23 September 2020
Working in the food industry can be a diverse and exciting opportunity to support the future of what we, and our beloved animals, eat. Becky Marsh discovered this while studying BSc (Hons) Food Technology with Nutrition, and spoke to us about what food technology means to her, as well as sharing how our pets benefit from our keen interest in nutrition.
“The way I look at it,” Becky began, “people are always going to eat food, so there are always going to be jobs available within the food industry! The variety of different jobs my degree has opened me up to is amazing and so varied - I will never be bored in my career.”
This range of roles is key for the future of the supply chain, especially as Becky explains the different social concerns around food. She shared: “In modern day society, food security, food safety and the future of the sustainability of global food production is becoming an ever-increasing social concern.
“Primarily, this is a direct result of the fact that the world’s population is constantly increasing in size yet there is still an extremely high demand for variance within the diet. It has been forecasted that if the current food production systems do not change until 2050, we will be unable to feed the world’s population efficiently. On top of this, issues relating to food quality and safety are gaining consumer concern, enforcing a desire for more complex food quality management systems.
“As a member of the younger generation and an individual who is enthusiastic and interested about global food production, I feel that I hold the responsibility to tackle the battle between the increasing consumer desire for food quality whilst ultimately striving to limit food waste.”
Becky also highlighted concerns for the population around nutrition, saying: “As the world population increases, the demand for food also increases. Yet at the same time, we have an obesity pandemic on our hands which has led to a rise in the interest and concern in nutrition.
“Therefore, we need to adapt the food supply chain to effectively feed the increasing global population with nutritional food as well as increase public engagement and knowledge upon the importance of a healthy balanced diet.”
Understanding this opened Becky up to a vast range of roles where her degree knowledge can support the battle against food waste and encourage people to understand the value of what they eat.
Graduate employment and the wealth of career pathways was also key to Becky. She acknowledged: “To me, the thought of having the same job for the rest of life does not appeal, so I didn’t want to do a degree which was too niche and narrow. I wanted to do a degree which would open me up to a range of possibilities and career routes. And, to be honest, I had no idea what I wanted to do after university. At the time, all I knew was that I enjoyed education, wanted to experience university and gain a career platform a degree provides.
“My degree has provided me with the opportunity to work in a variety of different jobs throughout my career as well as be a part of an exciting and increasingly complex industry with a high demand for graduates.”
Part of her reason for choosing to attend Harper was the placement year, which sees our students go out into industry and put their knowledge to the test. She commented: “I loved the idea that Harper offers a placement year; this gives you the experience that employers deem necessary so you are one step ahead of other candidates when applying for jobs.
“Likewise, doing the additional courses you will be offered is a great help, especially Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) level 3. A lot of employers expect food graduates to have HACCP now. I did it in second year and so glad I did as I wouldn’t have got my placement job without it.”
Talking of placements, Becky took her knowledge of food and applied it to man’s best friend, seeking to understand the benefits of nutritional pet food. She said: “I completed my placement year at GA Pet Food Partners, which is Europe’s biggest dry pet food manufacturer. I was a bit unsure at first if my placement would be irrelevant to my degree with my placement focusing on pet food as opposed to human food. However, I soon learnt that the pet food industry is extremely exciting and rapidly expanding, yet a challenging industry to be a part of."
So how does an understanding of nutrition apply to pet food? Becky explained: “Previously, rendered meat meals were used as a stable ingredient in pet food. However, as people now classify pets as a valued member of the family, interest and concern in the nutritional content of pet food is rapidly increasing. This is leading to an increasing demand for the best quality protein sources and resulting in a ‘food vs feed’ competition with the human food supply chain for the highest quality protein sources.”
With a desire for challenge and the variety it brings, Becky had an amazing placement year. She commented: “The great thing about my placement was that I spent time in different departments including the laboratory, nutrition, and quality assurance. This has provided me with a great deal of knowledge about the company and no two days were ever the same.
“In the laboratory I was responsible for completing essential microbiological testing on finished products to ensure they were safe. In nutrition I was responsible for working with customers to formulate new recipes or reformulate old recipes. I would also check packaging to ensure all the claims being made by the customer were correct and lawful. In quality assurance I was responsible for managing the HACCP plan and undertaking GMP audits.”
Taking this interest forward, Becky worked on her Honours Research Project in a similar field. She said: “I completed my dissertation on pet food and how the competition with the human food industry for highest quality protein sources requires a sustainable solution.
“As a possible solution, I looked into the prospect of using a nutritional yeast which is derived from waste wood residues from the forestry industry.
“From my research and the laboratory testing I performed, I found this yeast to be highly nutritional and higher in protein than most commonly used meats in pet food. Wood is abundant, renewable and doesn’t compete with human food crops, making the yeast a sustainable solution for the pet food protein of the future.”
Having successfully completed her study and consequently degree, Becky was welcomed back to GA Pet Food Partners to continue her work with them. She said: “I have gone back to my placement employer and I’m currently working as the company’s food safety specialist. My job involves researching where and why we have a food safety incident.
“For example, if Salmonella is detected in a finished product, on the production lines or we have complaints regarding sickness, it is my job to find out where it has come from, why it is there and put the necessary controls in place to stop it happening again.
“This job is exciting because it is something that has never been done before; previously it wasn’t a requirement to test pet food. However, as consumers are becoming increasingly interested and their knowledge on food safety is increasing, the role is becoming increasingly complex due to the vast amount of testing that is available now.”
Looking to the future, Becky hopes to stay in the pet food industry: “I hopefully would like to work my way up the company and achieve a managerial role.”
If you have a future focus, aspire to challenge, and desire a diverse career, a food degree is the pathway for you. To find out more about our undergraduate degree opportunities, click here. To experience our specialist food facilities, speak to academics with their own industry experience, and find out more about life at Harper Adams, join us for our Virtual Open Day on October 10. Registration is now open to secure your place.