Becoming a Certified Food Scientist

IFT Certified Food Scientist

From a young age I knew that I loved culinary, I think it was seeing the joy on everyone’s faces during family gatherings. I thought it was my destiny to become a restaurant chef but after high school I decided to take my college education down a more scientific path. During my undergraduate studies I learned about food from a new interesting perspective; science, technology, sustainability and safety.

I must admit that I had no idea one could become a professional food scientist. Normal people don’t realize what a major role in the development of food products we play in the global market. The plethora of disciplines in the food industry is vast and fascinating! Common products that you purchase each day have been researched, designed and scrutinized by a team of food industry professionals.

As a Food Scientist we make sure that what you purchase is consistent in quality and most importantly, safe to eat!  I want to share with you my journey of becoming a food scientist, and my experience on obtaining my Certified Food Scientist credentials through the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).

What is Food Science?

Food science is the study of the physical, biological, and chemical makeup of food. It draws from many disciplines in an attempt to better understand food processes and ultimately improve food products for the general public. Food technology applies food science principles for the selection, preservation, processing, packaging, distribution, and use of safe food.

Food Science Disciplines:

Food chemistry – the molecular composition of food and the involvement of these molecules in chemical reactions

Food engineering – the industrial processes used to manufacture food

Food microbiology – the positive and negative interactions between micro-organisms and foods

Food packaging – the study of how packaging is used to preserve food after it has been processed and contain it through distribution

Food preservation – the causes and prevention of quality degradation

Food safety – the causes, prevention and communication dealing food-borne illness

Food technology – the technological aspects

Molecular gastronomy – the scientific investigation of processes in cooking, social and artistic gastronomical phenomena

New product development – the invention of new food products

Sensory analysis – the study of how consumers’ senses perceive food

What is a Food Scientist?

A Food Scientist uses science and engineering skills to research and develop food products and ensure the safety of our food supply. By applying their findings, they are responsible for developing safe and nutritious foods, while incorporating innovative packaging that line the supermarket shelves.

Food products that are available in the market are the result of extensive food research; a systematic investigation into a variety of food properties and compositions. After the initial stages of research and development comes the mass production of food products using principles of food technology. All of these interrelated fields contribute to the food industry – the largest manufacturing industry in the United States.

Becoming a Food Scientist:

There are numerous universities that offer food science degrees in the United States and internationally. There are many resources online to find schools and details on their program offerings. I recommend you request information and tour the school campuses if you can. If you know someone in the food science industry, then pick their brain and find out what schools they recommend.  The IFT knowledge center is also a great resource for information on food science programs.

Here is my education path:

  • California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, CA- Bachelor of Science, Food Science and Nutrition
  • California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, CA- Master of Science, Agriculture Specialization in Dairy Products Technology- Dairy Products Technology Center
  • The Art Institute of California, Orange County, CA- Associate of Science, Culinary Arts

Becoming a “Certified” Food Scientist:

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is an international, non-profit professional organization for the advancement of food science and technology, and is the largest food science organization in the world. For over 70 years, IFT has strived to “feed the minds that feed the world”, growing a food science based community and global forum to connect, share and learn. IFT is a visionary organization actively advocating and ensuring safe and abundant food supply for people around the world.

In 2012, The Institute of Food Technologists announced they would be offering a Certified Food Scientist (CFS) credential. Through this program, the food science profession provided a formal certification program to recognize the applied scientific knowledge and skills of food scientists.

CFS is a globally recognized certification program designed to meet the International Standards Organization (ISO) 17024 standard for personnel certification programs, and is a way for food scientists to demonstrate their expertise and commitment to the profession. The International Food Science Certification Commission (IFSCC) was established to oversee the governance and policy-making for credentialing activities.

To obtain and maintain a food science credential, you need the following:

  1. Meet the eligibility based on degree(s) earned and work experience in food science (see chart below).
  2. Complete the application ($550-750 fee to take the exam)
  3. Take the CFS examination (Computer based exam, 120 questions)- Results available in approximately 6 weeks from the last day of the exam testing window.
  4. Maintain your certification A recertificationcycle occurs 5 years from the date of certification and completion of  75 contact hours over 5 year ($300-425).

Certified Food Scientist Eligibility:

In order to become a Certified Food Scientist, you must first meet the minimum requirements before taking the exam:

degree-equivalent

Image Source: Institute of Food Technologists

Now if you have met the requirements, it’s time to prepare for the exam!

Certified Food Science Exam Prep:

IFT provides a Certified Food Scientist Candidate Handbook, which is meant to guide you during your study preparations for the test. It contains detailed information on the exam content outline, testing windows and exam delivery information.

