Career as a food scientist

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Carol Parry is a microbiologist working in a foods processing department. She joined the food business straight from school and has studied whilst working, obtaining a degree in the process.

What does your job as a food scientist involve?

I provide food safety advice on existing and new products and processes. This advice is used by our research department, business partners and operating companies. It is aimed at reducing any risk of contamination spoiling the food or upsetting our customers.

I am responsible for writing project proposals and coordinating the microbiology research programme for the frozen food business, to ensure that it functions properly and within budget. I also conduct hygiene audits in the frozen food factories to ensure safe production.

Why did you choose this type of work?

I loved science at school and knew that was the only area that I had a real passion for. I was lucky that a family friend worked there and put me in contact with their human resources department when there was a position available that would suit me.

Do you have a typical day?

Not really as every day is different. My tasks are dictated by the queries I have from the various processing departments within the business and the state of the research projects I am conducting.

I have two jobs, one that examines the safety of existing and new products and the other that involves running different research projects.

What equipment do you use?

Apart from the computer, my practical microbiology work requires the use of general laboratory equipment, various types of microscopes and a protective flow cabinet. This is a large box with sterile air flowing through to prevent contamination entering any work that I am doing.

What was your route into microbiology?

I worked for a number of years in the immunology department before joining the microbiology section. Then, I was appointed to support the microbiologist for a global beverage business which includes tea and other drink products.

What training do you receive?

I get regular training on practical skills associated with my day-to-day work. More senior colleagues provide advice and I shadowed a person for some time to gain experience. We get more specialised training from external training companies, for example, on thermal processing and food hygiene.

What hours do you work?

I work normal business hours but it can vary enormously, depending on whether I am away travelling to various business sites.

What are the advantages of your job?

I love the variation and challenges that it poses and the fact that I am always meeting new people. I like seeing how my work can make a difference to the frozen food business.

What skills and qualities are needed to become a food scientist?

Good people and communication skills plus the ability to be able to explain complex scientific information to non-scientific people, so they can apply the principles to their work.

Tact and diplomacy are also very important as microbiologists are often seen as people explaining why something canít be done. Scientists should be positive in finding solutions to problems wherever possible. Being good at problem solving is essential, as often in the factory you are faced with an issue that needs resolving quickly and efficiently in a calm manner.

Carol's route to a career as a food scientist

  • GCSEs.
  • ONC/HNC in Applied Biology.
  • Hons degree in Applied Biology specialising in Molecular biology and Biochemistry.
  • Currently studying for a PhD in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry.

Carol's tips

  • Be determined to follow through what you want to do.
  • Education is important but so too are other activities. I did a Duke of Edinburgh Award which developed my group working and leadership skills.

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Salary of a food scientist

  • A microbiologist working as a biomedical scientist in the NHS would start at around £12-£13,000 and earn up to £35,000. In the private sector salaries would generally be higher.

How to become a food scientist

  • Direct entry is with a degree or equivalent, and, sometimes, also a postgraduate qualification. Entry as a technician is with at least four GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3). There are no age limits. Microbiologists are normally given continuing on-the-job training.
  • Microbiologists work in a wide range of industries, including the pharmaceutical, agrochemical, food and drink, consumer goods, biotechnology and water. They also work in food research associations, hospitals, universities, public health laboratories, government research establishments and other public bodies.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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