The food industry is one of the biggest industries in South Africa. It is a provider of many business opportunities and employs in the order of 160, 000 people of whom about 15% have a post matric qualification. Local households spend some 20% of their income on food with about R150 billion per year being spent in total on food consumption in 2005. Unlike the many other occupations and professions active in this sector, food scientists and technologists are dedicated to the food and allied industries by virtue of their education and training and they enjoy a special place in it due to their unique scientific knowledge and understanding of food and its many exciting and complex components and properties. The food industry is thus the domain of the food scientist and technologist.
What exactly is food science and technology?
Food science and technology is the study of the various chemical and physical properties and components of food and how they respond to processing, preservation and storage. It is the application of this knowledge plus that from other disciplines such as chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology and engineering, that is needed in providing a wide variety of safe, appealing and affordable foods for sustenance and for pleasure.
Food scientists and technologists must be able to apply know-how to produce, process, package, preserve, store, distribute and prepare quality food – efficiently and consistently. Essentially, they take over at the point where the harvested produce enters the factory or processing plant and their contribution ends when the consumer expresses satisfaction with the final product and makes the decision to purchase the product again.
What Food Science and Technology is not
People unfamiliar with the food and allied industries may confuse food technologists with nutritionists, dieticians, domestic science graduates, health inspectors, cooks and chefs!
Nutrition or Dietetics – nutritionists and dieticians focus on the nutritional aspects of foods. They formulate balanced meals and advise and consult on healthy and specialised diets. Dieticians are employed mostly by hospitals, clinics and mass feeding institutions or are self employed consulting dieticians. Some are employed by the food industry where their expertise may be used to formulate foods to meet specific dietary requirements such as foods for sportsmen, babies, etc.
Domestic Science – or Human Ecology and Consumer Science as it is now known – the food related component of this course concentrates on food preparation in the home and for institutions but someone trained in this field could assist in the food industry, in formulating and testing consumer preparation and presentation guidelines for products.
Health Inspection – environmental health officers are responsible for, inter alia, factory hygiene, enforcement of food legislation, inspection and sampling, investigation of complaints/food poisoning, health certification of food premises, imports and exports and are employed by municipalities and local authorities.
Catering and Cooking – caterers and chefs are trained to prepare and present food to maximise its taste and appeal – this is more of a craft than a science. A chef’s expertise may be necessary in developing new and exotic dishes and products for manufacturing or in providing recipes and serving suggestions for products.
Typical food science and technology activities in the food industry
Depending on the size and type of factory or organisation that they are employed in, food scientists and technologists could be involved in one, some or most of the following activities. Some could be doing research, focusing on any one of the listed activities but doing so in the more academic environment of a research institute or university, rather than in, or close to, a processing plant.
- Develop new products and improve existing ones.
- Experiment with new ingredients, processes and packaging to optimise safety, consumer satisfaction, performance and quality and minimise costs and waste.
- Set requirements and specifications for raw materials needed in new and existing products and check for conformance by means of visual, analytical and sensory methods.
- Set specifications for products and processes and test for conformance.
- Conduct taste panels to optimise new product formulations, to monitor production line conformance and solve off-flavour problems.
- Continuously keep abreast of changes and amendments to legislation and regulations and be prepared to respond when drafts are published for comments.
- Ensure that all raw materials, products, processes, practises, premises and packaging, labels and advertising conform to the various legal requirements.
- Take regular samples of ingredients, products, the environment, etc., according to specified sampling techniques, in order to analyse products, raw materials and the effect of clean-up operations to ensure conformance to technical, nutrient, safety, microbiological and other quality standards and specifications.
- Set up and run an active hygiene committee to maximise and maintain standards, train staff and establish a culture of hygiene, cleanliness and safety.
- Solve problems relating to processing, packaging, spoilage, rancidity, infestation, general non-conformance, product failure, returns and complaints, etc.
- Implement quality, food safety and good manufacturing procedures.
- Conduct regular audits to maintain plant, process and product standards, including own products sourced from supermarket shelves.
- Prepare, cook, and sensorially evaluate products to ensure conformance and customer satisfaction.
- Follow up customer complaints with a view to solving problems and improving processes, procedures and products in order to maximise consumer acceptance.
- Monitor and control environmental impacts.
- Liaise with and educate the community with respect to technical aspects of food and its processing.
