A Day in the Life of a Food Scientist: Quality Systems Manager

Maybe you’ve never heard of the field of food science but love food, or maybe you’re a student considering food science as a career. In school it can be hard to pick a major if you don’t understand what opportunities are available after graduation. You might wonder, what will I actually do? How does what I’m learning today correlate to my future career? In this post, you can learn about opportunities available in the field of food quality assurance.

My dear friend Bethany is a Quality Systems Manager at a food packaging company in Illinois. I spoke with her about her role and how she got to where she is today. Hopefully this information can help you learn more about the field and how industry works to keep your food safe.

So, you graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelors degree in Food Science. Boiler up!

Why did you choose food science? How did you find out about it?

“I chose Food Science when I was in my senior year of High School. I loved to cook and eat food and knew that I wanted to somehow pursue a career involved with food. In my senior year I chose to attend the area trade school in the mornings, enrolled in a Culinary Arts class. We learned about the industry from back and front-of-house duties to proper food handling. 3 days each week we were a functioning kitchen preparing lunch for the downtown area businesses. We traded stations weekly to see all aspects of the kitchen.

By the end of the year I knew I did not want to be a career chef. I still loved to cook and eat but wanted to do something else with this passion. My instructor suggested I look into Food Science. It’s all about seeing food in a new light. After a brief research into Food Science, I was hooked.”

What do you love most about the field?

“I love the diversity in the different areas! Product Development, Quality Control, Production, Supply Chain, etc. It really goes beyond Product Development.”

Tell us about your career path since graduating from Purdue.

“After leaving Purdue I took a couple Culinary Arts courses as a way to work towards being in Product Development. Shortly after I completed the courses I took a job in Quality Control at a large confectionery producer in Northwest Indiana. My job was to make sure what we were producing was not only within specification but also safe to eat. I performed quantitative and qualitative tests on the product, inspected the lines in between production runs, and did a bit of administrative work to ensure we complied with SQF principles. SQF is an organization that establishes certain rules companies are to follow to ensure product is safe to consume.

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After 2 years as a Quality Technician, I took a job as a Quality Assurance Administrative Manager at a Contract Manufacturer in Northwest Indiana. In this position I was 100% ensuring compliance with the SQF principles; creating HACCP Plans, updating and creating SOPs, verifying and validating programs, and helping the contract manufacturer work towards a more stringent certification under NSF for dietary supplement handling.

Being in this position helped me to realize that Quality is my home. I got into Food Science with the intention of creating a food product and being able to find it in my local grocery store, but I now realize how I need the structure and consistency that comes with working in Quality Control / Assurance. Now, as I am Quality Manager at a site for a global food contact packaging manufacturer, I could not be more happy with where my education has brought me.”

Could you explain, in basic terms, what a quality systems manager does? What are your major responsibilities?

“A Quality Systems Manager does exactly that, manages quality systems. To remain SQF compliant we have to have certain programs in place (chemical control, allergen control, maintenance programs, etc.). My job is to make sure we continuously meet the guidelines by having these programs in place and that they achieve their purpose.”

What other sort of tasks do you perform on a day-to-day basis?

“Day-to-day I review data, verify paperwork, and work on special projects. “Special projects” is a fancy way of saying whatever else comes up. I don’t have a set schedule in this job just a list of things that need to be done by a certain time.”

Do you travel often?

“In my current position, I have done the most travel of any of my previous positions. I have gone to numerous trainings and seminars, visited customers, visited suppliers, and also visited other site’s within our company. Amount of travel will depend on the company and their willingness to send you!”

Describe how you work in connection with other teams in your company.

“On-site we have many different teams that I am apart of, we work together to make our work environment safe, compliant, and enjoyable.”

Which classes from college do you use most often?

“I use concepts from Food Process Engineering, Food Packaging, and Statistical Process Control the most.”

What might your career path look like in the future? What opportunities for growth do you have at your company?

“My opportunities are endless at the company I currently work for. People in my position have gone on to be Plant Managers, or Production Managers, others have gone to work with the Quality team at Corporate. I hope to work with Corporate someday.”

Any advice for people looking to get into the field of food science?

“Don’t discount one particular area because you don’t think you’ll like it!”

“I didn’t want to do Quality Control initially, I thought I wanted to be in Product Development all through college and into my first couple years of working. Someone made the comment to me one day, “Quality Control is all about rules and regulations. Who wants to spend their days following rules? Product Development gives you more freedom!”

All of a sudden I realized… me. I need regulations to follow. I need some standard to ensure our programs are aligned.”


Thanks, Beth for sharing your experience!

Please comment below with any questions for Beth or a request to learn more about a different area of the field.

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