It’s already August and I am waiting patiently for the IFT Membership Employment and Salary Survey to come out. The last update was 2009 and they only post the survey every two years. This survey is, for some, the only way to negotiate a fair wage for what is probably the most important role/job in a food manufacturing company.

Circa 1990...

U-Mass Brochure Circa 1990…

What is the role of the food scientist? While the job details may vary, in general a food scientist is there to ensure that the manufactured food is safe, tastes good, is packaged properly, and is in compliance with government regulations. Contrary to popular belief, food scientists are not nutritionists, chefs or restaurant managers (although they can be trained in those areas and perform those functions in addition to their food science tasks). As a matter of fact, when people ask me if I am a nutritionist, I usually respond by saying, “No, they actually care what goes into your body—and I don’t.” It’s not that I personally do not care, but that is not my job in the company. I am there to make sure whatever concept marketing, sales, CEO, COO, culinary, etc. want to develop is done as correctly, safety and inexpensively as possible, and meets the requirements and requests of everyone in the organization. I don’t judge the nutritional content or the organic status or how sustainable the item is. Those were decisions that I made when taking the job in the first place and knowing what the company stands for.


Without the food scientist there can be no finished product. End of story. From the entry-level technologist to the more seasoned R&D expert, most food scientists are simply not being paid what they deserve, and I blame this on the fact that there are so few of us that we have no true data or understanding of what we are actually worth and, as a result, are afraid or intimidated to ask for more money. It doesn’t help that only 2,728 people filled out and returned that IFT survey.

So here are a few facts that a company should consider when trying to decide how much to pay their food scientist:

  1. A product recall can cost a company millions, and a food scientist can decrease the odds of that happening. Most product recalls happen because of mislabeled products or a misunderstanding of labeling laws.
  2. Labeling errors can delay a product’s time to market. A food scientist can expedite this process, because they know how to use Genesis and read the Code of Federal Regulations.
  3. In 2010, there were 591 food science graduates. That number represents how many people in the entire USA graduated with food science degrees.
  4. You need them more than they need you; they have options.

And some facts that a food scientist should consider when being offered a salary that is below their expectation:

  1. Most experienced food scientists in their 30s are married, have kids, own a house that they probably can’t sell and don’t want to move, which means the company does not have many options!
  2. They need you more than you need them, and you are probably the best candidate they have seen so far!

Most of what I have written here applies to experienced food scientists, but entry-level food scientists also have lots of opportunities. Sometimes recent grads don’t see these opportunities because they feel that they must stay in the area where they went to school, or where their family lives. To the youngins out there, if you really are dedicated to the field, then it won’t kill you to move out of state for a few years and get some experience. You can always go back to your favorite city later on with a degree, experience and more options. But no graduating food scientist will ever be jobless unless by choice. There are way too many empty positions out there.

But going back to the companies again, Pay your food scientist what they are worth, because they will save you time, extend your products’ shelf life, get it to market safety and make sure you are in compliance with FDA and USDA regulations. So as you consider what salary is appropriate, ask yourself what is food safety and brand reputation worth to you, because without a qualified food scientist on staff, you are putting your company on the line.

So take the IFT Salary Survey 2011 with a grain of salt and add about 20% more too every salary listed.

About rachel zemser