products that meet regulatory standards. Their role can vary significantly depending on their work environment and the type of food products with which they work. For example, in laboratory environments, they conduct sensory analyses to measure and interpret human perceptions and reactions to food products, including sight, smell, taste, and touch. In academic environments, their role may focus more on research rather than development or testing. Here are some of a food science technologist's primary duties and responsibilities:

  • creating new food products or improving existing ones

  • inspecting and ensuring product safety

  • conducting sensory evaluations

  • determining the level of fat, sugar, protein, and vitamins in a food source

  • assessing product quality and developing quality assurance checklists

  • evaluating the efficacy and safety of storage and processing operations

  • selecting raw materials from various suppliers

  • address customer complaints and investigate product quality concerns

  • surveying markets to determine popular food trends

  • developing specifications for individual production

  • researching the biological and chemical compounds of edible ingredients

  • monitoring hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) programs for food manufacturing and packing

  • assessing the freshness and suitability of raw ingredients

  • ensuring the nutritional value of food products

  • meeting consumer wants and needs for healthier or safer products

  • testing final products to ensure they meet industry and government standards

  • staying current with changing local and national governmental food safety requirements

  • modifying foods to create products that meet dietary needs, such as fat- or allergen-free foods

Career advancement opportunities

Food technologists often start their careers in entry-level roles to support food scientists and more experienced technologists. As they gain experience, they may advance to supervisory roles, train new hires, or manage quality assurance processes. Technologists with innovative and creative thinking skills might lead teams to suggest and develop new products. A food science technologist with a diploma may consider upgrading their education to a bachelor's degree to advance their career and become a food scientist. The courses covered during a diploma program typically count towards some university credits, making these programs shorter than completing an entire four-year bachelor's degree.

As career advancement within the role is sometimes limited to supervisory or management positions, seeking additional certifications to work in adjacent roles can be valuable. Gaining certifications or completing a diploma program in another field can help diversify skill sets, often leading to more career opportunities. For example, a food science technologist with a marketing qualification may work in market research to determine effective marketing and sales strategies for new food products. After gaining ample experience in the field, food science technologists can act as consultants for various food-related private or governmental organizations.

Related: How Much Does a Food Scientist Make? And How to Become One

Work environment

Food science technologists can work in a variety of settings, including research laboratories, colleges and universities, food processing plants and factories, or regulatory agencies. Depending on their role, they may work regular or rotating shifts or standard 40-hour workweeks from Monday to Friday. Technologists may wear personal protective equipment and safe food-handling attire, including hard hats, non-slip steel-toed boots, gloves, hair nets, goggles, and masks when handling food or working in a factory.

Some examples of work environments include manufacturing or packaging areas of large food processing plants or small laboratories with a team of a few scientists and technologists. Some may spend time in refrigerated rooms, such as when testing products that require cooler environments to stay fresh. Depending on your personal characteristics, you can find a role as a food science technologist that suits your work environment preferences.

Related: How to Write a Food Technologist Resume (With Example)

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