I personally felt that the content was very broad, especially if your career path has been more specialized and focused. However, the test is meant to cover the basic breadth of food science and current laws and regulations, specifically testing the applied scientific knowledge and skills of food scientists. You may not be an expert in each area, however in your career you have likely had exposure and experiences, therefore your basic understanding and awareness is what is important.

The certified food scientist candidate handbook provides the following competency areas on the Exam and percentage of questions asked in these areas:

  • Product development (34%)
  • Quality Assurance and Control (17%)
  • Food Chemistry and Food Analysis (10%)
  • Regulatory (10%)
  • Food Microbiology (9%)
  • Food Safety (9%)
  • Food Engineering (6%)
  • Sensory Evaluation & Consumer Testing (5%)

During my test preparation I took the following steps:

1)    Attended the Certified Food Scientist Preparatory Course, offered by IFT- This course was designed to review each competency area in the  certified food scientist candidate handbook. This is accomplished with excellent expert lecturers, printed lectures, practice questions, quizzes, follow up webinars and review sessions. The course lasted 1 1/2 days and 5 weekly webcasts with a cost of $630-845.

During the course, you are able to gain valuable perspectives from other industry professionals. A nice perk is the access to numerous practice questions modeled after the content in the exam. This helped to get a feel for how questions were structured, an advantage if you are willing to pay the cost. I would highly recommend this course to CFS candidates, as it will definitely refresh your knowledge and streamline your studying. 

Wondering if you should take the course? The prep course is recommended but is not essential for you to pass. For being the first class to ever take the CFS exam I thought the course was very helpful in passing.

2)   I created a study guide- I used the certified food science handbook as a study guide outline, and conducted more research on sections that I did not have as strong competency. I also heavily reviewed the lecture information I received from the CFS preparatory course.

3)   Note Cards- For some of the detailed information and concepts, I created note cards to review and quiz myself. I used this method throughout my education, however it is laborious so it may not be for everyone. I just tend to remember small chunks of information best if I break them down.

4)   Websites and Books- The USDA, FDA, Code of Federal Regulations and WHO Codex Alimentarius government websites are great resources to find food safety and current laws and regulations on food. I did not buy any of the books on the recommended resource list because I had many similar books from college. However if you would like to purchase some reference materials, I would recommend:

5)   I gave myself at least 3 months to study and prepare for the exam- Attending the CFS preparatory course was a great way to kick start the studying. Luckily the exam was offered between 2-3 months after the course.  I created a workable schedule, and made a point to study at least 2 hours each night during the week, and longer hours on the weekend. It was certainly a challenging time, reminding me of those late night cram sessions in college! If you are not taking the CFS preparatory course, you may want to give yourself a few extra months to study.

Taking the CFS Exam:

The exam is offered three times per year and may be taken within approximately a 3 week testing window. The exam is a 3 hour computer based test, administered at Pearson Professional Centers.

  • 120 multiple choice questions (100 that will be scored, the remaining to be used in possible future exams).
  • You are given an erasable note board or small notebook to use. There is also a scientific calculator available on the computer.
  • You can add comments for each question, providing additional justification if needed for your answers for the exam reviewers. I recommend not spending too much time with comments, answer all of the questions you can with confidence first.
  • You can electronically mark any questions you are unsure about, go back, and review at the end of the exam before you submit your answers. This helps to pinpoint exactly what questions need more thought.

Benefits of Food Scientist Certification:

The Institute of Food Technologists highlights the numerous benefits of the CFS certification. The CFS examination focuses on the practical applied knowledge that food scientists need to be competent professionals. The exam was developed by evaluating the global practice of food science and is firmly grounded in the established fundamental knowledge and skills food scientists apply in all aspects of their jobs. The purpose of the CFS certification is to:

  • Demonstrate the professions’ commitment to safe and quality foods for consumers
  • Reinforce IFT’s commitment to ensuring a strong talent pipeline to meet the scientific needs of the food science & technology community
  • Promote lifelong learning that complements both academic learning and work experience
  • Provide food scientists with a way to demonstrate their applied professional skills and knowledge through a third party, independent assessment tool
  • Build a foundation for ethical standards moving forward that will benefit the entire profession
  • Help employers and practitioners identify individuals with certain knowledge and skills
  • Raise the visibility and credibility of the food science profession through a certification program

Check out this excellent free webinar from IFT “Make an impact on your career- All your certified Food Scientist Questions Answered” for more info on why you should become a Certified Food Scientist! Simply login with your name, company and email information.

