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What Is the Role of a Food Microbiologist?

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Microbiology is the study of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, yeast, fungi, algae, viruses and other microscopic forms of life. Food microbiology focuses on studying food microorganisms. This includes learning how to identify them, as well as classify how they live and how they can be put to use according to their characteristics. Microbes are single-cell organisms, the oldest form of life on earth, and are often studied by food microbiologists.

Food Microbiology Overview

The food microbiology field is very broad; it encompasses the study of micro-organisms and their beneficial and harmful effects on the safety and quality of processed and raw foods. This food and agricultural science is concerned with all the various aspects of food, from harvest to consumption. This field is very distinct from nutrition, and is typically studied at land-grant universities.

Food Microbiologists

Activities of a food microbiologist include developing new food products, designing a process of production for these foods, packaging materials, determining shelf life and microbiological and chemical testing. Typically, food microbiologists are not directly involved with creating genetically modified foods. Specialty studies of a food microbiologist include food safety, engineering, development, analysis and reporting on the chemistry of different foods. The primary role of a food microbiologist is identifying and determining the quantity of food-borne microorganisms.

Work Environment

A food microbiologist can work in various sectors and environments. These include federal government labs, state government labs and both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Most of the work is done in a laboratory or factory testing facility. A food microbiologist can advance to a management position through experience or by obtaining a master's degree or doctorate in the food microbiology field. This role requires the food microbiologist to oversee various scientists and research projects.


A food microbiologist is required to have a bachelor's degree in food microbiology, or a food science degree. Many go on to earn master's or doctorate degrees as well. Post-graduate degrees are required for research positions at universities or major labs.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of a food microbiologist as of May 2008 is $59,520; the low-end salary is $33,790; and the high-end salary is $104,520 or more. Job growth in this field is expected to expand up to 16 percent by 2018.


Chris Newton has worked as a professional writer since 2001. He spent two years writing software specifications then spent three years as a technical writer for Microsoft before turning to copywriting for software and e-commerce companies. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing from the University of Colorado.