Food Science is the discipline in which biology, physical sciences, and engineering are used to study the nature of foods, the causes of their deterioration, and the principles underlying food processing.
Food Technology is the application of food science to the selection, preservation, processing, packaging, distribution, and use of safe, nutritious, and wholesome food (link).
Food science and food technology are used interchangeably as there is rarely any distinction between them. While it is more likely that a food technologist would be working in industry rather than at research, all food scientists & technologists are concerned with the science required to understand and improve our food supply.
Wikipedia has another definition:
Food science is a discipline concerned with all technical aspects of food, beginning with harvesting or slaughtering, and ending with its cooking and consumption. It is considered one of the agricultural sciences, and is usually considered distinct from the field of nutrition.
While both these definitions do start to explain what food science it, there are still some misunderstandings. Food scientists are not nutritionists. I like to joke that food scientists’ interests in food stops once it reaches a consumer’s mouth, as that is our measure of success. Actually, it should reach your mouth on more than one occasion. You need to like the food product enough to want to eat it again, but is doesn’t necessarily need to be healthy or nutritious. We do care if it is safe; that is not contain harmful bacteria or toxins. (The issues as to whether an unhealthy food, such as a high fat food, is unsafe are topics for another day and probably another blog.)
Neither are we or involved in food service or any kind of food preparation. This is changing slightly with the Research Chefs Association’s Culinology® program. True food scientists do not necessarily need to know how to cook or even like food! But it certainly helps.
One of my colleagues likes to refer to food science as the ultimately applied science. No other discipline uses all other disciplines in the same way as food science. For example, you can take any to the taxonomic definitions used over at Science Blogs a few weeks ago, add “food” in front and bingo you have a food scientist. A food microbiologist studies microbes that contaminant food etc.
A brief over view of the different branches of food science is: <!–[if supportFields]>tc "Application of scientific principles to the study of food " \l 2–><!–[if supportFields]>–>
Chemistry: Contents, Color, Changes during processing & storage, Flavor
Biology: Post harvest storage, Micro-organism growth, Spoilage, Food Poisoning
Engineering: Processing Technology, Mixing, Packaging
Nutrition: Labels, Health Claims
Disciplines such as psychology, physics, business, marketing, even music, can be part of our food chain. I’m sure Garrison Keillor could do a sketch on for the Professional Organization of English Majors™ about food.
Another thing I like to point out is that every product in a supermarket has been through a food technologist before it reached the shelf. Not literally, of course, but even fresh produce have to be evaluated for safety and who do you think designed those prepacked salads.
The kind of careers that a food scientist might follow include food development, quality control, sensory specialist, flavor chemist, food safety, government, research, and education.
What the US food industry has achieved is quite amazing and it is due to food science that these advances have been made. Whatever are the quibbles over what is a healthy food, the fact that the food industry is able, on the most part, to supply the whole of the US and elsewhere, with cheap, healthy, and safe food with a wide variety of choices is impressive.
That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to make the food supply even better. Now the food industry has worked out how to make cheap long lasting food products, it should now try to fresh tasting long lasting food products. But expect to pay more for them. The cost of ingredients such as sugar, salt, and high fructose corn syrup, is much less than the cost of herbs and spices and other more flavorful ingredients. Also the science and technology required to process food so that is tastes freshly prepared despite having been kept in frozen storage for several months is complex and, therefore, more expensive.