- Read, attend training courses, workshops, congresses, symposia and exhibitions offered by experts in the field in order to keep up to date with developments and trends locally and abroad.
- Join SAAFoST, the organisation for food science and technology professionals in South Africa, to keep abreast of technology, network and demonstrate an interest in and commitment to the promotion of food professionalism in the food industry.
In performing these actions, food scientists and technologists may well be working together with many other departments within the organisation such as procurement, production, engineering, storage and distribution, accounting, sales and marketing but also with entities outside the organisation such as suppliers, consultants, local or international partners or corporate offices, government departments, local authorities, environmental health officers, industry associations, retailers, universities, research organisations and others.
The food scientist and technologist’s scope of knowledge
The food industry is very diversified and the food processes employed in it are numerous. Food scientists and technologists must have a sound knowledge of the science basics common to the products and the processes. Most graduates will specialise in one, or possibly several, of the following major sectors of the industry in their careers and will become familiar with a number of processes which may be common to several industries and products or limited to just a few.
Major sectors of the food industry include: cereals and grains, meat, poultry and fish, fats and oils, dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, alcoholic beverages, sweets and chocolates, snacks, spices and flavours, sugar, tea, coffee, juices, soft drinks, beverages and water.
Some of the very many food processing operations that will become familiar to food technologists may include: baking, brewing, bottling, canning, centrifuging, chilling, curing, dehydrating, distilling, extruding, fermenting, filtering, frying, freezing, heating, homogenising, milling, mixing and blending, maturing, pickling, preserving, pasteurising, packing, refining, sterilising, spray drying and smoking.
Food science and technology is essentially about adding value to food
Food scientists and technologists make food raw materials, food ingredients and food products more valuable by adapting and processing them into items that manufacturers and consumers want and are prepared to pay for. Imagine how much food science and technology is required and how much value is added in producing the following extraordinary products from a single, ordinary crop such as maize:
- A National Staple Food – Mealie meal in various grades; super, special, sifted and braai pap.
- Baking and Cooking Aids – bakers cones, Maizena.
- Cereal Food Variations – mealie rice, samp, maize pasta.
- Fresh “Vegetable” – chilled corn on the cob, mini cobs for salads.
- Breakfast Cereals – Kreemy Meal, Taystee Maize, corn flakes, Pro Nutro.
- Snack Food – popcorn, Big Corn Bites, Nik Naks, Corn Curls.
- Convenience Food – canned sweet corn (creamed style and plain), frozen corn kernels.
- Fats and Oils from Maize Germ – for cooking and salad oils and for margarine production.
And for the food ingredient industry;
- glucose sugar used in confectionery, baking and brewing.
- starches, ordinary and specialised for thickening, gelling, etc.
- brewer’s grits for making beer, snacks and breakfast cereals.
There are many more examples of how basic food products are transformed into a variety of useful, interesting, tasty, attractive, value added foods – following are just a few:
- Milk – yoghurt, milk powder, cheese and baby food
- Meat – sausages, biltong, cured, smoked, emulsified and canned meat, Bovril
- Chicken – whole, butterflied and portions, chilled and frozen, burgers, spicy braaipacks, Kentucky Fried!
- Wheat – pearled wheat, Weet Bix, pasta, couscous, semolina, flour
- Wheat Flour – bread, biscuits, cakes and snacks
- Sorghum – malt, beer, breakfast cereal
- Barley – malt, beer, whisky and vinegar
- Soya Beans – soya flour, soya “mince”, soya milk, tofu, oil and margarine
- Sunflower – salad oil, margarine, snack bars, seed loaves
- Tomatoes – dried, canned and concentrated, tomato sauce and soup
- Potatoes – oven chips, potato crisps, instant mashed potato
- Fruit – juices, fruit rolls, jams, wines and cider
- Grapes – juice, wine, vinegar and brandy
- Yeast – leavening agent, fermentation agent (beer & wine), flavours, Marmite
- Water – spring, mineral and ordinary – bottled, flavoured, sparkling and still
In some instances, “by-products” of certain processes are further processed to produce other products and ingredients and so increase efficiency, reduce costs and eliminate waste. For example; whey from the cheese making process is dried and used as a nutritious food ingredient and oil is extracted from maize germ, a by-product of the maize milling industry, for the production of salad and cooking oils and margarine. A lot of potential waste, such as bran and husk from the maize and wheat milling industry, is converted into animal feed which may have vitamins and minerals added. Such animal feed may be further nutritionally improved with potential waste from other industries such as molasses, a by-product of the sugar industry. Fish by-catches, off cuts, etc are quickly minced and dried before spoilage can set in, to produce fish meal, a valuable and sought after high-protein feed.
