Are you confused as to whom to appoint as a Food Technologist?

The debate around descriptions and key performance areas of graduates in the food industry has created areas of concern, and confusion, in a number  of  different quarters. This includes teaching academics involved in training students, personnel involved in academic or commercial placement, the industries looking to employ such graduates and, finally, in the minds of graduates from a range of different, yet related, disciplines.

The confusion specifically refers to the following academic disciplines: food technology; food science; consumer science (food and nutrition); dietetics; biotechnology; and others such as food and beverage management, nutrition and cookery; although the latter three will not be discussed further here. The remaining former disciplines are to a greater or lesser degree perceived differently, or incorrectly, by many of the stakeholders involved. A tabulated annexure of these disciplines may be found at the end of this article.

There are four main groups of stakeholders in this debate:

  1. The academic training units involved in producing graduates for specific markets based on wide-ranging and ongoing consultation with as many stakeholders as The latter is done as part of the Department of Higher Education and Training’s requirements for approving qualifications and courses at specific institutions.
  2. Those industries wishing to place personnel to satisfy their own human capital requirements as well as their B-BBEE, technical and corporate social investment requirements and also to ensure that their SETA contributions are used to the fullest for their own development. It must also be stated, in many cases, there is also a mix of all the above in the general operations for any one company towards its own development.
  3. Employment agencies that have two understandable agendas: placing as many units per time period and also placing the appropriate person in the correct
  4. The final stakeholder is the graduate being employed in this process. This is sometimes the most vulnerable of all the stakeholders in terms of impact on their personal careers, self-esteem and productivity, value for money to the employer and future employability and advancement.

An informal survey of the industry conducted in 2007 by means of an e-mail poll posed the question in terms of their understanding of the disciplines. A follow-up poll was conducted in the week preceding publication of this article and the results show that there is a misconception and under- appreciation of the unique qualities of each qualification and its graduates. This is proven in the range of qualified persons employed in positions that one would normally reserve for another specific qualification or person. In addition, the degree of confusion or misunderstanding of these  qualifications and graduates  is  evident  in  both  middle  and  more  senior management.

Due to the nature and limited number of employment opportunities generally, and in the food industry specifically, there appears to be a trend towards employing a range of graduates in the position of a Food Technologist/ Scientist. This is based on a number of suppositions by the employer, the placing agency and the graduate involved.

Smaller companies with their own limited resources often have neither the knowledge nor the time to fully interrogate the suitability of the person they are employing in a specific position. Other companies may have the resources but not the inclination to properly investigate – this is often because of the urgencies of their own requirements. In addition, placement agencies and prospective employees themselves may also remain concerned about where it is best for people to be placed. Finally, there is, in our opinion, the smallest segment of this possible ‘mis-employment’ of graduates caused by the ‘need to be placed’ from the perspective of both prospective employee and placement agency.

All fields of study and qualifications mentioned overlap in many different ways and to many varying degrees. This points to the fact that, given sufficient experience and later cross- pollination in the field of employment, a consumer scientist may be employed in a grey area (and beyond) between a newly-qualified food technologist or scientist and a newly-qualified consumer scientist. The same holds for a food scientist and a biotechnologist, as well as for the other fields referred to (and their own specific permutations of overlap and cross-field training).

At the end of the day, it may not have been made clear to students about where they might be employed and it would not be acceptable to allow a student but also we do not want to allow industry to labor under any misconceptions. Within tertiary training institutions there is largely a clear understanding and agreement regarding this among the teaching fraternity. However, our concern pertains to the industry’s understanding of this situation as well as that of the newly-graduating student.

Beside the personal impacts and ramifications arising, there are economic impacts as well. The (then) latest draft of the Department of Trade and Industry’s Industrial Policy Action Plan 2011/12 – 2013/14 clearly indicates the shortage of these specific skills and the need to train more personnel to fill these gaps.

What are/ were our experiences in this regard? Has this changed over the years? Is it time for another possibly more scientific study possibly administered via a questionnaire? Your input will be highly valued.

Larry Dolley & Jessy Van Wyk

Footnote: This article is an edited version of that placed in Food Review of June 2011.


The following definitions could provide the basis for employing a graduate (note that this is a summary/extract from different sources and may not be complete):



Food technologist


Master the scientific study of the large-scale production and preservation of foods as well as the development and analysis of foodstuffs in industrial food processing facilities. Their primary focus is acquiring practical skills, which, together with the underpinning scientific principles, enable them to be operationally productive in their various roles* in the food industry.

*Food technologists are involved in the following areas of food manufacture: quality assurance, processing technology, chemistry and microbiology. In addition, they are trained to ensure that both legal and industrial food standards are monitored and maintained prior to marketing. They are also part of research teams and have to solve technical problems when raw materials are converted to preserved foods in factories.


Food scientist


Equipped with graduate level knowledge of the field of food science and technology as well as the skills to understand and apply the concept of food science and technology – ie the understanding and application of science to satisfy the needs of society for sustainable food quality, safety and security. Food scientists are also equipped with skills to pursue scholarly activity – ie insight to develop as food science researchers. Their primary focus is acquiring scientific knowledge. Supported by relevant practical skills, the graduate acquires a good general and scientific background of sufficient depth and latitude to enable the graduate to practice as a competent food and beverage scientist.


consumer scientist (food and nutrition)


Has the background to be employed as a specialist trained in fresh convenience food and its small-scale production as well as styling and photography regarding food. It further prepares a graduate to assist with the safe packaging of food products and also the selection of appropriate ingredients for these products. This also includes writing food- related articles and to follow food trends and consumer demands. Higher levels of study build on this, including elements of nutrition and fresh food production.




Competent to apply theoretical and practical fundamental knowledge and skills in the fields of microbial biochemistry, molecular biology, fermentation technology and bioprocessing to the relevant biotechnology industries** and research institutions.

**These include: bioprocessing/ bio-manufacturing industry, food and beverage industry,  pharmaceutical  industry, pulp and paper industry, wastewater treatment plants, agriculture and forestry, research institutions, academic institutions, research councils and government departments.




Registered at least at the Health Professions Council of South Africa as dieticians in line with the scope of practice (therapeutic nutrition, community nutrition and food service management) outlined in Act 56 (1974) and can demonstrate in the contexts of institutions, private practice and communities the ability to perform nutritional assessments, analyze nutritional manifestations in order to determine the causes thereof, plan, implement and evaluate nutrition interventions, education and programmes and manage food and nutrition for individuals and groups.