Food Scientist for a Day
Students focus on the science involved in the production of our food and explore the high-tech aspects of agricultural production as they learn about careers in food science. Grades 6-8
food science: the study of the physical, biological, and chemical makeup of food and the concepts underlying food processing
Did You Know?
- The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief in-house research agency.
- Thanks to ARS work, today’s carrots provide 75 percent more beta-carotene than those available 25 years ago.1
- An ARS scientist introduced the use of bacterial starter to make fermented meats like pepperoni and Genoa salami.1
- Other ARS researchers developed reduced-fat mozzarella cheese--now used in the USDA National School Lunch Program.2
Background Agricultural Connections
In this lesson students will learn how science is applied in the production, processing, packing, and distribution of their food. Under the umbrella of food science there are many specialties and career paths that play a part in the process of farm to fork food production.
- Product Development
- Develop new food products to meet the needs of consumers of various life stages, nutritional needs, and desired convenience factors. For example, Uncrustables are a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that does not have a crust. These were designed for the convenience of parents and to appeal to children who don't like to eat the crust.
- Food Safety & Packaging
- Develop and improve methods of food processing to ensure food is safe from food borne illness and can be safely stored for a specified amount of time. For example, pasteurization is a cooking process that kills any harmful bacteria that may be present in milk and juice. Ultra Heat Treatment (UHT) of milk is another cooking process actually makes milk sterile and shelf-stable for a time. Once these processes take place, the milk or milk product is properly packaged in a container to keep the food safe and nutritious for the given shelf life.
- Sensory Evaluation
- Apply chemistry principles to develop food products that taste good with a pleasing appearance and texture. When new food products and formulations are created, they may taste good and even be nutritious, but if they don't have a pleasing appearance and feel in your mouth, they will not be enjoyed or consumed.
- Apply research, science, and market trends associated with the development of foods to maintain and improve health. Examples include the fortification of foods to eliminate nutrient deficiencies and the formulation of accurate nutrition facts labels.
- Ensure food production sufficiency throughout the product lifecycle—from sustainable ingredient sourcing, to product development, to waste management. Food scientists help to ensure that we have a food supply that can continue to sustain our population using the natural resources that we have.
This lesson has been adapted for online instruction and can be found on the 6-8th grade eLearning site.
- Print and pass out the Where Does It Grow? activity sheet to students.
- Allow students time to use their background knowledge to determine how each fruit or vegetable is grown.
- Use the Where Does It Grow? PowerPoint slides to show students the answers as well as a picture of each plant.
- Optional Video Clips: If you have time and interest, include either of the following videos showing the growth and harvest of the following foods:
- Ask students, "What role does science play in the production of our food?" Allow students to offer their ideas. Provide prompts and guiding questions to help them identify the science involved in the production of food. For a successful harvest, farmers use their knowledge of photosynthesis, plant breeding and genetics, soil health and management, water management, and other science principles. Explain that the science doesn't stop on the farm. Today they will be learning how science continues as food is processed and about the careers of food scientists.
Explore and Explain
Activity 1: Food Processing
- A large portion of our daily food supply requires some level of processing before it is consumed. To introduce the concept of food processing, write the following words across your board: Milk, Wheat, and Meat.
- Ask students to raise their hands and help you list common foods that are made by processing these three raw food products. Milk is processed into cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, ice cream, yogurt, etc. Wheat is milled into flour, which is used to make bread, cereals, pastas and more. Meat is processed into various sandwich meats, chicken nuggets, burgers, sausages, etc. Food processing prepares raw agricultural food products for sale to the consumer.
- Tell students that in this activity they will explore how some foods are processed from raw agricultural products into everyday foods.
- Divide your class into teams and give each team one How It’s Made Food Card.
- Allow students time (or assign as homework) to research the processing steps. Note: Almost all food cards have a segment on the Science Channel’s How It’s Made episodes.
- Have students share their results.
Activity 2: Food Scientist for a Day
- Display the Food Science image shown below, which represents skills and career areas within the food science industry. Explain that food scientists can specialize in different areas. Give the following job descriptions and have students identify which specialty the food scientist works in:
- A food scientist oversees a food processing plant to find ways to minimize waste, improve packaging efficiency, and maximize the use of fuel, water, and other limited resources in the farm to fork process. (Sustainability)
- A food scientist working for NASA must find or develop food that can safely be taken into space. The food has to meet very precise specifications. It can't require refrigeration, can't create crumbs, must be small, and must taste good. (Product Development and Food Safety & Packaging)
- A food scientist working for a processing plant is finding ways to pasteurize and package milk so that it doesn't require refrigeration and can be stored for 6-12 months. This will allow the milk to be shipped long distances without spoiling. (Food Safety & Packaging)
- A food scientist working for Disney develops food packaging and food products geared toward children to encourage them to eat healthy foods and snacks with their favorite Disney characters. (Product Development and Nutrition)
- A food scientist working in a creamery is testing the chemical makeup and freezing points of ice cream to find the perfect taste, texture, and creaminess of ice cream. (Sensory Evaluation)
- A food science company has just developed a new energy bar for hiking and backpacking. This type of food scientist will analyze all of the ingredients of the energy bar to create the nutrition facts label with precise calculations for calories, protein, and other nutrients. (Product Development to create the bar, Nutrition to formulate nutrition facts label)
- Visit the International Food Technologists (IFT) YouTube playlist Day in the Life of a Food Scientist. Watch a few videos to illustrate careers in food science.
- Inform students that they are going to be a food scientist specializing in product development. Specifically, they will be working in ice cream production. To begin, brainstorm with the students all of the flavors of ice cream (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, cake batter, etc.) as well as the food items that can be mixed in with ice cream (peanut butter cups, nuts, fruit, etc.) to make a flavor of ice cream.
- Tell the students that they have been hired by their school to develop an ice cream to represent your school. If possible, have students use your mascot, school name, and/or colors in the name and development of their ice cream. As an example, introduce students to Aggie Blue Mint ice cream at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. This ice cream was developed at the university's creamery using the school colors (blue) and mascot (Aggie.)
- Divide the class into teams.
- Pass out the Food Scientist for a Day activity sheet and have students develop a type of ice cream.
- Choose a winner or the top three recipes.
- If possible, make the winning ice cream in class. (An easy recipe for making ice cream in class can be found in the Ice Cream in a Bag essential file.)
Reinforce the important role science plays in ensuring a high-quality, nutritious, and long-lasting food supply. Provide the Science in Your Shopping Cart pdf to your students digitally, and have them do a scavenger hunt to find five scientific improvements that have been made to our food production system.
Watch the video clip Cool Science! where university students majoring in Food Science participate in a competition to develop a new food product. Challenge students or groups of students to develop a new food product. They should determine the recipe, packaging, and the target consumers (children, adults, athletes, etc.) and share with the class.
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- There are a variety of careers in food production, processing, and nutrition that are essential for a healthy food supply.
- Food scientists study the physical, biological, and chemical makeup of food and the concepts underlying food processing.