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1 The Food Engineer

Felix H. Barron, Ph.D.

Clemson University, Clemson, SC, USA

1.1 Nature of Work and Necessary Skills
Food engineering is considered a specialized field of engineering. In general, engineers
are trained in the application of scientific principles and mathematics in order to provide
economical solutions to technical problems; usually fulfilling a social, commercial, or
similar need.

Product design and development are typical activities that an engineer may be asked to
perform. The engineer must specify the functional requirements of the product, design and
testing, and final evaluation to check for overall efficiency, cost, safety, and reliability.
Overall, these principles may be applied to product design, no matter what the product is
(a machine, a food, a chemical).

Engineers may also work in testing, production, or maintenance areas, supervising production
in factories, determining the causes of component failure, and testing manufactured
products to maintain quality. Costing and scheduling to complete projects are other
typical duties of an engineer. Some engineers may go on to become managers or sale-
persons. The sales engineer’s background enables him or her to discuss technical aspects
and assist in product planning, installation, and use of equipment. A supervising engineer
can be responsible for major components or entire projects.

Food engineers use computers extensively to produce and analyse products,
processes, or plant designs, to simulate and test how a machine or food system operates,
and to generate specifications for foods, machinery, or packaging. Food engineers
may also use computers to monitor product quality, safety, and to control process
efficiency. Food nanotechnology, which involves the ability to control or manipulate
the product at the atomic scale, is introducing innovating principles into product and
process design.

Seventeen engineering specialties are covered in the Federal Government’s
Standard Occupational Classification system and in engineering in general. Food engineering
is recognized by professional societies such as the Institute of Food Technologists,
American Society of Agricultural Engineers, and the American Institute of Chemical

Myer Kutz (ed.), Handbook of Farm, Dairy, and Food Machinery, 3–14
© 2007 William Andrew, Inc.


Introduction to Food Engineering

1.2 Academic and Industry Preparation
As a specialized professional, the food engineer may obtain his or her skills mainly
through a university degree or industrial experience. Several universities across the United
States offer a formal academic training in food engineering. Agricultural engineering
departments are the common avenue to becoming specialized in the engineering aspects
of food processing. However, it is not uncommon to have graduates in food science pursue
the engineering specialization also. In fact, it is a requirement that food science students
take a course in the principles of food process engineering. However, food scientists generally
lack rigorous training in applied mathematics, such as the use of differential equations
to solve heat and mass transfer problems, plant design, or simulation of systems.

Internationally, food engineering training may be obtained through colleges of agriculture,
chemical engineering departments, or schools of applied sciences. International
degrees obtained through engineering programs, that also offer traditional engineering
degrees such as chemical or mechanical, probably are the most similar to the typical
US degree, especially in regard to mathematical training. Table 1.1 shows a typical course
work program to obtain an engineering degree specializing in food engineering. Tables

1.2 and 1.3 show typical course work in chemical and mechanical engineering, respectively.
Comparison among the three programs concludes that the major academic preparation
difference lies in the specialized topics or areas of the fundamentals of food
Table 1.1 A Typical List of Courses for An International B.S. Program in Food

Food Engineering B.S. Program: an International Example
Mathematics I, II, III Food Analysis
Physics I, II Food Biotechnology
Chemistry Heat Transfer
Organic Chemistry Product Development
Computer Science Milk and Milk Products
Thermodynamics for the Food Industry Mass Transfer
Food Chemistry Meat Processing
Transport Phenomena Fruits and Vegetables Processing
Numerical Methods Cereal Processing
Human Nutrition Quality Assurance
Food Technology Food Plant Design
Microbiology Design of Experiments
Food Microbiology Differential Equations
Other electives Biochemistry
Probability and Statistics Other Electives and Laboratories