Food scientists and technologists are involved in all of these processes, at every step of the way by monitoring quality, acceptability and safety, regularly taking and analysing samples, refining processes, improving formulations, reducing spoilage and waste.
Employers of food scientists and technologists
The Food and Allied Industries
The Food and Allied Industries are the employers of the greatest number of food scientists and technologists by far:
- in processing plants and laboratories of all sizes in the various sectors of the food industry.
- with suppliers of goods and services to the industry.
- in the retail industry – e.g. Pick ‘n Pay, Woolworths and others in other divisions of the food business.
- being the domain of the food technologist, the food industry also offers unique opportunities in marketing, technical sales, consulting and other areas requiring specialised knowledge.
Research Organisations and Parastatals
- the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) does research relating to animal, crop and fruit farming and processing and operates from a number of sites throughout the country.
- Biosciences at the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Indusrtrial Research) does research and collaborates with local and overseas universities on research projects of local and international relevance.
- The SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) sets and monitors quality and management standards, is involved in legislative matters, inspection of food and fish and has extensive analytical laboratories.
- included here are food industry bodies, chambers, associations and foundations such as the Meat Industry Council, Chambers of Milling and Baking, The Dairy Standard Agency, etc.
National Government Departments
- the Dept of Health sets, updates and revises food legislation as necessary, advises on legislative matters and runs an analytical laboratory.
- the Dept of Agriculture, in particular the Directorate of Food Safety and Quality Assurance – regulates and promotes the quality and safety of agricultural products of plant and animal origin.
- Universities in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Stellenbosch and Venda do research and consult to industry while also lecturing to students and offering specialised training courses for industry.
Self-employment is an option for those with a good reputation and years of solid experience. Consultancy is an option for those with four year degrees who register as Natural Scientists with SACNASP (The South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions).
What kind of person should consider a career in food science and technology?
A person who is likely to thrive in this career and enjoy what is has to offer is probably someone who:
- finds food interesting and enjoys its taste, texture and aroma.
- enjoys working independently in a clean and orderly laboratory environment but is not afraid to be involved in a busy, noisy, factory.
- likes working with instruments and equipment.
- is curious, innovative, inventive, diligent, meticulous, organised and hard working.
- is interested in developing a deeper understanding of products and processes.
- enjoys learning, reading and researching.
- can work under pressure and go “the extra mile” if necessary.
- has matric maths and science and ideally, a smattering of biology.
- someone who is able to work in a team if required and is happy to interact with others in the organisation.
The advantages of a career in food science and technology
The food industry is huge and offers more career opportunities than many others. It is also continuously growing as a result of non-stop urbanisation, is continuously developing in line with advances in science and technology and is constantly innovating to keep up with consumer expectations and demands. It is a universal industry and offers career opportunities worldwide. Food science and technology graduates will enjoy this calling because:
- Food science and technology is topical, interesting and satisfying and offers scope for expression, innovation, growth and personal development.
- The industry, subject matter and working environments are diverse and varied and can accommodate a wide range of interests, personalities and opportunities. Options for further study are available in all major centres.
- Graduates can become registered natural scientists and practice as self employed food science consultants.
Future and continuing challenges for the profession
- To make available sufficient, wholesome and affordable food to eliminate world hunger.
- Play a positive and constructive role in addressing the world’s obesity and chronic diseases pandemic.
- Maximise the efficient production of food and minimise waste and damage to the environment.
- Promote a healthy lifestyle by providing the foods and information necessary to encourage it.
- Challenge misleading claims and misinformation on food while keeping an open mind to consumer concerns.
- Produce high quality, wholesome, safe and attractive, tailor-made foods for the discerning and informed consumer of the future.
- Develop food for long term, deep space exploration.
Food science degree or food technology diploma – which do I choose?
This will depend very much on individual circumstances, expectations, career plans, personal interests, academic stamina and the availability of time and money. For those interested in reaching “the top”, either the Food Technology Diploma or the Food Science Degree will help to get you there.
