The topic of fake news has come up a lot in the media recently. While people tend to associate fake news with political topics, the spread of false information and lack of transparency also exists within the food industry.
The media tends to highlight new “good” and “bad” foods all the time. One day an ingredient in your bread is bad for you. The next day it’s no longer a concern, and the way meat is being processed is making headlines.
The fact is, the information that is spread is not always true or complete.
The spread of this information, or misinformation, is concerning because it depletes the public’s trust in food companies. While it’s difficult to fight the many negative opinions out there, companies must look for new ways to build trust with consumers.
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Some companies have started to become more transparent, but as someone who is studying to become a future food scientist, I know my peers and I are looking forward to new initiatives. The perception needs to change, we are not scary scientists but trustworthy individuals producing food for the world.
If you’re in the food industry this probably isn’t new to you; we’d all love the public to trust us more. We’re all hoping for new solutions to make that a reality. However, as a student at a large university majoring in food science, I’m seeing other negative effects to this lack of trust and knowledge surrounding the food industry.
The number of students enrolled in an IFT-approved food science program in the US was down in 2016. It was the first time in a long time these numbers have gone down. I’m seeing this drop first-hand – the class sizes in my department have noticeably dropped.
There are almost always more food science jobs available than people graduating with a degree, and this drop in enrolment could cause an even larger shortage of qualified food scientists.
Lack of Trust and Transparency
It’s hard to say exactly why these numbers are falling. Of course, the lack of trust and transparency doesn’t help lure people into the industry, but I know it also doesn’t help that many people still don’t understand what food science is or that it even exits.
When I interact with students at my university and tell them my major, many comment that they didn’t even know we had a food science department or that the major existed.
My department has its own building on campus yet we fail to be recognized by people studying other disciplines and even by other majors within our own College of Agriculture.
How Can We Gain Trust?
Before we can begin to address this lack of trust I’ve been talking about and the many misconceptions surrounding food and food processing. I think we must start with the basics – if most people don’t understand what food science is, how can we ask them to understand what we do and trust us?
So many people I’ve talked to are intrigued by food science once they find out what it is. More people need to be aware of this discipline – not only to increase the number of food scientists out there, but to build trust between the food industry and consumers.
Author: Elena Bailoni
Elena is a junior studying Food Science at Purdue University;
I hope to one day work for a company that helps consumers make nutritious and healthful eating decisions with the products they make. My ultimate goal is to one day work in product research and design so I can make those products that will improve the lives of the people that eat them.
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