Food technology: Science of making food last longer
Photograph: Shutter Stock
A FOOD TECHNOLOGIST needs to have good understanding of problems at the farmer level and capability to handle situations on hand, besides scientific knowledge.
Programmes: BTech, MTech (Food Technology/Food Engineering); BSc, MSc (Food Technology; MSc (Food and Nutrition)
Job profiles: Production engineer, R&D, Quality control, Food Regulatory Officer, Food Microbiologist
Best institutes: UDCT, Mumbai; College of Food Technology, Parbhani; Amity University; CFTRI, Mysore; Guru Jambheswar University of Science
and Technology, Hisar; IIT Kharagpur
Recruiters: FMCG companies, small and medium-scale food processing industries, FSSAI, food testing labs
ALONE at home and not in a mood to cook? Instant noodles to the rescue! A trip to the nearest supermarket in your area unravels the plethora of food products in different flavours and forms. Be it mixed grain atta, baked chips, energy drinks, flavoured curds, probiotic drinks, pastas, sausages or even healthy, nutrition bars, all these varieties in the day- to- day food are all courtesy food technology. Food technology is the science that transforms cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables, raw meat and milk to various packaged food products.
“It is the foundation for protecting food from going waste and extending its shelf life by preserving it for a longer time,” explains Dr VH Potty from Central Food Technology and Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore. One of the earliest advances in food technology was made in 1810, by a scientist called Nicolas Appert, who developed canning as a method to store food for a longer time. Around 54 years later, Louis Pasteur’s discovery enabled people to prevent wine and milk from spoiling.
Photograph: Shutter Stock
WITH THE LARGEST land area and diverse agro-climatic zones, India has a production advantage with potential to become the food factory of the world.
Sunrise in industry in India
Food processing is considered a sunrise industry here. With the largest irrigated land area and diverse agro-climatic zones across the country, India has a production advantage with potential to become the food factory of the world. It also offers a vast market to the food processors and traders, says Dr Bhupender Singh Khatkar, a senior faculty in the Department of Food Technology, Guru Jambheshwar University of Science and Technology, Hisar, Haryana, Dr Khatkar believes that the food processing sector is the next revolution to take place in India; retail processed food business will create nine million jobs.
Food technologists, in demand
The business has already grown since globalization thereby leading to increase in the requirement for food technologists, says Dr Rizwana Haleem, Associate Professor and Senior Faculty Member, Department of Food technology, Bhaskaracharya College of Applied Sciences, Delhi University (DU). The college is one of the two in Delhi offering a BSc (Hon) in Food Technology. Many alumni from this college are working in many food processing companies and also as food scientists.
BSc (H) Food Technology
For her innovative product project in the third year of her programme, Akanksha created an apple aloe vera jam with the head of the department as he mentor. Students have the choice to create a new product or modify the nutritional content of an existing one. Akanksha chose to do the latter. “Aloe vera has medicinal properties. But it is not used in food items because of its bitter taste. If we could value-add to apple jam that is already available in the market, it can then be consumed by children and old people,” she shares.
To ascertain whether aloe vera extracts could be used in food items, Akanksha contacted Reliance Life Sciences in Mumbai. Their inputs were critical to the success of the project; plant extract could indeed be used in food products. But they also guided her on what concentration of the extract in powder form could be used in jam so that the sweet taste is not compromised. After experimenting for a good six months on consistency and taste, the product was kept for ‘shelf life study’. This helped in finding out, for how long the product could stay without getting spoilt in room temperature.
Every 15 days, the jam would be inspected by the faculty members on parameters such as taste, aroma, colour, how easily it spreads on bread, etc. “We didn’t have to spend anything on the ingredients; we placed the order with the college and they procured it for us,” she says. Even her family gave her feedback in the initial days of experiments! This feedback was valuable considering it came from lay people.
The engineering track
At present, Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD courses are offered by universities spread across the country. Students with a technical bend of mind can opt for BTech Food technology/Food Engineering, while leaning towards basic science can go for BSc Food Technology. While both courses deal with the science of converting food into different forms and introducing novel products, BTech students learn chemical engineering. “That’s the core mother branch and food technology is the daughter branch,” says BTech (Food Engineering) student Harak Soni. In the first year, students learn subjects common to other engineering streams.
The subjects on food technology increase each year, with students learning all subjects related to food engineering in the fourth year. Students are also expected to do six months internship and six months project/research work. “BTech students gain knowledge about the latest developments in the field of food processing and engineering. This is achieved by industrial visits, in-plant and industrial workshop training during the four-year programme,” says Dr HN Mishra, professor Agriculture and Food Engineering, IIT Kharagpur.
“Some pursue an MBA for better job prospects. But those who go for MTech get deeper understanding of the subject”
MTech - Food and Nutritional Biotechnology, SRM University
The Basic Sciences track
In the BSc Food Technology, students are introduced to subjects like biology, maths, statistics, principles of food sciences, food processing and engineering, food microbiology, technology used in industrial plants, animal food and food safety among others.
“Students have to make a novel product by either adding some new ingredient in a product already available in the market or by creating a brand new product in their third year,” explains Dr Ranjana Singh, Dept Head and Associate Professor, Shaheed Rajguru College of Applied Sciences for Women. Apple Aloe Vera jam, Amla Appy bar are some of the products made by students. Since last year, DU introduced a new subject in the third semester called Project Management and Entrepreneurship. The aim is to give an idea about managing food processing and a possibility that they can start their own business, informs Dr Rizwana.
