So what exactly is Food Science?

The best way to start, in my opinion, is to reverse the words, ‘The Science of Food’. The principles of biology, microbiology, chemistry, biochemistry and physics are the basis of food science. However, food science also includes food processing, quality assurance, food chain integrity, sensory science, product development and food safety. Many areas are covered during the four-year course as well as many diverse options for third-year professional work experience (PWE).

Overview of the course

1st year

1st year starts by covering the basics of the sciences and maths. All content that was learned at leaving cert level is covered before moving onto the new material. This is because only one laboratory science subject is required for entry to the course and it doesn’t matter which one it is. Modules called food, diet and health, which is self-explanatory, and information skills, which goes through how to write essays and lab reports in college and how to use the online library.

2nd year

In 2nd year, the science of food starts, with modules in food nutrient chemistry, genetics, biochemistry and agriculture microbiology covered. The ‘real’ food science also starts with food physics, basic nutrition, sensory analysis and basic food analysis. A health, safety and welfare module is also covered for third-year PWE.

3rd year

In 3rd year, the exciting module of product development is always a talking point of the food science course. In groups, you design and develop a food product from scratch, with the help of a lecturer. Relevant food analysis/physics/microbiology tests are conducted, and a HACCP (food safety) plan and packaging for the product is discussed. In addition to that, food engineering, food chemistry, food analysis and food microbiology are studied. If you decide to complete study abroad, it happens in the first semester. You will take similar modules to these in a university in the US, Australia or New Zealand.

In the second semester, which is only 7 weeks for this year, more food chemistry, food analysis and nutrition are covered. From the end of March to September, a minimum of 16 weeks PWE is undertaken. There are various options available; however, the majority of the students will take this opportunity to experience working in the food industry. If this option doesn’t appeal to students, a few research assistant jobs can be available within the food science department or at other universities.

4th year

The 4th year of the course about applying the learned knowledge to actual food products, such as dairy, meat and fermented foods. Food processing, food safety and food chain integrity are also covered in the final year. You can complete an optional final year research project, which is the only module that lasts the whole year. Those who have no interest in a research project take two food business modules instead, one in each semester, food sector entrepreneurship and packaging design.

 

Common questions I have been asked about Food Science!

  1. What science subject should you have? – Personally, I wouldn’t worry about having one science subject over another at leaving certificate level. I only did biology for leaving cert, and I did just fine. Also, when I said all leaving cert content is covered in the first year, I actually did mean it. Some of my classmates have said taking chemistry for leaving cert helped them a lot, so great if you have it. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Not hating maths is also useful as it is used in all four years of the course but honour-level maths is not required.
  2. Why is physics part of the course? There is not really a lot of physics in the course. Honestly, as someone who when in not having done physics since junior cert, I can tell you it wasn’t super easy as I didn’t remember a lot from them, but I wouldn’t make it a deal-breaker as the majority of people in the course are in the same boat, and we all get through it. Everyone helps each other (or tries). The main areas that the physics relate to is food processing, food engineering and some food analysis, for example, texture analysis and viscosity.
  3. What are the options for PWE in the food industry? Honestly, there are so many, I would never manage to name them all. I worked in Science and Innovation (S&I) for Dawn Farms. Majority of my classmates did work in the food industry, for food factories, some worked in product development (also called S&I), some worked in labs, some in quality assurance and some in production/operations. Each of these jobs is different and reflect just some of the options after graduation. A few people worked as research assistants, as I mentioned above, and some people worked for the FSAI and the DAFM.
  4. How do you get PWE placement? A good few companies contact the department and advertise various positions. A couple of people knew places they wanted to work and just asked them if they’d take on a student. It just depends on what you are interested in.
  5. Is this course really different from Human Nutrition? Yes. In short, food science looks at the food and can cover the nutrients in the food but also includes other topics whereas Human Nutrition looks at what happens when the food (and nutrients) are inside the body, as well as other topics. You can find out more information about Human Nutrition here.
  6. Why did I do this course? I have always been interested in food, looking behind what was on the label, what did the ingredients do? Why were they in the recipe? I also was interested in the food chains, what exactly did products go through before they reached the shops and how do we taste foods, why is this important? The last two, as I learned, come into sensory science, a 2nd-year module.
  7. Did I enjoy the course and would I do it again? 100%, in a heartbeat. I’m not going to say it was easy, parts of it were definitely challenging, but I really enjoyed (most) of the course, and I would absolutely do it again.
  8. What jobs can you get after? There are so many different careers you can have, just the same as PWE options. Many people do end up working in the food industry, especially in Quality Assurance, Food Safety and Product Development. People also go into the business side and work as a Food Buyer or in Marketing or Supply Chain. It just depends on what you want to do. If you want to go into food research, you may need to do further degrees (Masters degree or PhD).

 

I hope all this has made sense and has hopefully answered all (some?) of your questions. If there are any more questions, please comment below this post. Alternatively, you can visit the page dedicated to the undergraduate Food Science course here or contact the School of Agriculture and Food Science directly here.