What subjects will I study, what qualification will I receive?
Food Science and technology is an extraordinarily multidisciplinary field and involves the application of the basic sciences including physics, chemistry, the biological sciences, such as microbiology and also biochemistry, nutrition and engineering.
Food Science Degree students receive in-depth training in chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, physics and mathematics. This basic understanding of the physical and chemical properties of food and its behaviour under various processing conditions, prepares students well for a career in new product development and research.
Ancillary subjects may include economics, biometry, cost accounting, computer science, engineering and personnel management. These four-year food science undergraduate courses are offered at the universities of the Free State, Pretoria, Stellenbosch and Venda. Graduates can register as natural scientists. These universities also offer Masters and Doctoral degrees in food science providing the opportunity for specialisation in a field of interest.
Food Technology Diploma students receive thorough theoretical and practical training in applied food chemistry, microbiology, process engineering and production and quality assurance techniques. An understanding of the chemical and physical properties of foods and the changes that occur during its processing and preservation allow the food technologist to ensure and monitor the quality and safety of efficiently processed food.
National Food Technology Diploma and degree courses are offered at the following technical universities: The Cape Peninsula University of Technology, The Durban University of Technology, the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Johannesburg. All offer a three year diploma course which includes a one year experiential learning period in an approved food industry related institution. After a further year of study in a specialised field such as Food Production, Food Product Development or Food Quality Assurance, a B.Tech-degree in Food Technology can be obtained. B.Tech-graduates can register as natural scientists. M.Tec and D.Tech degrees are also offered.
Where to study – university websites
The following academic universities offer four year degree courses in food science. More information on courses and other activities of the various departments can be obtained on the listed websites:
- University of The Free State, Department of Microbiology, Biochemistry & Food Science
- University of Pretoria, Department of Food Science
- University of Stellenbosch, Department of Food Science
The following technical universities offer three year diploma courses in food technology. More information on courses and other activities of the various departments can be obtained on the following websites:
- Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Department of Food Technology (Bellville & Cape Campus)
- Durban University of Technology, Department of Biotechnology and Food Technology
- University of Johannesburg, Department of Food Technology
- University of Venda, Department of Food Science and Technology.
- Tshwane University of Technology, Department of Biotechnology and Food Technology
Information on SAAFoST
SAAFoST is the professional organisation for food scientists and technologists in South Africa. It is a largely volunteer run, non profit, education oriented association that promotes food professionalism and the provision of safe and wholesome food. SAAFoST is funded by membership fees, surpluses that may result from congresses, exhibitions and other association events and by SAAFoST Custodians. The latter is a special group of organisations, regarded as being examples of professionalism in the food industry that is willing to give additional support and commit additional funds in promoting food science professionalism in South Africa.
The South African Association for Food Science and Technology (SAAFoST) offers a scholarship, study grants, academic achievement awards and matric and undergraduate bursaries to the value of over R500, 000 every year, to students in food science and technology. Eligible post graduate and final year students are nominated by the heads of their university departments. Information on all the SAAFoST scholarships, grants, awards and bursaries is available on: http://www.saafost.org.za/CareersBursariesGrants/MENU.asp
The SAAFoST Professional Code of Conduct
In order to uphold the dignity, standing and reputation of their profession, members of the South African Association for Food Science and Technology (SAAFoST) are required to adhere to the following Professional Code of Conduct. They shall:
- Have due regard to public safety, public health and well-being.
- Act in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.
- Discharge their duties to their employer or client in an efficient manner and with integrity, especially when the information supplied will be used to inform the public on matters of health, nutrition and food safety.
- Not undertake professional scientific or technological work of such a nature that their education, experience or background has not rendered them competent to perform.
- Maintain proprietary information in confidence or obtain prior approval of the owner before disclosing such information to third parties.
- Report all research properly and accurately.
- Acknowledge the work and publications of others, properly and accurately.
- Maintain objectivity when reviewing scientific work, publications or journals.
- Treat all colleagues and co-workers with respect regardless of the individual’s race, sex national origin, religion, marital status, veteran status, disability or sexual orientation.