Table 1.2 Chemical Engineering; A Curriculum (US) Example

Freshman Year
First Semester Second Semester
2—Engineering Disciplines and Skills
4—General Chemistry
3—Accelerated Composition
4—Calculus of One Variable I
3—Arts and Humanities Requirement or
3—Social Science Requirement
Total: 16 hours
3—Chemical Engineering Tools
4—General Chemistry
3—Physics with Calculus I
4—Calculus of One Variable II
3—Arts and Humanities Requirement or
3—Social Science Requirement
Total: 17 hours
Sophomore Year
First Semester Second Semester
3—Organic Chemistry
4—Intro. to Chemical Engineering
4—Calculus of Several Variables
3—Physics with Calculus II
3—Arts and Humanities Requirement
Total: 17 hours
3—Organic Chemistry
1—Organic Chemistry Lab
4—Intro. to Ord. Diff. Equations
4—Fluids/Heat Transfer
3—Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics I
Total: 15 hours
Junior Year
First Semester Second Semester
3—Molecular Biochemistry
1—Physical Chemistry Lab
3—Unit Operations Lab I
3—Engineering Materials
2—Basic Electrical Engineering
1—Electrical Engineering Lab I
3—Arts and Humanities Requirement or
3—Social Science Requirement
Total: 16 hours
3—Physical Chemistry
1—Physical Chemistry Lab
4—Mass Transfer and Separation Processes
3—Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics II
3—Emphasis Area
3—Arts and Humanities Requirement or
3—Social Science Requirement
Total: 17 hours
Senior Year
First Semester Second Semester
3—Unit Operations Lab II
3—Process Development, Design, and
Optimization of Chemical Engineering
Systems I
1—Chemical Engineering Senior Seminar I
3—Chemical Reaction Engineering
3—Emphasis Area
3—Arts and Humanities Requirement or
3—Social Science Requirement
Total: 16 hours
3—Process Dynamics and Control
3—Process Design II
1—Chemical Engineering Senior Seminar II
3—Industrial Microbiology
3—Emphasis Area
Total: 13 hours
127 Total Semester Hours


Table 1.3 Mechanical Engineering; A Curriculum (US) Example

Freshman Year
First Semester Second Semester
2—Engineering Disciplines and Skills
3—General Chemistry
3—Accelerated Composition
4—Calculus of One Variable I
3—Humanities/Social Science Requirement
or 3—Social Science Requirement
Total: 16 hours
2—Engr. Graphics with Computer Appl.
3—Programming and Problem Solving in
Mechanical Engineering
4—Calculus of One Variable II
3—Physics with Calculus I
1—Physics Lab. I
3—Humanities/Social Science Requirement
or 3—Social Science Requirement
Total: 16 hours
Sophomore Year
First Semester Second Semester
5—Statics and Dynamics for Mech. Engr
2—Mechanical Engineering Lab. I
4—Calculus of Several Variables
3—Physics with Calculus II
3–5—Science Requirement
Total: 17–19 hours
2—Basic Electrical Engineering
1—Electrical Engineering Lab. I
3—Engineering Mechanics: Dynamics
3—Foundations of Thermal and Fluid
4—Intro. To Ord. Diff. Equations
3—Numerical Analysis Requirement
Total: 16 hours
Junior Year
First Semester Second Semester
3—Mechanics of Materials
3—Model. And Analysis of Dynamics Syst.
3—Fluid Mechanics
2—Mechanical Engineering Lab. II
3—Arts and Humanities Requirement or
3—Social Science Requirement
Total: 17 hours
3—Heat Transfer
3—Fundamentals of Machine Design
3—Manufacturing Proc. And Their Appl.
3—Advanced Writing Requirement
3—Statistics Requirement
Total: 15 hours
Senior Year
First Semester Second Semester
3—Mechanical Engineering Design
3—Control and Integration of
Multi-Domain Dynamic Systems
2—Mechanical Engineering Lab. III
6—Technical Requirement
Total: 14 hours
1—Senior Seminar
3—Internship in Engineering Design
6—Arts and Humanities Requirement or
3—Social Science Requirement
3—Technical Requirement
Total: 13 hours
124–126 Total Semester Hours


1: The Food Engineer, Barron
processing and food microbiology. Other areas such as food chemistry, applied mass and
energy balances to foods, or food unit operations, can easily be learned from a general
engineering degree such as chemical engineering. The mechanical or electrical engineer
would have to receive training in mass balances and unit operations in order to adapt to
the food engineering area.

Bachelor’s degree programs in engineering typically are designed to last four years, but
many students find that it takes between four and five years to complete their studies. In
a typical four-year college curriculum, the first two years are spent studying mathematics,
basic sciences, introductory engineering, humanities, and social sciences. During the
last two years, most courses are in engineering, usually concentrating in one specialty,
such as food engineering or biotechnology. Some programs offer a general engineering
curriculum, students then specializing on the job or in graduate school.

Some five-year or even six-year cooperative plans combine classroom study and practical
work, permitting students to gain valuable experience and to finance part of their education.

1.3 Work Opportunities for a Food Engineer
All 50 States and the District of Columbia require licensure for engineers who offer
their services directly to the public. Engineers who are licensed are called Professional
Engineers . This licensure generally requires a degree from an Accreditation Board for
Engineering and Technology accredited engineering program, four years of relevant work
experience, and successful completion of a State examination.

