What Can You Do With a Food Science Degree?

Food Science at UC Davis

From freshly baked bread to a cup of coffee, food is a sensory experience that connects us all. When it comes to how our food is made, however, we rarely focus on the science that is used to create it. If you are passionate about the intricacies of flavor chemistry, interested in sustainability in food production or intrigued by the intersection of technology and food, consider majoring in food science and technology. 

The food science and technology department at UC Davis is focused on finding ways to make food healthier, tastier and safer for all consumers. The food science major is a combination of scientific research and outreach with the goal of ensuring nutritious food with a minimal environmental impact. 

What is food science? 

Staff lab manager Matharin Lee (wearing black shirt).
Staff Lab Manager Matharin Lee conducting food science research in the winery at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Food science uses a mix of biochemistry, biology and chemical engineering to understand food processes and improve food safety and quality for the general public. Food scientists will often study food's physical, microbial and chemical makeup. They then apply their findings to develop safe, nutritious, sustainable food that make up the products we all know and love. 

What are some of the differences between food science, nutrition and dietetics?

Food science, nutrition and dietetics are all similar fields, but each focuses on specific areas of food study. Food science deals primarily with the science and technology that is required to produce food such as biotechnology, sensory science, quality control and engineering. 

J'dharra Rodas and Evelyn Eidsath talk as they look at their numbers during the Food Analysis Lab for Food Science in the Robert Mondavi Institute.
J'dharra Rodas and Evelyn Eidsath talk as they look at their numbers during the Food Analysis Lab for Food Science in the Robert Mondavi Institute. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Nutrition, on the other hand, deals with the effects of foods on the people who consume them. Dietetics is the science concerned with the nutritional planning and preparation of foods. Students in the dietetics major can also be certified as registered dietitians and usually work in a clinical setting, such as in hospitals, schools or other similar institutions.

What do you learn as a food science major? 

Through the major, students may choose to specialize in one of seven career-oriented fields: 

  • food technology 
  • food business and management
  • consumer food science
  • fermentation science 
  • food biology/microbiology
  • food chemistry or food biochemistry.

However, students can expect to spend their first two years learning the general background of food through various scientific disciplines before moving on to upper-division work. This includes chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics. 

Cameron Rose (female) a senior double majoring in Viticulture and Enology and Managerial Economics and Kyle Williams (male) a senior majoring in Chemical Engineering work together to "rach the lees" in 540 gallon tanks at the winery at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.
Cameron Rose, a senior double-majoring in viticulture and enology and managerial economics, and Kyle Williams, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, work together to "rach the lees" in 540 gallon tanks in the winery at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

At the upper division level, students can take courses in nutrition, food microbiology, food chemistry, food analysis, food commodities, food processing and food engineering. If you are interested in the study of specific foods, like beer or wine, UC Davis has both a brewing program and a viticulture and enology major.

What experience can food science students gain outside the classroom?

Students studying food science and food biochemistry are highly encouraged to look for related clubs and organizations. The Food Tech Club or the Food Science Brewing Club are run by and for students. Through these organizations, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in club activities like food industry tours and nation-wide food competitions.

4 students taking a photo at the vegetable photo booth in front of the Plant Sciences building.
Picnic Day vegetable photo booth in front of the Plant Sciences building in 2022. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Additionally, students have the opportunity to pursue independent study with a professor in the course “FST 199: Special Study for Advanced Undergraduates,” where they can assist or perform research in the faculty member’s laboratory. Students can also work for a food-related company or state agency, either during the school year or during the summer break, and earn units in the course “FST 192: Internship for Advanced Undergraduates.”

What can you do with a food science degree? 

(l to r) Natalie Garcia, Josh Hagen and Oliver Davis, Food Science majors, work on the lab results during the Food Analysis Lab.
From left to right, food science majors Natalie Garcia, Josh Hagen and Oliver Davis map out their results during the Food Analysis Lab for Food Science in the Robert Mondavi Institute on January 20, 2020. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

You can enter the food sciences field with a bachelor’s degree, but many employers will prefer candidates with a master’s degree in food science. If you want to go more in-depth into food research or teach at the university level, you may also need to complete a Ph.D. program in food science

Graduates of the food science program have gone on to work at many companies in the food industry such as General Mills, Coca-Cola, Pillsbury, Dole, Del Monte, Campbell's, as well as state and federal government agencies. Some graduates have also gone on to obtain an M.B.A. and pursue a career path into technical sales, marketing, distribution, plant supervision and product development. 

Students in the food science major are particularly encouraged to consider entering the world-renowned UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine after the completion of their junior year. They would then obtain both a Bachelor of Science degree in food science and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. There is an increasing demand for students educated in the area of food safety due to outbreaks of diseases associated with food-borne infections, especially those involving poultry, eggs, meat and dairy products.

Dr. Crystal Rogers and a group of students hold chicken eggs in Roger's lab in the Vet Med 3B building.
Dr. Crystal Rogers and a group of students hold chicken eggs in Rogers' lab in the Vet Med 3B building. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Students looking to use science to delve deeper into food processes while exploring avenues for improving food safety, nutrition and sustainability should consider majoring in food science and technology. A degree in food science opens doors to a world where science meets sustenance, offering endless possibilities to shape the future of food for generations to come. 

“When it came to picking my major, I wanted an agriculture science that involves looking at a raw product and learning the process to create something people can enjoy,” said Allie Lipco, a fourth-year viticulture and enology student. “It’s super interesting to hear everything about something as simple as a grape and how it can turn into something more.” 

Ph.D. student Jiahan Zou presenting new biodegradable jelly ice cubes, in what looks like a petri dish, developed at UC Davis.

Food science major

Your food was probably grown, processed, delivered and prepared using techniques developed by food scientists and technologists. See the requirements needed for our food science program at UC Davis.

View our food science major

Food science major Bianca Tomad serving food in the Aggie Eats Food Truck at UC Davis.

Food science careers

Now you have a better idea of what careers in food science might suit you. Explore further with our food science career guide! It’s designed to help narrow down your choices so you can find a path you’ll truly enjoy.

Discover food science careers

Jaylynn Velhagen-Dizon (she/her) is a fourth year English major and Cinema and Digital Media major. She is from Southern California, and it is her first year as a Majors Blog intern for UC Davis' Office of Strategic Communications. Jaylynn's favorite part of campus is the Arboretum and Public Garden, where she enjoys bird watching and admiring the poppies every spring.

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