Food scientist landed a plum job straight out of uni

By Keeli Cambourne (2 April 2019)


What can you do with 1.5 tonnes of freeze-dried plum powder?
That’s what Hannah Naismith had to figure out when she started work as a food scientist/nutritionist at Nutrafruit, a small company that owns the global commercial licence to the Queen Garnet plum variety.
“In my last semester of university, I was panicking about what job I wanted to look for. Not knowing what jobs are available for graduates in the food industry did not help the situation,” Naismith said.
“But now that I am in the industry and have met people from several companies, I have realised that your career in food can go wherever you want it to. People will always need to eat, so it is a pretty stable industry to be a part of.”
Within her first few months on the job Naismith had created three new products with the powder which were later displayed at a trade expo.
“My passion has always been nutrition. I love learning about how what we eat affects everything that goes on in our bodies. I also believe it is important to have the background knowledge of where food comes from and how it gets onto people’s plates – that’s where the food science comes in,” Naismith said.
Cecilia Ngo didn’t know what food science was when she was thinking about a career.
“I had a hospitality teacher who told me about it and in high school I was good at science I also liked making food and experimenting with it so food science was a good fit,” Ngo said.
Ngo studied a Bachelor of Science majoring in food science at the University of Queensland.
She now works as a research and development food technologist with Custom Protein, a custom manufacturer of dietary supplements.
“What we do is business-to-business, not selling directly to customers. People come to us looking for someone to make their idea [of a supplement] into a reality,” Ngo said.
“Customers may need help in formulating their product but also on how to get it commercialised, with labelling advice, consultation for ingredients, how to market their product, packaging and liaising with everyone from manufacturing to supply chain.”
Ngo said the company works on products that do become everyday food and beverages on supermarket shelves, but also with more niche products. She’s presently working on helping to formulate a hot chocolate with cognitive benefits.
Fiona Fleming, managing director of Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology, and a food technologist with over 35 years’ experience, said consumer needs are constantly changing, and the food industry needs to keep ahead of the trends to meet these needs with innovative, safe products.
She said there are a number of key trends and opportunities in the industry for food technologists now and into the future.
“Sustainability is a major area. The demand for food will increase as the population increases and food production needs to increase but the environmental impact must be minimised,” Fleming said.
“Sustainability is also related to the cost of production. For example, traditional protein sources such as red meat. Alternatives are being developed such as plant and insect-based products.
“[There is also] food waste – both food and packaging. One-third of food produced today around the world, or approximately 1.3 billion tonnes, is wasted. In Australia alone, 312,000 tonnes of food is wasted each year by the food manufacturing industry.
“Food has a key role in supporting health and wellness. Development of products which meet specific health needs provides challenges for food technologist as they still need to taste good.”
Fleming said new roles for food technologists are developing in areas such as minimal processing trends and alternative protein sources.
“People are always going to have to eat to sustain life, so there will be roles for food scientists as we change with changing consumer demands and the needs of an increasing population,” she said.
“Food scientists and technologists have input all the way through the food supply chain – from farm to fork. The types of roles in which a food scientist or technologist could work include food microbiologist, quality assurance officer, food toxicologist, food engineer, sensory scientists and research and development.”
Naismith said there is no hard and fast career pathway in the industry, and her role has shown her just how diverse her career can be.
“If you are confused about what job opportunities there are in the food industry, get out there and meet people. You never know whose business card might lead you to that dream job,” she said.
“Also, don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. Learning new things is simply a part of any job and grasping any opportunity to learn something new is the key to success.”
Ngo said the industry has already taken her in many different directions.
“You can take pretty much any role in any company and put a food technologist there – from organisational or analytical roles through to, sales, quality assurance and research and development,” she said.
“A lot of food technologists may even climb the executive ladder. My boss studied food technology and now he is the general manager of the company. There are so many skills that you learn as a food technologist.”
Fiona Fleming recommends becoming involved with an industry professional association such as the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology, which provides support, networking and learning opportunities for food scientists and technologists at all stages of their careers.