A simple internet job description survey about job opportunities for the food engineer
reveals some of the necessary skills that companies, universities, or government agencies
are looking for in an engineer.

1.3.1 Job description sample 1
The Process Design Engineering Manager has the engineering responsibility for root
cause analysis and correcting “process issues” within a beverage, pharmaceutical, or food
plant. This includes existing plant opportunities and new state-of-the-art solutions to
process packaging in a high-speed plant. It is important that the candidate is able to demonstrate,
with examples, his or her strength in visualizing complete projects at the conceptual
stage. Specific accountabilities include
• conducting fundamental research related to optimization of a process and

Introduction to Food Engineering

• independently designing and performing laboratory testing directed at
problem solving with commercial scale-up capability;
• planning and executing medium-term research and development activities of
moderate to complex scope; and
• demonstrating technical competence in several areas of food related chemistry
and engineering practice. Specific skills and qualifications include
• Ph.D. in Food Science or Food Engineering;
• expertise in areas of natural organic polymers, carbohydrate chemistry, physical
science, food science, and food process engineering;
• ability to apply scientific/engineering theory in the execution of projects
related to process or product development;
• sound problem solving and project leadership skills, with emphasis on
designing or conducting laboratory testing and pilot-scale simulations;
• ability to conduct literature searches and compile comprehensive, clear summaries
of findings;

working knowledge of applied statistics and statistical design of experiments;
• good oral, written, technical, and general communication skills.
1.3.2 Job description sample 2 Essential functions
• Develop written policies and procedures for the organized and profitable
development of new meat products. Such procedures should have distinct
mechanisms for the timely completion of:
new product concept approval,


shelf life testing,

package design, and

final product approval.


• Follow concepts identified by sales and marketing:
work closely with sales,

quality assurance,



1: The Food Engineer, Barron


purchasing, and




to develop new meat products that meet internal and/or external specifications.

• Develop and implement cost reduction products to improve operating efficiency
and maximize profitability, and
• Write project protocols, collect and analyze data, and prepare reports.
1.3.3 Job description sample 3
This position will manage the engineering functions needed to support manufacturing,
R&D, quality assurance, and logistics.

The Project Engineer will manage contractors and in-plant personnel in the completion
of capital projects, as well as managing the capital plan.

1.3.4 Job description sample 4 Food engineering research
This facility is a high-speed/high-volume, 24/7 operation that is currently going through
an expansion. This position will support the production of newly developed products and
current production lines, purchase and install new equipment, upgrade existing equipment,
and develop efficiency improvements.

Working in a team-based manufacturing environment, process engineers lead, develop, and
execute solutions to improve process system performance and product quality. Serving as a
dedicated technical system resource, process engineers also lead problem-solving and
problem-prevention efforts directed at current and future processes and products, assure that
new product and process tests and start-ups are designed and executed effectively, and develop
and direct training in system operations. Requirements
A B.S. in Engineering (Chemical, Mechanical, Electrical, or Food Engineering preferred),
and 4–8 years of process or packaging engineering experience in a food, consumer
products, pharmaceutical, chemical, or other continuous process manufacturing environment,
are required. Strong technical skills are essential, including a demonstrated

Introduction to Food Engineering

understanding of unit operations, analytical methods, and statistical process control, as
well as troubleshooting skills.

1.3.5 Job description sample 5
Our client seeks a process improvement engineer with food manufacturing experience
for their dynamic company. In this role, you will analyze new product formulations and
pilot plant productions and provide recommendations for process flow modifications,
equipment modifications, operations changes, and new equipment requirements. You will
define issues, collect data, establish facts, and draw valid conclusions as well as manage
teams to ensure effective transition from product conception to full-scale production.

This position requires a degree in engineering and five or more years of work experience.
Of this work experience, three years must be within the food industry. Experience
in product development is desired. Experience as a process engineer, production manager,
production supervisor, or research and development engineer is highly desirable. Up to
50% domestic travel is required.

Based on these job descriptions, the following engineering key words were found with
major frequency in descending order: engineering, development, manage, design, analysis,
concept, solving, and scale.

These key words can be compared to knowledge and skills to be taught at universities
offering engineering degree majors, including food engineering. Take the following, for

• Students specializing in food engineering learn to apply engineering principles
and concepts in handling, storing, processing, packaging, and distributing
food and related products.
• Students specializing in agricultural engineering integrate engineering
analysis and design with applied biology to solve problems in production,
transportation, and processing of agricultural products. Agricultural engineers
design machinery, processes, and systems for managing the environment,
nutrients, and waste associated with productive plant and animal culture.
Figure 1.1 demonstrates a general flow diagram illustrating unit operations or processing
steps typical of a food processing facility. The knowledge and skills of a food engineer
can be applied in an integrated approach or in a more specific way, such as heat
transfer in heating and cooling operations.