Source Information:  Institute of Food Technologists

The first exam was administered in the winter of 2013 and to date, the inaugural class consisted of 1,441 food scientists from 54 countries across the world! The number of food scientists will undoubtedly continue to climb over the years, and I am elated to be part of the growing number of professionals who will receive their certification! Here is great video celebrating the first inaugural class of Certified Food Scientists and the benefit of the credential!

I could never have dreamed up all the opportunities & experiences that I received since the start of my Food Science education. Through both my professional career and starting my food blog, I have been able to apply my creativity, love for the sensory aspect of food and scientific knowledge to research and develop new food products.

 

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Comments

  1. Jeanette Chen says

    Congratulations! If I could do it over again, I would love to have studied food science in college.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thank you Jeanette! It’s never too late to learn more! Please let me know if you ever have any questions about food science, I would love to share my experience with you!

  2. Lou says

    Exciting and insightful article Jessica. I love your writing style. I’m currently attending the preparatory course ( 4 more webinars to go). Hope to sit for the CFS exam during the Oct- Nov testing window.

    I’m thrilled about the prospect of becoming a CFS. Keep up the good work.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thank you Lou! I have enjoyed every fun and challenging moment of my food science journey, and it’s great to see other passionate food scientists pursue their certification! Good luck on the test!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Niki! Great to hear you are interested in pursing a career in Food Science! I received information back from the Certification Manager at IFT and was provided with the following information: To meet the eligibility requirements to sit for the CFS exam, an MS program does not need to be from an undergraduate program approved by the IFT Higher Education Review Board. However, it may make the CFS application process easier, since an assessment has already been performed for these programs that determined they meet the IFT Undergraduate Education Standards for Degrees in Food Science (here is the link for IFT approved undergraduate progams: http://www.ift.org/community/students/approved-undergrad-programs.aspx ). An application from someone with a degree from a program that is not yet approved by these standards may require additional information, such as curriculum or transcripts, to show that there is an adequate amount of science being taught in the program, but there is not a requirement that the degree program needs to be from one of the approved universities. Please let me know if you would like to contact the certification manager directly with any additional questions you may have, they would be happy to help you!

  3. UGOCHI SUNNY says

    Thrilled about your achievement!. I have a degree in food science and technology too and would like to take the board exam as well. Where do I start and how do I go about it?. Do I really need to take the exam before I can work as a food scientist in USA?. Approximately how much does a food scientists earn and how do I also go about getting a job as a professional?.

  4. Mostafa Mounir says

    thanks jessica for this valuable information , actually im looking for this certificate but the only problem is how to get copy of this books to prepare for the exam, how much the cost & is it possible to get PDF copy may be it is cheaper than book itself ,please help.
    Regards

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Mostafa- Many of the mooks range from $50-$150+. If you click on the highlighted links to the books I recommend in the post, they link to amazon and show the prices. I would use amazon to look up prices of other books. Try to find used ones if you can for the best prices. If you own a kindle or ipad, some companies sell cheaper digital versions of the books. Maybe you can see if your local library has the books as well? I only have hard copies and not pdf versions of the books. Good luck!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Marley! As a food science professional, I feel that we always strive to learn new skills to stay up to date with technology, government policy and formulation. Many people also take business or leadership education as they advance in their career.

  5. Nama Dimaya says

    Hi Jessica, I am planning to study food science, I need information on the best university and country to study food science? I am thinking USA, UK, or Australia, can you share the plus minus and comparison for those countries ?

  6. Sliu says

    Hi Jessica,

    It is great to see your website and know about the certification exam. Are the 120 questions multiple choice questions or are they essay questions?
    Thanks.

  7. Selena says

    Hi Jessica!

    I’m a high school student, and I think I might be interested in pursuing a food science degree in Canada. I love food (in the sense of baking and trying new restaurants) and I’m taking all the sciences at school (Biology, Chemistry, Physics). What type of non-academic skills should one possess to become successful in the food and beverage industry in one of the food science disciplines?

    Thanks!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Selena- I am so excited to hear that you are interested in food science. Not many people know that the food science field exists, but it truly has a huge impact on the foods we eat everyday! You are on the right track with the classes you are taking in high school, because its important to have a foundation in basic science to best understand how those principles applies to food. For non academic skills, I would definitely say passion, creativity, curiosity/expploration, communication, team work, leadership and self motivation. Understanding the business side of the industry is also helpful, which you can take those classes in college or get an MBA. Also, if you are a person that loves to learn new things (life long learner), than that’s a great trait for being a future scientist! Here is a great resource for you to use to help you answer questions about a career in food science, and what universities offer a food science program in Canada.

