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Food Bacteriological Technician


Description

Good food is one of the best pleasures in life. Yet it is important to think about how the food we eat is prepared and what contaminants it may contain. Food technology is the scientific study of the makeup of foods, their deterioration, and the principles underlying the improvement of foods for the eating public. Food bacteriological technicians work in laboratories providing technical support and services to scientists, engineers and other professionals working in the fields of food bacteriology and inspection. Technology is applied to the development, processing, packaging, preservation, storage, and distribution of foods and beverages for the purposes of obtaining a safe, bacteria-free supply of food for people worldwide.

Food bacteriological technicians investigate the bacteriological and chemical contamination of food by studying specific food contaminants. They apply their knowledge in the development, processing, preserving, packaging, distributing and storing of foodstuffs. Some may act as investigators of public concerns, such as an E. coli outbreak in a hamburger joint. They often test the contaminated food in laboratories to find out what kind of infection is within the food product.

Food technicians develop ways to process and improve the quality of food and beverage products so that they are bacteria free. They need to know about food and drink products, food processing and production methods, and hygiene and quality standards. Some may design and analyze methods of cooking, canning, freezing, and packaging, and study the effect of processing on their bacteriological content. They also test samples to make sure foods and beverages meet food laws and experiment with new foods, additives, and preservatives. Food bacteriology encompasses activities from agricultural raw materials to consumer end-use products.

Some food bacteriological technicians work as food inspectors. Those investigating contamination cases may have to travel to a restaurant or factory to question employees and other people in order to gather evidence and research. They may visit meat packing plants and slaughterhouses to inspect health codes and proper production practices. If food is not properly prepared, it can become quickly contaminated with harmful bacteria that can be fatal.

Food bacteriological technicians may also work for ingredient supply and preservative companies also must know a great deal about adding and deleting ingredients and stabilizers. They must know how ingredients function together and which ones are more prone to bacteriological contamination. For example, hot dogs that sit in the fridge for days begin to grow a number of bacteria, which disappear when properly cooked. To help combat this, companies inject many preservatives and additives, such as sodium nitrite (which has raised a great deal of controversy) to keep their products last longer and safer.
 
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Food bacteriological technicians must be able to work under pressure, as they often have to meet tight deadlines. They must be accurate in carrying out tests and assessments, and they should take a practical approach to their work. They also need to be patient and persistent, as it can take months of trials to produce a new product or protect an existing one from contamination.

Motivation and tenacity are important qualities along with a better than average sense of smell and taste. A good odor memory is also helpful. Nevertheless, good instincts are helpful in this profession, which cannot be learned in school.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Assist in the development of new processing methods of new or improved foods to meet customer requests for safer foods
  • Search for factors that affect the shelf life and contamination potential of foods
  • Conduct tests to see that products meet government and industry bacteriological standards
  • Develop new food processing methods to create safer products with a longer shelf life
  • Check raw ingredients for freshness or stability for processing, and check finished products for safety and quality
  • Develop scientifically based quality assurance programs
  • Inspect processing line operations and develop and improve packaging, contamination and storage methods
  • Develop production specifications and evaluate processing and storage operations
  • Improve the quality of products so that bacteriological outbreaks never occur
  • Food bacteriological technicians perform most of their work in a laboratory, which is often set up like kitchens, with ovens, blenders and other cooking equipment. Some travel to meet with clients or to work with other scientists of technicians in factories, where conditions may be noisy, hot, cold, smelly or messy. There is no such thing as a typical day for a food technician as they usually perform a number of tasks each day. Food bacteriological technicians often work a bit more than average workweek hours as the job requires creative dedication and research.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Food bacteriological technicians generally work for any company that is involved in the food and beverage processing and manufacturing industry. This includes processing companies, ingredient supply companies, baking and confectionery companies, dairy, meat, fish, fruit and vegetable companies and the brewing and wine industry. Retail food chains employ food technicians to develop food safety programs. Many are employed by all levels of government, in food and drug administration and safety, agriculture and nutrition departments. Finally, many work in the academic world, performing research and teaching at the postsecondary level.

  Long Term Career Potential  
With experience, food bacteriological technicians can move into supervisory or administrative positions in the areas of quality assurance, inspection and regulation. They may decide to move into marketing and sales departments or start their own food processing and scientific testing companies. Those who work for the government may advance from laboratory positions to management level positions or regulatory positions. Research and teaching positions at universities and technical institutes will require further education.
 

  Educational Paths  
Food bacteriological technicians can either attend college or university. Some get two-year technician diplomas, specializing in food science, whereas other technicians may hold a bachelor of science degree with a specialty in food science, biochemistry or microbiology. A company will usually specify what their hiring requirements are, however a university education is always a good stepping stone to go onto more schooling and more advanced positions.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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