Issue Date: February 20, 2012
Gaining An Edge
Within the U.S., food-safety testing is on the rise, primarily because of passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act in early 2011. As a result, job opportunities may open up for analytical chemists in food companies, testing labs, and other companies that support food-safety efforts.
Despite improved employment prospects, landing that first job in food safety can be difficult for some new B.S. graduates. To differentiate themselves from other candidates, chemists should try to get as much experience as possible using state-of-the-art instrumentation, says Vincent Paez, director of food safety at Thermo Fisher Scientific. “While still in school, seek out professors who are experts in mass spectrometry, for example,” he advises. Hiring managers at Thermo Fisher are most impressed with candidates who have experience using triple-quadrupole mass spectrometry, which he views as “the instrument of choice in detecting chemical contaminants in food.”
At BASF, recruiters look for analytical chemists who are competent in gas chromatography and high-performance liquid chromatography, says Lisa W. Webber, head of quality management and regulatory affairs in North America. BASF produces vitamins, carotenoids, functional ingredients, food additives, and process aids for the food, beverage, and supplement markets.
Analytical chemists aspiring to work in food safety should also take some food science or food technology courses, says Markus Lipp, director of food standards at U.S. Pharmacopeia, a nonprofit public health organization that sets standards for the quality and purity of food and medicines. Those who have earned a double major in food science and analytical chemistry will have an even greater advantage in finding a job, he adds.
Food-science knowledge is critical to analytical chemists’ work in quality control, as well as in forensic and authenticity testing, Lipp says. Scientists who have a basic knowledge of genetics or genetic engineering will also have an edge, as concerns over genetically modified organisms continue to increase, he says.
Analytical chemists should also try to gain a basic understanding of the laws that shape the food-safety industry. “Knowledge of regulations is another attribute that really separates the superb chemists from the good chemists,” Paez says. “I’m always impressed when I find a chemist who already knows the maximum residue level limit—the regulated allowable level—for pesticides in vegetables, for example.”
The best way to gain knowledge of regulations is to become active in trade associations, Paez says. By attending conferences and networking, “you get a glimpse of what people in the industry are working on. You begin to understand the challenges of working in food safety.”
Networking in organizations such as AOAC International, the Institute of Food Technologists, AAAC International, and the American Chemical Society’s Division of Agricultural & Food Chemistry can be extremely valuable for chemists looking for a job in the food-safety industry, says John Budin, corporate director of chemistry for Silliker, an international network of accredited food-testing and consulting laboratories.
Each group includes a different mix of salespeople, product development scientists, chemists, and microbiologists “who can be great resources to people not just when they are seeking their first jobs, but in any stage of their careers,” Budin says.
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