As food is received into the food processing plant, it may be in a liquid or solid form. If
it is a liquid, one of the primary considerations may be its classification as a Newtonian
or non-Newtonian liquid, therefore the field of rheology should be part of the knowledge
base of the food engineer. Rheological studies may provide the necessary information to

1: The Food Engineer, Barron
Figure 1.1 General flow in a food processing plant (adapted from Heldman & Singh, 1981).

the design of mixing machinery, piping, and even cleaning and sanitation of tubes and
pipes used in transporting a fluid from one location to another.

Dehydration and evaporation of foods involve heat and mass transfer. The food engineer,
with his or her knowledge in the theory of diffusion, mass, and energy balances,
would be capable of designing processes, equipment, and even costing in feasibility

Introduction to Food Engineering

1.4 Engineering Jobs
According to a 2004 distribution of employment in an engineering specialty survey by
the Department of Labor (Table 1.4), the top four engineering positions are civil, mechanical,
industrial, and electrical engineering. Assuming food engineering is included under
agricultural engineering, the 0.2% attributed to agricultural engineering falls as the last
specialty. Even chemical engineers, who may also be included as doing food engineering
work, are not at the top as are the civil or mechanical engineers.

Mechanical engineering may be considered one of the most flexible engineering
specialties, allowing engineers to find jobs in industry across the board, being food or
non-food related.

Industries employing the most engineers in each specialty and the percentage of occupational
engineering employment in the industry are given in Table 1.5.

It is apparent that agricultural (and food) engineers are mostly employed by state and
local government agencies. In addition, the survey does not reflect the influence of the
food industry as an important or key industry hiring engineers.

Table 1.4 Employment Distribution by Engineering Specialty

Total, All Engineers 1,449,000 100%
Electronics, except computer
Computer hardware
Health and safety, except mining safety
Marine engineers and naval architects
Mining and geological, including mining safety
All other engineers

1: The Food Engineer, Barron 13
Table 1.5 Percent Concentration of Engineering Specialty Employment in Key Industries,

Specialty Industry Percent
Computer hardware
Electronics, except
Health and safety,
except mining safety
Marine engineers and
naval architects
Mining and geological,
including mining safety
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing
State and local government
Scientific research and development services
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing
Chemical manufacturing
Architectural, engineering, and related services
Architectural, engineering, and related services
Computer and electronic product manufacturing
Computer systems design and related services
Architectural, engineering, and related services
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and
control instruments manufacturing
Federal government
Architectural, engineering, and related services
State and local government
State and local government
Machinery manufacturing
Motor vehicle parts manufacturing
Architectural, engineering, and related services
Computer and electronic product manufacturing
Architectural, engineering, and related services
Machinery manufacturing
Electric power generation, transmission and
Oil and gas extraction

Introduction to Food Engineering

1.5 Future Opportunities
The food processing industry may be facing a challenge by consumers and health care
government agencies to provide “healthy foods,” which can contribute to decrease the
obesity problem in the United States and around the world. Designing such foods may
become a critical factor for the food industry in general in order to expand markets and
profitability. It may be necessary for food engineers to work more closely with molecular
nutritionists in order to design the so called “medical foods.” Food biotechnology and food
nanotechnology and their applications to food safety are areas where food engineers may
find new opportunities.

1.6 Conclusions
Overall, it appears that food engineering as specialty engineering is becoming more an
area of training on the job by the food industry than a strict requirement by food processing
companies. This may be the reason why some universities began to modify their
curricula by decreasing the number of food engineering related courses and changing to
areas considered “hot,” such as biotechnology, bioengineering, or biomedical engineering.

Non-food engineers, such as mechanical, electrical, or chemical desiring to work in the
food processing industry may always receive the necessary training on the job or through
the abundant professional development workshops. Many universities and consulting
groups offer this type of training. Basic food microbiology, food safety, food quality, and
food processing would be a good knowledge base for non-food engineers.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006–07
Edition, Engineers at (visited January 28, 2006).

D. R. Heldman and P. R. Singh Food Process Engineering. Second Edition, Van Nostrand
Reinhold, New York, 1981.
Food and Drug Administration at
Clemson University at
Institute of Food Technologists at
Instituto Tecnologico de Monterrey at

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