Food technology is not about duck confit and jacket potatoes. Ignorance about the course and its scope has led to a huge skill gap in the industry. Prachi Rege stirs up a tasty broth.
Food is the soul for the stomach and everyone loves to eat. The professionals involved in the process of manufacturing and packaging of food products are called food technologists. This job comes with high risk responsibility. However, the job market is relatively untapped in the industry, which is expected to grow by nearly 40 per cent of its current market size by 2015. Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry`s (FICCI) report titled —Bottlenecks in Indian food processing industry – survey 2010 points out the shortage of skilled and technical know-how in the industry.
Majority organisations interviewed for the survey were dissatisfied with the skills of the available trained manpower. For instance, 58 per cent respondents were dissatisfied with technical skills and knowledge needed for the job and 72 per cent showed discontent with employees’ ability to use appropriate and modern tools, equipment, and technologies specific to their jobs.
Rekha Singhal, head, Food Engineering and Technology Department, Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) blames institutes, which have mushroomed during the past few years and offer courses in food science and technology, for the skill gap. "Most of these institutes are inadequate in terms of necessary infrastructure and teaching expertise. Consequently we get professionals who have half-baked knowledge," she says.
Ignorance and confusion about the field is another reason for the dearth of skilled food tech professionals. "Students confuse food technology with catering. The fundamental difference between the two is that the former involves processing and packaging of food products with shelf life and the latter is cooking for immediate consumption," explains Harsh Jadhav, head of Food and Science Technology Department, All India Institute of Local Self Government. Experts also believe that since the job may require a person to relocate to a city where the food lab or production outlet of the company is located, students shy away from pursuing this career.
A food technology aspirant may sign up either for a BTech or a BSc post Class 12. For a BTech in Food Engineering student needs to have cleared any of the competitive tests—CET, AIEEE and JEE. You may then do a Mtech. Students who don`t appear for any of these tests and have an aggregate score of 60 per cent in Class XII (PCB) can directly apply for a BSc in food science and technology. Pay scales vary according to the degree earned. "An engineering graduate will have an edge over his/ her BSc counterpart," mentions Jadhav. Multinationals like Nestle, Hindustan Unilever etc.offer Trainee production engineers a starting salary of Rs 20,000 and this may go up to Rs 3 lakhs, while a BSc graduate in the same job role starts off at Rs 10,000.
Precision and perfection are two vital skills to be a successful food technologist. "If fat content in a particular food product has to be 3.5 per cent than it has to be that much, it can`t be 3.49 or 3.51 per cent. A small mistake in measurement of any raw material that goes into making the product may have serious repurcussions," warns Jadhav. Singhal says that since the field is interdisciplinary in nature students with background and keen interest in biosciences and chemistry must opt for this career. "Food technology is the most intensive course in the chemical engineering field," she adds.
For those who are still debating whether to get into food technology or not, experts suggest to tune in to TV shows that showcase the functioning of food production outlets. "Watching the whole process of how the lab works and food is packaged and dispatched to the market will be a rewarding knowledge. This may also give a bit of an adrenaline push to make a firm decision," signs off Singhal.
1) Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai
2) Anna University, Chennai
3) Central Food Technological Research Institute(CFTRI), Mysore
4) MIT College of Food Technology, Pune
(List is indicative)
Organic Chemists: Advise on the methods by which the raw materials have to be converted into processed food.
Biochemists: Suggests improvements in flavor, texture, storage and quality.
Analytical Chemists: Analyse food products to maintain quality.
Home Economists: Expert in dietetics and nutrition, they test the food and recipes according to the directions on the containers.
Engineers: Are also required for planning, designing, improving and maintaining the processing systems.
Research Scientists: Carry out experiments regarding improvement in yield, flavor, nutritive value and general acceptability of the packaged food.
Production Manager – Confectionery: Shound have idea and experience about the product that will be produced, and also have some technical knowledge about the machines.
Assistant General Manager / Senior Manager Food Processing: Applying advanced engineering techniques to set up fruit and vegetable processing unit and analysis within the discipline which require developing designs, innovation, and ingenuity with minimal supervision.