- Avoid conflicts of interest and if unavoidable, disclose to their client in writing, any substantial interest they may have in any company, firm or person carrying on any contracting, consulting work or manufacturing business which is, or may be, related to the work for which they are employed, as well as particulars of any royalty accruing to them from any articles or process used in, or for the purpose of, the work in respect of which they are employed.
- Subject to rule 10, not receive either directly or indirectly, any gratuity, commission or other financial benefit in respect of any article or process used in, or for the purpose of, the work in respect of which they are employed, unless such gratuity, commission or other financial benefit has been authorised, in writing, by their employer or client.
- Not maliciously or recklessly injure, either directly or indirectly, the professional reputation, prospects or business of any other food scientist or technologist.
- Not knowingly attempt to supplant another food scientist or technologist in a particular engagement after a formal offer has been made to employ the latter.
- Not advertise their professional services in a self-laudatory manner or one that will demean the profession.
- Not misrepresent or permit misrepresentation of their own or their associates’ academic or professional qualifications nor exaggerate their degree of responsibility for work of a professional nature.
- Not, without satisfactory reason, destroy calculations or documentary or other evidence required for the verification of their work.
- Neither personally nor through any other agency, attempt to obtain consulting work by way of touting or bribery.
- Order their conduct in connection with scientific or technological work outside the Republic of South Africa in accordance with these rules in so far as they are not inconsistent with the law of the country concerned: provided that where there are recognised standards of professional conduct in a country outside the Republic, they shall also adhere to those standards.
The SAAFoST Mission Statement
SAAFoST will be the primary regional organisation for food science and technology professionals in business, government and academia through its commitment to:
- advancing food science and related technologies for the supply of safe and wholesome food
- creating, interpreting and disseminating food-related scientific information
- providing opportunities for personal and professional development
- upholding professional standards of competence and integrity
Serving members, the food science and technology profession and the food industry
SAAFoST in a Nutshell
Read SAAFoST in a Nutshell – a quick overview of SAAFoST and the SAAFoST Awards.
I am Terry. I did a four year food science degree at university and am now employed at the university, giving classes and doing research for my master’s degree on the use of enzymes in increasing juice yields and reducing effluent waste. I hope to continue and complete my doctorate in due course.
My name is Johan. I did a degree course in food science many years ago, worked in research and in the fruit juice industry and eventually started my own business. I now employ nearly 100 people several of whom are food science and technology graduates.
I have always enjoyed a laboratory environment and the precise and important nature of the work. After completing my diploma I joined a multinational food company, received a fair amount of exposure but decided to concentrate on analyses and now am head of the analytical lab. Annette.
After having worked closely with a large retailer while I was in the baking industry, I decided to approach the company for a position after returning to work after a few years off to have my baby. The bakery industry was enjoyable and I learned a lot but I really prefer moving around from supplier to supplier monitoring product quality and meeting people. Rita.
Having been awarded a SAAFoST study grant for good academic performance, I was noticed and approached by a multinational flavour company to work in their flavour application laboratory. I have been sent overseas several times to our parent company in Germany for training and after a good grounding in new product and flavour development. I am now a key account manager for large food manufacturers. Martie
I have been an accountant in the food industry for about 25 years. When my son was looking at career opportunities I suggested that he look at food science and technology because activity between the plant and the laboratory seemed to be so much more exciting and interesting than the things we were doing in the admin block. The lab guys took him on a tour of the lab and pilot plant and he made up his mind there and then. He graduates at the end of next year and cannot wait to “get stuck in”!
I have a food science degree and my colleague Mogotse has a national diploma in food technology. After our company bought a small breakfast cereal company (against our advice!) we were transferred to the site to help restore it to full production capacity. It has been a battle but very satisfying to realise that our training and experience has been the key to its revival – we were made for the job! Infestation has been eliminated, returns are rare and the lady who handles complaints is not afraid to answer the phone. Reformulations, the reduction of waste, the new product line extensions we have developed and the process and quality assurance controls that we have introduced have the plant running and producing quality products at almost full capacity which has restored profitability to the point where there are now plans in install another production line!
The sales and marketing department in the food ingredient company that I work for asked for technical advice in promoting a range of our products. They were surprised by the unexploited applications of many of the products and suggested that I transfer from the factory to help promote our products. I now interface directly with customers and our new product development committee to produce exciting tailor made goods for an increasing number of new customers who appreciate the competitive advantage they enjoy through dealing with us.