Today, we start our dissertation by admitting to a bit of hubris.
Universities across the UK offer food-related degrees and each of them proposes a slightly different curriculum.
Besides that, the field of food science technology is so vast that we could hardly begin to know where to start describing it, let alone advocating for one course of study over all of the others.
Finally, there is you: are you more interested in food technology or does food microbiology really get it for you? Do you have a soft spot for food chemistry, food preservation or do you just really want to know about human nutrition?
Obviously, we couldn’t possibly list the syllabus of every single university that offers a degree in food technology; this article would be far too long!
What we can do, though, is list the core subjects you will be expected to complete and also present electives you might choose to round out your studies.
So… maybe not hubris, after all. Your Superprof stands guilty of plotting an ambitious plan to help you choose which path to follow for your undergraduate program, that’s all!
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An Outline of Courses For Year One
As we’ve already mentioned, nutrition and food science is a vast area of study – and that’s before we get into discrete areas related to nutrition and food, such as food engineering and food chemistry.
And even those are a far cry from food processing operations and soil and plant studies, food packaging and food preservation.
Still, you have to start somewhere and, from what we’ve seen, virtually every school's undergraduate-level study program covers the same topics, at least in the first year of study:
- Biochemistry and metabolism
- Introduction to microbiology
- The living cell
- Introduction to food microbiology
- Molecular studies for Life Sciences
- Introduction to nutrition and human physiology
- Introduction to food processing and engineering
- Farm to Fork – studying processes in the food chain from agricultural production to human consumption.
Many of these courses are fairly intense and heavy on science; so much so that, to be accepted into such a study program, you must have at least an ABB result on your A-Levels and, hopefully, one or more of your exams will be a science subject.
This course list, reflecting the first year of study, apply to degrees in food science, food technology with bioprocessing, nutrition and food science, and nutrition with food consumer science.
Were you angling more towards a food science with business degree, your core course list would include classes in economics, introductory courses in management and marketing, along with other courses listed above.
To round out your studies, you would have a choice of electives for all of the food sciences degrees save perhaps for a degree in nutrition.
Again, the elective courses available to you depend on the degree plan you choose.
If you aim for a Food Science degree, you may get to select from:
- Introduction to Neuroscience
- Introduction to Marketing
- Introduction to Management
- Fundamental Concepts in Chemistry 1
- Economics 1
You might wonder what a class in perception entails and how it relates to food science.
The taste, smell and appearance of food is very important; usually, people will not eat something that does not appeal to them or runs contrary to their dietary norms.
Haggis, that iconic Scottish dish, is a fine example of how the perception of a food can deter people from eating it.
Labelling the ingredients ‘offal’ gives people a reason to turn away from the dish because, when we think of offal, it generally means 'that which is cast off'.
The science behind food perception is why so many people who visit Beijing post pictures of grilled scorpions and crickets sold a food vendor stalls with expressions ranging from wonder to disgust…
And most likely why food scientists would have a hard time convincing people in Britain to incorporate protein-packed insects in their diet as a substitute for meat.
Do you wonder, when you train to become a food technologist, whether such subjects would be covered?
Year Two Curriculum Choices
If you thought your first year at university was intense because of all the science subjects you studied, hold on to your hats because Year Two will really drill down to the smallest particles involved in food studies.
For instance, if you’ve set yourself on the food scientist degree path, you will study:
- microbiological hazards in food
- the microbiology of food preservation and spoilage
- biochemistry and enzymology
- the composition and properties of foods
- industrial training preparation
- food processing
- fundamentals of human nutrition
As you can surely see by the list of core courses, the Year Two food science trainee will discover a full spectrum of food-related topics from microorganisms that impact food to how food is processed, both in a manufacturing plant and in our bodies.
Just as in Year One, the food technology student’s mandatory courses and electives aren’t quite so ominous-sounding.
For example, rather than studying enzymology, you may instead choose process engineering principles, an eye-opening course that will better prepare you for working in a food processing plant.
Also, your optional courses are a bit more diverse; you may, for example, study sports and exercise nutrition or learn about food choice and regulation.
As we understand it, that last is about consumers choosing foods and regulating their food intake, not about government standards regarding food.
Year Three Study Programme
Would you be relieved to know that, by the time you enter your third year of study to become a food technologist, most of the difficult subjects will be behind you?
In your last year of study as an undergraduate, your work will become more cerebral and reflective, pondering such topics as:
- Quality assurance and food safety
- aspects of food chemistry
- research methods for nutritional and food sciences
- product development
- Diet and disease
- sensory evaluation of food
Of these, the last one seems most fascinating!
As you’ll remember, in Year One, you will study food perception – a captivating subject in itself. In your last year, you will delve deeper, exploring how our senses make snap decisions about the foods we eat.
When thinking about this topic, I can think of no better food to evaluate than ‘stinky tofu’, a dish found primarily in China and Taiwan.
It is so pungent you can smell it from blocks away and woe to you if someone happens to walk past with a bowl of it; its less-than-fragrant bouquet tends to linger long after the offending tofu is gone.
Even Andrew Zimmern, the culinary expert that travels the world sampling all manner of strange foods for his Bizarre Foods programme declared he couldn’t eat stinky tofu!
Again this year, you will have a bevvy of subjects to choose from that will round out your undergraduate studies; consumer attitudes towards food quality being especially pertinent just now.
Have you seen the news recently? In the US, there is currently an expanded recall on romaine lettuce from a particular region in California; it is thought to be contaminated with a strain of E-coli.
Thanks to modern food transportation systems, that lettuce has made its way across the country and has further been used in food processing plants to make ready-to-eat salads and sushi.
Meanwhile, here in the UK, our Foods Standards Agency has listed recalls on assorted products due to inaccurate labelling – omitting potential allergens from the ingredients list, and Darwin’s Dairy recalled its products because they discovered a breakdown in their pasteurising process.
If public health and safety are important to you, you may enjoy taking a course in customer’s attitudes toward food quality or a food and toxicology elective in your final year.
Your turn to talk: what is your understanding of a food technologist’s job?
Points to Consider When Choosing Classes
The schools we investigated all had comprehensive food technologist study programs but each one made it clear that, due to the impact on public health and safety, students who graduate from their schools are encouraged to seek an apprenticeship with a food concern rather than full-time employment.
Unlike many professions, a graduate with a food technologist degree will not be hired outright for a position of responsibility.
That being the case, you may consider spending an extra year as an undergraduate, in a work-study programme. Several universities around the UK offer such programmes but you have to enquire about them and sign up.
If a Bachelor’s degree is all you have time and energy for (and there is nothing wrong with that), such a work-study plan would present you with career opportunities you might not otherwise have available to you.
However, if you intend to move on to a graduate program, consider the fact that your undergraduate electives take on additional weight.
For instance, if you plan on specialising in Food Technology as a graduate student, selecting lifestyle and nutrition courses as your electives would probably not serve you well even though they would be quite interesting.
As a student of food science and technology, you will have a lot to consider, from which branch of the discipline you would most like to make your mark to which courses will satisfy your intellectual curiosity while bringing you closer to your dream job.
Hopefully, we helped inform you a bit about the choices you’re facing.
Now read all about food science technology…