While many BTech students prefer working after graduation, the same cannot be said about BSc students. Most students from DU’s two colleges opt for higher studies. “The pay scale after BSc is between Rs 15-20,000. Whereas it is much better after you do a Master’s. However, there is no dearth of jobs for students who want to work after graduation. They get easily absorbed in the industry,” says Dr Ranjana. While the Master’s course in food technology is offered only by a few institutes, students may also opt for other streams like Biotechnology, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Food Engineering, etc.
Some even pursue an MBA for better job prospects. Harak aims to do an MBA in marketing, as it would help him manage his family food processing business. In fact, about 20 percent of students from his college opt for MBA after graduation, while the rest proceed towards MTech. But those interested in MTech get a deeper understanding of the subject, argues UDCT alumni Rohan Mantri.
“Food processing sector is the next revolution to take place in India; retail processed food business will create nine million jobs”
Dept. of Food Technology, Guru Jambheswar University
Mecca of Food Technology
CFTRI, a public sector institute, is one of the few colleges that offer an MSc (Food Technology) programme. But it has only 25 seats. Hence competition is stiff. Deepa D’Souza, who passed out of CFTRI in 2003, advises students to prepare well in advance for the entrance test. Focus on the basics in chemistry, maths and trigonometry. During the programme, in addition to monthly exams, students are expected to submit mini dissertations, research and practicals. “In the initial semesters the ratio of theory and practicals was 60:40 but later it is the reverse,” says Deepa, who works at a market intelligence company in the fast moving consumer goods sector in Mumbai.
The curriculum has close to fifty subjects tackled over four semesters. Food science, food chemistry along with generic subjects are introduced in the initial phase, progressing to more technical and applied subjects, operation of machinery, engineering, processing of vegetables, etc. “It is pretty much like an engineering course. The university should make it an MTech programme since it is too technical!” says D’Souza, who was recruited by Coca Cola during campus recruitment.
Almost everyone from institutes to students unanimously agree that there are plenty of opportunities and jobs waiting to be grabbed. Since awareness of the field is low, competition is not intense. To assist students, most colleges have placement cells or a good network with alumni. Both national companies and MNCs including Coca Cola, Wipro, Bikanerwala, Asian Seasoning, Nestle and General Mills (Pillsbury) routinely conduct campus recruitments.
Rohan Mantri, who completed MTech Food and Nutritional Biotechnology at SRM University, recounts attending an interview for R&D department at HLL, “The interview was done over the phone and lasted for over half-an-hour. It was a really nice experience. The interviewer asked about my MTech project and basic knowledge about food technology.”
Mantri currently works as a consultant for a few small scale food industries in the area of new product development and process line.
Photograph: Shutter Stock
FOOD TECHNOLOGY is the foundation for protecting food from going waste and extending its shelf life by preserving it for a longer time.
Pay scales and more
According to Dr Bhupendar Singh, one advantage for students attending his institute is the location. Located near the NH1 and NH8, Hisar houses the manufacturing units of many food processing companies. Hence, getting a job is not a problem. “Around 60 percent of our students get absorbed in the industries, where they go for training as per course requirement,” he reveals.
CFTRI claims that their MSc students receive a pay package of Rs. 4 lakh with most of them getting into equipment marketing, production, R&D and innovative product development. The highest pay packages in 2011 ranged between Rs. 8-9 lakh. However, if you have just completed your BSc and want to work, some positions available are assistant managers in quality control labs or as food analysts. The salary ranges from Rs. 15-20,000, informs Dr Ranjana Singh of Shaheed Rajguru College.
Besides scientific knowledge, the industry looks for a good understanding of the grassroot problems, that is, at the farmer level and capability to handle situations on hand, says Dr Mishra. Leadership quality, manpower control and good communication skills are other traits that can give you an edge over others.
Need for food technologists
“Food technologists can help India overcome post-harvest losses and bring about development in the commercialisation of the food processing sector,” observes Dr HN Mishra. India being a major producer of cereal grains, fruit, vegetables and also number one in milk production, there won’t be any dearth of job openings for food technologists.
Executive Vice President,
Q. How integral is the role of a food technologists in Research and Development?
A. That role is the heart and soul of R&D activity and also in the development of new food products.
Q. What do you look for during recruitment?
A. We focus on both functional expertise and attitude. We lay great emphasis on behaviours, which are not so easily teachable. We have identified specific behaviours for different roles using a scientific psychometric methodology.
Q. Do internships during one’s course add value?
A. Internship experience does add value in as much as the person knows the organisation to some extent, understands the culture and values and has the opportunity to slide into the job faster. Having said that, the value of the internship is a function of what the person could get done in the time and how well the person did.
Q. Are educational institutions meeting expectations?
A. Not really. A huge gap exists between what the education system and courses provide in this area and what is expected from organisations.
Q. Does the institute from where the candidate has graduated matter while hiring?
A. Where the person has come from, both in terms of education institutions and organisations he/she has worked, and the value he/she brings is equally important.
Q. Is there a scope for MSc food technologist in your company?
A. Yes, there is scope for such people.
NIFTEM, Sonepat (from coming academic year): BTech, MTech, PhD
IIT Kharagpur: BTech
Guru Jambheshwar University, Hisar, Haryana: MSc, BTech, MTech
Amity Institute of Food Technology: BTech, MSc
Punjab Agriculture University: MSc, MTech