Learn how food scientists make food better

Whether you’re a foodie, an environmentalist or a champion of universal human rights, you can probably agree that the foods we eat should sustain and enhance the health of our shared communities. The field of food science helps make that a reality.

Food scientists use chemistry, microbiology, engineering and other sciences to study the principles underlying the processing and preservation of foods. In the workplace, their career possibilities are endless, from research and food production to running a  restaurant or food and beverage company.

Whether you love knowing what’s in everything you eat or you’re simply drawn to sciences like biology, chemistry and dietetics, a career in food science could be a great fit for your professional goals. Read on to learn more about what you can expect from this versatile and in-demand profession to see whether a food science degree is right for you.

What is food science? The “invisible” field that’s essential to food production

The food science programs at Mount Mary University (MMU) take the study of food to the molecular level, teaching students to assess how the production, packaging and preparation of food affects its structure and performance.

Although the food and beverage industry depends upon food scientists in the production of food, it’s an invisible industry for most consumers, as their work takes place not on a farm or in a restaurant, but in stages of the food chain that tend to go unrecognized. The work a food scientist does can take the form of research and product development, or quality and assurance, says MMU’s Cheryl Bailey, dean of the school of Natural & Health Sciences and Education.

Unfortunately, because many students are unfamiliar with food science, they miss out on the career opportunities within this growing and competitively compensated field. Students are excited when they learn that this is a solid career path for the future, explains Anne Vravick, assistant professor and director of the MMU graduate program in food science.

Careers in food science can range from food scientists, biochemists and food inspectors to quality assurance operators and engineers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs in the field to grow by nine percent by 2030, outpacing the national average for all occupations. The BLS also notes that agricultural and food scientist positions saw a median annual salary of $74,160 in 2021.

Mary Rachel Nowak, who came to MMU for her master’s degree in food science, did an internship with a company during her studies and was hired permanently as a lab manager upon graduating. The organization, Third Wave Bioactives, produces natural food products that help to make the flavor of the foods better – and increase the shelf life – all while utilizing cleaner, more natural ingredients.

She credits MMU – and specifically Assistant Professor Anne Vravick – for introducing her to the company and helping her launch her career.

What to expect from a food science degree

Food science program offerings will vary based on the institution, but MMU proudly offers both undergraduate and in food science. Those seeking a bachelor’s degree have the choice of three concentrations within the major:

  • The baking concentration prepares students for the unique challenges associated with baked goods in the food industry.
  • The business concentration equips students with important knowledge and skills related to business practices and communication.
  • The sustainability concentration explores sustainable practices in the food and beverage industry, preparing students to be part of the solution.

Undergraduates at MMU also have the ability to earn a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. All courses taken during the final year of their bachelor’s degree program can transfer into the first year of the graduate program, leaving the student with only one additional year of coursework needed to earn a master’s in food science.

Graduate students also have multiple different avenues for a full and comprehensive degree in food science, Nowak notes. MMU’s master’s degree in food science was designed for working professionals, offering online, hybrid and on-campus weekend classes. Graduate students have the opportunity to choose from concentrations in food processing chemistry, food safety and toxicology, or food science research.

Finally, students in the master’s program at MMU have the option of choosing a thesis-based independent research track or a non-thesis track with a concentration in business or education. Practicing food scientists who are returning to school for their master’s degrees can even conduct research for their thesis at the site of their current employer.

Position yourself for success in food science

Mount Mary University’s home state of Wisconsin is part of the food corridor — a unique center for innovation within the food and beverage industry. According to industry group FaB Wisconsin, the state has 1,059 food processing companies, placing it in the top five employers in the field of food science. In Milwaukee County alone, there are 86 food processing companies, including some recognizable names like Cargill, Kraft, Nestle and Campbell’s. MMU students have numerous opportunities to launch their careers in this thriving local community.

If you’re looking to learn from knowledgeable instructors who are proven experts in the food industry and you’re hoping to get a taste of what you can expect from a food science degree, visit Mount Mary University’s Food Science program page.