Microbiology is the study of microorganisms, their impact on humans, their roles in human physiology, and their roles in the environment. Microbiologists are employed in both the public and private sectors across a broad spectrum of industries. The food industry in particular employs a large number of microbiologists. Food industry microbiologists work in a variety of capacities, but primarily in product development and food quality control and inspection.
Most microbiologists working in the food industry have at least a bachelor's degree. An undergraduate degree is sufficient for most entry-level quality assurance or food inspector positions, but those employed in research or product development typically have a master's degree or a doctorate. A master's degree is also generally required for advancement into food industry management positions.
Product Development Microbiologists
Creating novel, nutritious and delicious food products is at the heart of the food industry for the 21st century. Microbiologists, along with chemists, industrial psychologists and marketing professionals, are a key part of food industry product development teams. Food microbiologists perform several important roles in leading studies to assess product stability and lifetime, as well as consulting on production or storage quality control issues.
Quality Control Microbiologists
A significant number of microbiologists are employed in various quality control capacities in both the private and public sector. Food processing and manufacturing companies employ microbiologists in quality assurance roles at their facilities, and federal and state agencies also hire microbiologists to inspect food processing and production facilities. The work typically involves taking samples of food products -- both during production and after product packaging -- and testing the samples in the lab for the presence of specific pathological bacteria. Quality assurance and quality control microbiologists often spend a lot of time setting up and entering data into electronic databases.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 13-percent job growth is expected for microbiologists as a group between 2010 and 2020. The American Society for Microbiology also projects significant demand for all types of microbiologists for the next 20 years. The demand for food microbiologists should remain strong, as they are going to be needed to develop new methods of food preservation along with new techniques to detect contaminating microorganisms.