Food Technologists

Have you ever walked through the aisles of a supermarket and wondered about who came up with the ideas for these products?

Who came up with the flavour for salt and vinegar chips? How were they able to make this loaf of bread last so long? How did they make this bread so fluffy?

The people who can answer all of these questions are food technologists! They are the professionals who develop the tasty foods on our grocery market shelves.

Food technologists make new food products

Food technologists develop new food products, production processes and, sometimes, food packaging. They are involved in every stage of a product’s development, from initial conception to commercialization. During this process, they consider:

  • How a product tastes
  • The product’s shelf life (how long it will last before going bad)
  • Safety regulation requirements
  • How well a product could potentially perform in the market (is it likely to sell)

Food scientists research current consumer market trends and the latest technologies to develop new product concepts.

A major portion of a food technologist’s job is creating prototypes. Once a technologist has a clear idea of what to make, they get to work on creating a prototype of what the product will look and taste like. Trial runs can be on a small scale (ex. one batch on a stove) or on a large scale (ex. running the product in a large plant trial). No matter the size, they safely set up and operate process equipment. If the trial is run on a large scale, this could involve many employees. Depending on the product, a product developer could perform over a hundred different trials!

With each trial, they perform testing such as pH and viscosity testing. Therefore, they must be proficient in standard operating procedures (SOPs) and test methods relevant to the job. Throughout their testing, they collect data, maintain records, and make basic routine calculations on the data acquired on their prototypes. Using this information, they make accurate and timely summaries of experiments performed, including data compilation, machine settings, process parameters, recipe contents, etc.

Food technologists work with every department

In order for a factory to work effectively, many different departments come together with the same goal in mind. Food technologists need the support of every department because once a product is green-lit for a company, every department must be involved.

Let’s give a few examples of how R&D works with every department. Firstly, R&D might be given a particular product to make based on a consumer trend that the marketing department discovered.

Throughout the trial process, the food technologist works with the quality department to ensure that the product follows all the quality requirements. Once a product’s quality is in check, a food technologist then works with costing/purchasing to make sure that their actual product is the right price.

We can’t forget about the production team when the technologist tries to schedule a plant trial to see how the workers deal with the new development. Keep in mind that this process is not linear, and technologists go back and forth with departments throughout the entire development process.

Food technologists have a broad range of educational backgrounds

Food technologists have a broad range of educational backgrounds which include nutrition, agriculture, food science, chemistry, engineering or culinary arts.

Although it is not a requirement, some employers require individuals to have a master’s degree in food science. A master’s degree provides students with the foundational knowledge needed to understand the underlying processes in food systems.

Generally, food technologists have work experience in another department prior to entering this position. It is not uncommon for food technologists to start in a quality control/assurance position, as this gives workers a better perspective of how food is created during production.

Food technologists are problem solvers

Food technologists always come across problems when they develop new products. Whether it is finding out their formulation doesn’t work or the taste isn’t right, they adapt and problem-solve. They use their creativity to come up with unique solutions to complex and simple problems. Food technologists research, research, research when trying to solve problems.

Food technologists listen to the demands of consumers

The key to creating a successful product is developing something that meets the customer’s needs. For example, a consumer demand could be a sustainable vegan frozen dinner which needs to be eaten on the go. It is up to the food technologist to create a product which satisfies this need. There will be times when everything looks good on paper, but doesn’t sell once it actually reaches the customer. That is why it is important to keep on top of current trends!

Food technologists follow regulations

Did you know that foods have to follow standards of identity? A standardized food is a food for which a standard of identity has been set in regulation.

For example, ice cream is required to have a minimum of 10% dairy milk fat (according to Canadian food regulations). Therefore, when food scientists create new products, they must adhere to regulations.

Food technologists have technical, practical and scientific knowledge

Product development combines the scientific disciplines of chemistry, engineering, microbiology and nutrition to improve the processing, preservation and packaging of food. Throughout their careers, technologists spend a lot of time researching and performing studies. If they can’t resolve a problem on their own, they contact outside sources like colleges or universities.

For example, a technologist might set up a study with three different types of wheat to observe their shelf life and how they act over time. They need to have the technical knowledge of how these ingredients work, the practical knowledge of working with them and the scientific knowledge to apply it to their product.

Food technologists are organized, persistent and creative

Being a food technologist requires a range of skills. However, there are a few which are more essential than others. These skills include:

  • Organization An essential skill that any product developer has is the ability to organize their time and project. Staying organized involves planning, keeping notes and keeping to a schedule.
  • Persistence – Sometimes, developing a product can take a long time and over time, enthusiasm can diminish. When a product developer believes in their idea, they keep going despite the constant setbacks. Sometimes a product can go through hundreds of iterations before it is successful.
  • Creativity – In order to stay relevant in a potential market, businesses need to stay one step ahead of the competition. Creativity is the skill that enables product developers to generate solutions to problems and ideas that haven’t been thought of before.

CareersNOW! Job Profiles created by Veronica Hislop and provided courtesy of