10 Best University Food Degree Programs (US)

Food degree programs, often referred to as food science degrees are complex programs that combine many branches of science. Students completing a food degree program take general classes in chemistry, biology, microbiology, math, and physics. They will also take more specific courses in food chemistry, nutrition, food engineering including applied enzymology and product marketing and development.

Many universities throughout the country offer this specialized major. Universities vary in terms of their course offerings, the quality of their faculty and what the surrounding town or city has to offer. Regardless of the university you choose, the job outlook for food scientists is positive. If this sounds like an appealing field to you, here are ten of the best university food degree programs in the United States for you to consider.

  1. Cornell University

An Ivy League university in Ithaca, N.Y, Cornell is consistently ranked as one of the top universities in the United States. Cornell provides a rich student life, with over 1,000 student organizations, a large number of sororities and fraternities and both undergraduate and graduate degrees in food science. One hundred percent of food science graduates have a job offer or graduate school placement before they graduate.

The Lin Group, an HHMI chemical biology lab at Cornell, provides students with hands-on experience in learning about the application of enzymes. They primarily focus on sirtuins, radical SAM enzymes, HDACs, PARPs and CD38 and their potential for treating diseases, including cancer.

Cornell students can take courses about food microbiology, the sensory evaluation of food and the science and technology of beer, which includes learning about enzyme formulations for brewing.

  1. North Dakota State University

If you’re looking for a relatively small university where you can get individualized attention and if you don’t mind Nordic winters, North Dakota State University in Fargo might be the place for you. The university has a solid reputation in the sciences to challenge its relatively small student body of just over 14,000.

The food science curriculum is approved by the Institute of Food Technologists and includes courses in food analysis, food processing, meat science and cereal technology along with general education requirements. You can choose your elective courses based on your career interests, which may include areas like food safety, engineering, and microbiology.

There are also opportunities for research on enzymes through the chemistry and biochemistry departments. Dr. K. Srivastava, for example, is leading a research group on the mechanistic and structural aspects of enzymes responsible for causing diseases.

  1. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

If you prefer a larger school, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a top-ranked public university with nearly 50,000 students and thousands of student organizations as well as several fraternities and sororities.

The food science program has award-winning faculty and staff on a campus that boasts a food-processing pilot plant, a sensory science laboratory and a bioprocessing and fermentation pilot plant.

The university is also home to the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. The Institute is part of a large-scale collaborative project called the Enzyme Function Initiative, which works to discover new enzymes through a combination of bioinformatics, computation and structural biology.

  1. University of Minnesota

For an Ivy League-calibre education at a public university, look no further than the University of Minnesota, one of the largest universities in the country. Almost 52,000 students enrol in this “Public Ivy” school.

Its food science program is approved by the Institute of Food Technologists and comprises rigorous coursework including chemistry, engineering, physics and molecular biology. Outstanding students can also participate in the University Honours Program.

The university has also created the Biocatalysis Initiative, which funds research on enzymes. For example, two professors developed an enzyme to detect melamine contamination in food. This contamination can lead to illness and even death, so its detection is essential to keeping food safe for the public.

  1. University of California, Davis

UC Davis and the pleasant city of Davis are home to some 35,000 students. Just a short drive from San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, it’s ranked worldwide as a top-40 university.

food industry

The Food Science and Technology program at UC Davis is internationally recognized. On the campus, you’ll find a brewing and food science laboratory, a tomato industry pilot processing plant and a milk processing laboratory. You’ll also have an option for pursuing a combined B.S. in Food Science and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, which is heavily in demand due to food safety issues and food-based infections.

Related: I’m a Food Scientist, No One In The Food Industry Is Trying To Kill You!

UC Davis also offers a Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology Program, which is open to Ph.D. students. It offers cross-disciplinary training in biotechnology and requires a biotechnology internship and a course in industrial biotechnology, which focuses on applied enzymes.

  1. University of Florida

The University of Florida in Gainesville offers a food science program approved by the Institute of Food Technologists. One distinguished faculty member is Dr. Douglas L. Archer, who has served as Assistant Surgeon General and as deputy director for the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

The campus has an aquatic food products laboratory, an aquatic food pilot plant, two taste-panel facilities and a food and environmental toxicology laboratory. Coursework includes the principles of food processing, food analysis, and food product development. To earn a degree in food science, you need to complete prerequisite courses with a minimum grade point average of 3.0.

The university also has several research groups dedicated to enzyme research. The Stewart Research Group within the Department of Chemistry, for example, is developing new strategies for organic synthesis using enzymes.

  1. Pennsylvania State University

Penn State is one of the largest universities in the United States another “Public Ivy” and boasts a diverse student population. The university consistently ranks as one of the top public universities in the country.

The undergraduate food science program is impressive. It offers internships, hands-on experience and has a 100 percent rate of job placement. During their coursework, students learn about the chemical composition of food and food distribution. There are also opportunities for students to study abroad.

Penn State also offers research opportunities into the chemistry of enzymes. The Boehr Group in the Department of Chemistry, for example, uses NMR spectroscopy to learn more about enzyme function.

  1. University of Maryland, College Park

Located just outside Washington, D.C., the University of Maryland College Park offers numerous options for gaining valuable internship experience while completing your food science degree. The university is the largest college in the D.C. area, with more than 39,000 students, and is also considered a “Public Ivy.”

The Institute of Food Technologists approves the food science major, but there are no special requirements for entering their food science program. Coursework includes classes in chemistry, math, and biology.

Students interested in enzymes may want to pursue research in the Biochemical Engineering Lab, which is working on enzyme immobilization and angiogenesis, or the Laboratory of Molecular and Thermodynamic Modeling, which is studying the structure, binding, and transport of enzymes.

  1. Clemson University

Clemson University, located in South Carolina, has a large, scenic campus. There are almost 25,000 students enrolled, and it ranks highly among public universities. Clemson offers degrees in food science and nutrition as well as packaging science, which focuses on the ins and outs of packaging food and other products.

Students can choose a concentration in food science and technology, then further focus on one of three areas: culinary programs, food packaging, and manufacturing or sustainable food, nutrition and health. The Institute of Food Technologists approves all three focus areas.

Clemson offers accelerated, combined bachelor’s and master’s programs as well as study abroad programs. The campus has a sensory lab, an ice cream micro-creamery, and a package testing laboratory.

Clemson also offers numerous research opportunities with enzymes. Dr. Mark Blenner, for example, leads a research group that engineers enzymes for high specificity as well as making enzymes more robust and less sensitive to environmental changes.

Related: What Interviewing Seven Food Science Graduate Students Taught Me

  1. Michigan State University

With its roots in agriculture, it’s natural that Michigan State University would have a leading food science program. It is a highly ranked university and one of the largest in the United States.

MSU’s degree in food science is recognized by the Institute of Food Technologists and includes a grounding in physics, chemistry, biochemistry including enzyme formulation and microbiology. Students can concentrate in food technology, the business, and industry of food, food packaging, and basic food science. Most students complete one or more internships while earning their degrees. In the past, students have interned at Heinz, Quaker Oats, Hershey Foods, General Mills and many other companies.

Michigan State is also home to a High-Performance Computing Center, which researchers use to do large-scale research on enzyme reaction mechanisms. The AgBioResearch center at MSU fosters collaborative research in several areas, including applied enzymes.

Author: Morgan Clarke

Morgan Walker Clarke is a writer and food aficionado from Dallas, Texas. He has 10+ years of restaurant and craft brewing experience as well as an extensive background in food science. In his spare time, he enjoys creating his own recipes for his friends and family to enjoy!

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