THE IMPORTANCE OF MICROBIOLOGISTS
Although there are lockdown restrictions easing all over the world, the current COVID-19 pandemic is not going anywhere, and is still very much active, although possible suppressed to an extent. Therefore, there’s no doubt that microbiologists are particularly valuable at the moment. Especially virologists and those microbiologists that have an understanding of infectious diseases, public health and/or epidemiology. Plus, some knowledge of immunology can be helpful to for vaccine development as can pharmacology for drug development. However, it’s really the microbiologists that are coming to the fore. People talk about ‘saving the world’ and about the impact and importance of careers, but microbiologists really can save the world. If you had any doubt about the importance of a career in microbiology, then just consider what is happening in the world now and what has happened since December. …and we’re not just talking about personal and public health, but livelihoods and the global economy. The economy has gone ‘pear-shaped’ because of a microbiological phenomenon, something that could be stopped by microbiologists, if they are, or were given the opportunity. The power is in the hands of microbiologists and those with an intricate understanding of microbiology, to save the world, I have no doubt about that. So, if you want a powerful career, an impactful career, a highly significant career, then consider microbiology!
A FOOD MICROBIOLOGY CAREER
How about a career in food microbiology? What might that look like and what might one be involved with? Well even in food microbiology there are many varied areas to work in. The three key areas are: i) food safety, ii) food spoilage/food quality and iii) fermented foods, probiotics and gut health. Each of these has highly significant impacts on society and on the economy. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
What is food safety?
Food safety is all about ensuring the safety of the food supply. This means monitoring, auditing, regulating and developing policy for the purposes of safeguarding raw materials and manufactured food over the entire agrifood supply chain from ‘farm to fork’ or ‘paddock to plate’ as the concept goes. Food safety microbiologists closely associate with epidemiologists, public health professionals and infectious disease experts to combat prevention, tracking and limiting the spread of foodborne diseases of epidemic proportions.
What is food spoilage and food quality?
Spoilage and subsequent wastage of food results in substantial economic losses. In countries with developing economies, such spoilage and waste of food is more likely to be fresh produce and thus postharvest and pre-manufacure losses. In countries with advanced economies, the situation is quite different, with substantial spoilage and waste taking place at the consumer level. Tight supply chains along with excellent mechanisms of food preservation mean that spoilage losses in such countries are at a minimum.
What are fermented foods, probiotics and gut health?
This area is closely linked with personal health and wellness. There is a sustained food trend in the area of probiotics as functional foods, along with prebiotics and people realise the great benefits of how one’s gut health contributes to overall health and wellbeing. Related to this are fermented foods, many of which are probiotic, and as such, are rich natural sources of ‘good’ bacteria.
CAREER PROFILE OF A FOOD MICROBIOLOGIST
Wondering how a career in food microbiology might actually look like in reality? Well, I had a Q & A session with Lucy Lam, a food safety auditor from Taipei, Taiwan. Let’s find out what Lucy’s food microbiology career looks like…
What qualification(s) do you hold and from where?
Master of Science, with a major in food, nutrition and technology, from The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Bachelor of Food Science, from The University of Melbourne
Your present position and where?
Auditor, Bureau Veritas Certification (Taiwan)
How would you describe your career ‘in a nutshell’?
A passion for food safety and quality control along with being good at problem solving. 1. Interest in manufacturing in any field, especially the food industry 2. Looking forward to opportunities to be involved more in food product development.
Describe what you do you do on a day-to-day basis?
As an auditor, I follow back office schedules to visit clients and conduct on-site audit. Before and after the audit, preparation of the report document is needed.
How do you gain most satisfaction in your food microbiology career?
When I gained the most hands-on experience in food microbiology when I was working in the food industry between 2013 – 2018. As I was a laboratory supervisor and department assistant manager, I had to oversee the operation of the laboratory including lab supplies, SOPs, good laboratory practices and third party laboratory compliances.
What can you forsee as big challenges in your particular area of food microbiology?
Food microbiology testing can be regarded as a quality control gate for product release and assurance in food industry. Hence the testing lead time will be demanding and tends to be “quick and accurate”. It is believed that rapid test kits or rapid test methods will be upcoming trends in food microbiology testing.
Some advice about a career in food microbiology?
It is suggested people who wish to be a food microbiologist must have basic food knowledge, and willing to do a lot of research and study.
So there you have it, whether it’s building the health of individuals through improving gut health, ensuring public health is maintained through a safe food supply or curbing the substantial economic losses through food spoilage and food waste, there are multiple ways to save the world as a food microbiologist! Which one will you choose?