Foodie culture boosts food science interest, says IFT

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food science

The number of students graduating with food science degrees has almost doubled in the United States since 2004, according to the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).

The organization said in the latest issue of its associated publication Food Technology​ that the number of students graduating with B.S. degrees from IFT-approved food science programs has almost doubled from 319 in 2004 to 591 in 2010. It said that an increased interest in food in general was behind the trend, boosted by the rise of celebrity chefs, diet-related health issues and greater awareness of contemporary food movements, such as organic, local and sustainable food systems.

Dr. John Floros, professor and head of the Department of Food Science at Penn State University, and former IFT president, said enrolment in the university’s food science program increased 40 percent over the last year. He attributed the rise to this overall increased interest in food, alongside better IFT recruitment programs for university food science departments, and good career prospects for food science graduates, despite the difficult economic environment.

“Having a food science degree will practically guarantee you a job,”​ Floros said.

The increase in food science graduate numbers represents a major turnaround.

“It was probably more than six years ago that we knew we had a problem,” ​Floros said. “…I think the major reason for the turnaround – there are a number of reasons – part of it is IFT’s efforts in recruiting and getting the word out and individual departments’ efforts…but in the last five to ten years we have had a vast amount of interest in food in general. We have had a lot of films and books about food – not all of them necessarily positive about food science and the food science profession, but it was at least getting the interest.”

Two years ago, FoodNavigator-USA met Floros in Anaheim, California at the annual IFT trade show. He argued at the time that the food industry needed to become much more involved in the food technology training process, and speculated that young people who are interested in food might be put off food science degrees because of the “very science-based curriculum”.

Now, he says: “The message we have been trying to get out is really the flexibility of our curriculum.”

He explained that many young people who are interested in science might choose to study chemistry, biology or physics, for instance, rather than food science. However, he said that food science degrees are applicable to a wide range of careers, with some recent graduates going on to medical school or engineering, instead of following through into a career in food science.

He added that Penn State had constructed a brand new building just a few years ago in anticipation of more food science undergraduates, which is already at capacity. And while student numbers have soared, Floros said the quality of those students has also increased.

“For the food industry, not only will they have a bigger pool of people to choose from, but the quality of that pool will be higher,”​ he said.

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