Confessions of an ex food technologist

A friend of mine used to work for one of the big food tech companies locally, on the dirty end of the spectrum – processed food. I’ve asked him a few questions over the years and here is a little window into the life which he since abandoned, not being able to morally do it any more.

What attracted you to food technology to begin with?

I have always been fascinated by how things work and that curiosity led me to Chemistry/biotechnology which I did for 4 years in Uni!  After that, I wanted to have a career that would be more relevant to people and food seems to be the ultimate challenge, as nothing is more complex than the chemistry in food!

What do you think the worst aspect is?

Health wise, nothing is more dangerous than our processed food industry.  The quality of a product has always been driven by profit. That means cheaper ingredients, regardless of the effect on people.

What were the main objectives you were given in your role working for a large food corporation? Make the product tasty for a cheaper price. (Are you sensing a recurring theme here? ; -)

Was there ever any concern from ‘above’ about the use of food additives / artificial colourings / chemically made salt etc or were there other more important financial / business drivers emphasised?

What we were always told is that the customer should find it appealing and as long as it complies with Australia Food Standard law, there is nothing to worry about – use whatever we had to.

Describe for the reader, the process of ‘product matching’ with competitors…

Product matching is basically trying to guess from the nutritional information, the ingredients and then cross checking it with the nutritional information and the rest is really based on experience.  This is very similar to a good chef who can create an image of what they want.  For us, we create using our sensory skills coupled with equipment such as viscometer, salt % reading, sugar reading to aid us in reaching the profile match. We would be given a competitor instant soup for example and be told it had to come in at X price, then to get started matching and making that profit goal happen so we could release a similar flavour in our range and compete.

Any things you’d like to share that you think the public should know before their next trip to the supermarket?

I think we should really live our life more slowly and spend more time cooking at home and appreciate  how natural ingredients (not processed food from big factory churning out tons of them a week!) can give a magic that no other mass products can.  I had to leave the industry because I knew the objectives of the company were not my own. Now I make artisan chocolates with my sister in our little shop, with no additives at all of course, and use my skills for something really good – something made with love.

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I will of course say that food technologists are not bad people, nor do they all work within the field. I’ll also say there are some big companies around the world trying to produce healthier, more natural packaged foods, so this is definitely not an attack on every packet. Amazing when you think though, that all those tv ads with grandmas and mums spreading jams and opening cookie or cereal boxes, or pouring a hot cup of soup and looking satisfied as they have a sip. It’s all a farce. Those packets in the supermarket are made by people wearing lab coats, s’ending recipes to factory floors. They’re made to work to tight cost objectives, often using whatever short cuts necessary to achieve longest shelf life possible, highest taste satisfaction to human brain receptors… They sadly and very often, don’t have our best interests at heart.

It’s just not how it was meant to be, is it? In finishing this little post off, I couldn’t be more excited to take a tour of a local market this weekend and get REAL.

Real Food. Happy Bodies

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