      Please check out this link to IFT’s partner organization for CFS in Canada, CIFST. It has a nice list of Canadian schools with food science programs on their website: http://www.cifst.ca/default.asp?id=992

      Here are some other approved programs through IFT if you are interested in US or other international schools:
      http://www.ift.org/community/students/approved-undergrad-programs.aspx

  8. Jessica Gavin says

    Good news food scientists! The IFT Certified Food Scientist application deadline has been extended to January 31 for the Feb 1-28 testing window.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Ephraim! That’s a great question. There are so many areas of food science you can study and have focus in your career (product development, manufacturing, quality asurance, microbiology, sensory science, engineering, food safety, the list goes on). For the more techinical careers, you can supplement your knowledge with an advanced degree or experience on the job. If you are looking for leadership opportunities, having business expereince or another degree helps, or many people can advance into that position over time. Where do you see yourself in the food industry, what area are you interested in, and what is your ultimate goal?

  9. Felix says

    good read! i graduated with a bachelors in FS in May 2013 from the U of mN and I have no regrets of choosing this career. I currently work for driscoll’s in santa maria, CA, so it was pretty cool to read that you went to calpoly in SLO.

    My girlfriend is a junior in fS and it’s great to be able to help her whenever she has a question. I can say that all the effort really paid off.

    i’m thinking on taking this certification once i’m eligible. i Still need to wait 2 more years haha, but thanks for the tips!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Felix- It’s great to hear that there are more professionals entering the food science field!Your experiences with education and career sounds like it’s off to a great start! That’s awesome that you are interested in becoming a certified food scientist when you are eligible, it’s a wonderful program. I look forward to hearing more about your career in food science in the future!

  10. pinitha perera says

    Hello Jessica,

    I really found all the information on your website very useful. I am already a graduate with a Biomedical degree and I am planning to do my masters in food science. I am very much passionate about food and recipes, and I will do some justice to the industry if I select food industry as my career. But I would like to know, will it be beneficial for me if I follow a diploma course on culinary arts / food manufacture? As a person who got plenty of knowledge and experience in the industry, I really would appreciate your suggestions.
    Thank you !

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Pinitha! With your passion for the food industry, I know you will make an impact! I think a master’s in food science is defnitely the way to go if you wuld like to be in research and development. Hopefully the program you are pursuing will have some food technology/ manufacturing courses to help you gain knowledge in that area. I don’t know of any non bachelor programs just for food manufacturing, it’s the hands on experience that will really give you that time and learning you need when you are on the job.

      As for culinary arts, I pursued that path and I loved it! However it was after my bachelors and masters degree, and it was a passion I always wanted to embrace. I worked full time and went to school, and it is very costly, unless you go to a junior college. I would say that you don’t need a culinary degree to be a food scientist. It defintiely helps with deepening your knowledge in the sensory side of food and how to create balanced flavor profiles, and understanding cultural palates. Check out the Reserach Chefs’s association website, I received my certified culinary scientist accreditation from that organization. They offer a training program that prepares you for your certification with more affordable hands on courses in food science and culinary arts. I would have definitely considered that program, however I wanted a degree in culinary arts. Here is the website:
      http://www.culinology.com/certification/
      http://www.culinology.com/continuing-education/

      I would honestly recommend that you complete your masters in food science, then look for a career in the industry before you tackle culinary school. It’s important to get experience in the industry, and that can help you decide if you want to pursue more school. Do you know what sector of food science you want to be in (product development, QA, micro, safety, etc) or the type of companies you would like to work for (consumer products, health foods, flavor houses, ingredients)? That will also help determine if additonal education is needed. Please feel free to contact me with any more questions you may have!

  11. says

    Hi, i am a National Diploma student studying food technology in one of the Nigeria Polytechnics, my question is; is it very difficult to be a successful person in this career because my brothers are against the course and food industries are not many in Nigeria? Thanks.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Jumoke- It’s great to hear that you are studying food technology! Depending on your interests there are many opportunities in the food science field. Have you thought of taking a career in other parts of the world if you are limited in jobs in Nigeria?

  12. says

    I am the Prostart coordinator for louisiana, Prostart is a culinary arts program in high schools THROUGHOUT the US. I am looking for STACKABLE credentials that students can earn in ADDITION to the certifications they earn from the National restaurant association. I was WONDERING if you could point me in any direction for some type of certification in food service that they students could work TOWARDS. I appreciate your help and look forward to hearing from you.
    PS- love the information.

  13. kim says

    I AM a OBGyn doctor in vietnam for 15 years but interested in food science so much. could you please instruct the way to go. my relatives stay in anaheim, california, could you kindly let me know which college or univerity is suitable for me to choose.
    thank you so much

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Kim- Great to hear that you are interested in Food Science!

      Here is a link to the Institute of Food Technologists approved undergraduate programs: http://www.ift.org/community/students/approved-undergrad-programs.aspx

      I wonder if since you already have your degree, you can pursue a masters or doctorate in Food Science? Many of the bachelor programs have advanced degree options as well. If you are looking to study in California, Chapman University in Orange is right near Anaheim, also Calpoly Pomona, Calpoly San Luis Obispo, and UC Davis have excellent programs. Take a look at the link and check out the universities websites to see what school interest you :)

  14. says

    Dear jessica,
    thank you for sharing your experience with us: very useful article. I am a phd in food science and i am really considering taking the exam next year.
    i would really appreciate if you could clarify two questions. do all candidates take the same exam covering the eight food science topics or do the exam vary with the area of interest and experience of each applicant (e.g. quality assurance)?
    i noticed that on the resource list of the cfs guidelines no quality assurance & control book was listed as reference. would you know which one was used as reference in the cfs preparatory course for this topic?
    thank you again,
    ana

  15. Stephanie says

    Hi Jessica, thanks for posting info on how to become a food scientist. I found it really helpful. I recently graduated with a BA in chemistry, and decided against going to grad school because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with a higher degree. I was looking at a list of possible career paths and food scientist sounded the most interesting, however, I have zero experience in this field. Do you know if it’s possible for someone like me to gain experience and enter a food science program later? Some internships I’ve looked at requires a food science related degree, which I don’t have… How can I gain experience?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Stephanie- That’s so great to hear that you are interested in a career in food science! I think having a chemistry background is a really solid base for specializing further into food science. Food chemistry is one of the back bones of our field, which can open up many opportunities, especially if you are interested in research and development, quality assurance and flavor chemistry are just some examples. I wanted to share some advice that I received from Brandon Davis, the Institute of Food Technologists CFS Certification Manager on gaining more experience:

      “I would highly recommend they check out some of the positions that are posted on the career center (http://www.ift.org/careercenter.aspx). There are usually several entry level positions that can help them get their foot in the door. Outside of that, they may want to schedule some informational interviews with people in their network to learn more about entry level positions. Even if some say “BS in Food Science preferred” they are still worth looking into. Of course, once they are eligible, we would love to have them apply for the CFS program.”

      I would also recommend that many food science companies offer tuition assistance if you do decide to get an entry level position at the company and pursue higher education. For example, you may be most qualified to start in the Quality Assurance/ Quality Control department where products and raw materials are tested and released. If that company supports higher education, you can take short courses in food science, or pursue a masters degree in food science. I did something similar to this at my current company after my first year. I already had my master’s in food science, however pursued a culinary arts bachelors degree as I worked full time. Many of my colleagues have also completed their masters in food science while working. I would also check out the Research Chef’s Association education and certification program for “Culinary Scientists”.
      https://www.culinology.org/Education/Certification/CCS.aspx
      Here are some of the education workshops that RCA offers so you can gain knowledge in FS and will help you prepare for for certification (if you are interested):
      https://www.culinology.org/Education/ProfessionalDevelopment/ContinuingEducation.aspx

      Please let me know if you have any additional questions!

  16. RoSe says

    Just fyi, did you know that the INAUGURAL class of 1500 Cfs never had to write the exam? I found out when i wanted to check With a colleague on how he felt about the exam questions But was told that he Didn’t have to write one. This knowledge turns me off about getting the certification. It does not seem to be fair for people who just missed out on the communication email. The exam is a Way of generating revenue for ifT i my opinion.

  17. oluwaseun says

    Hi Jessica, I am currently taking my masters programme in my native country,Nigeria. I have major interests in food product development, food safety, quality control and assurance and sensory. My greatest goal with food science is to Become a onsultant.
    How do I merge all this together and what Other industry certifications do I need
    Thanks

  18. Gobind Paul Singh says

    Hi Jessica

    I have Bachelors in Pharmacy (4years), later I did my Ontario advanced diploma in Microbiology and food biotechnology (2 years), and presently I am Qc/r&d technician in a food company from last 2 months, how long I have to wait for the cfs exam? do my qualification waive me some years?

    regards

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Gobind- Based on the CFS requirement detailed in the post, If you have a masters in food micro/Biotechnology, you would need 4 years of work experience before you can take the exam. You would need 6 years experience if you have a bachelors degree in a science related field that is not food science. I hope this helps!

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