22 October 2021

Educated in food science more than 40 years apart

Food education

In celebration of the food science education turning 50 in 2021, we have interviewed two candidates – one with roots back to when the education was new and one who just graduated in 2021. There are big differences between then and now – but also some similarities.

Picture of Helene Fog Froriep Halberg (on the left) and Åse Solvej Hansen
Helene Fog Froriep Halberg (on the left) and Åse Solvej Hansen are both interested in exploring food and their knowledge is based on different stages in the development of food science. Photo: Lene Hundborg Koss

When Åse Solvej Hansen studied to be a bromatologist in the 1970s, she was interested in getting rid of dangerous additives in food, while sustainability and fermentation were high on the agenda when Helena Halberg received her MSc in Food Science and Technology with the general specialisation (as the bromatology education is called today) in the summer of 2021. When it was established in 1971, the study was not as well organised with subjects that were focused on the tasks and challenges of food science, and students sometimes had to settle for subjects intended for agronomists or veterinarians.

You can also see: INVITATION - 50 years anniversary of education in food science

“We had, for example, livestock anatomy, where we learned how to determine the age of a cow by looking at its teeth, and zoology, where we were taught about insects with net wings. Nutrition did not exist at all in the education, and we had to fight to get some subjects that were tailored for us. Later in the study, things got better, and we had, for example, technological studies within fruits and vegetables, meat, milk and fats, as well as food microbiology and conservation. The amazing thing was that it was one of the first educations in the world that was about the science of food in a broad sense, and not, for example, only about meat or only about dairy etc. And when we were finished with the education, we had attained a broad knowledge encompassing many different foods,” explains Åse Solvej Hansen, associate professor emerita at the Department of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH FOOD), where the education for an MSc in Food Science and Technology takes place today.

Åse Solvej Hansen began the 4.5-year bromatology programme at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in 1973. There was no bachelor’s programme at that time.

Helene Fog Froriep Halberg is a research assistant at UCPH FOOD. In 2015, she began the Food and Nutrition bachelor’s programme and in 2019 she started the MSc in Food Science and Technology, which today offers ample opportunity to focus your education on various topics:

“I did a bachelor’s degree in Food and Nutrition and then my MSc in Food Science and Technology, which largely consisted of electives in the topics that interest me. I specialised in spectroscopy and multivariate data analysis in foods with subjects like chemometrics, quantitative bio-spectroscopy and process analytical chemistry and technology. I think that there have been good opportunities to choose some subjects that are relevant to areas I am interested in,” says Helene Fog Froriep Halberg.

What made you want to study to become a bromatologist/MSc in Food Science and Technology with the general specialisation?

Åse: I had just taken the matriculation exam for a two-year course and all the doors were open when you had that diploma – my parents had no education. Not many of my friends took the matriculation exam – out of a primary school class of 26, only two went directly to gymnasium (high school). And in the bromatology education, many of us were actually pattern breakers in terms of being the first in the family to take a longer education. I had always been interested in food and nutrition and read about the education in the book “What can I become” (the Education Guide of the time, ed.).

Helene: My story is a bit similar. I have also always been interested in food and nutrition, but when it came to choosing an education, I was still in doubt about what I should study. I considered studying medicine, economics and psychology. But in the end, I returned to my interest in food and chose food science, which appealed to me because there are so many different aspects of the education – it is a broad education that can go many directions.

What do you actually learn as a bromatologist/ MSc in Food Science and Technology with the general specialisation?

Helene: You learn a lot about what goes on in food, but also about production processes. You have subjects like cell biology, microbiology, food chemistry and physics, but also process monitoring and process control. You are taught both the classic chemical analysis methods, but also what I am particularly interested in: Spectroscopy and thus the handling of large amounts of data on food.

Åse: We learned a lot about the individual foods – what they consisted of and their structure. We learned a lot from the laboratory work, as only two students worked on each exercise. Back then, we only had the traditional statistical methods to process results with, but we had EDB, as it was called in the early days of computing and had to code using a punched card. This took place in a large room with a colossal EDB machine. The industry was very different from today, and one of the most important things then, in fact just like today, was microbiology – both the positive that can be used to process food, as well as the negative that can be disease-causing. We were also taught food law, as many are also employed in the public sector.

What is/was the international focus like in the education?

Helene: Nearly all the literature is in English, and the entire MSc programme is conducted in English, so the education is designed so that you can work internationally. Therefore, I also have the impression that it is an education you can easily use abroad – and in addition, there are a number of international students in the programme. Some students do either an internship or a semester abroad and sometimes there are trips for a course. For example, in the course Cool Climate Viticulture and Enology you visit a German university that has a focus on wine.

Åse: When we were in the programme, some of the teachers arranged a trip with the students and I went to both Poland and Hungary. Hungary had an institute for food microbiology that was world renowned, and it was exciting to see what they were working with. They worked with much different products than we were used to – for example, they fermented sausages in a completely different way so that they turned white on the outside – a bit like when we make brie cheese. We also saw how Maggi (Magyar=Hungarians) bouillon cubes were produced from leftover meat.

Picture of Helene Fog Froriep Halberg (on the left) and Åse Solvej Hansen
Photo: Lene Hundborg Koss

Both the food industry and the job situation have changed

Åse: We visited many companies. In the 1970s, there was much more food production, whereas we probably make more ingredients today. We had maybe seven sugar factories in Denmark and a large number of factories for processing fruit and vegetables – today there are far fewer companies in each area.

Helene: We also visited many companies, and as part of the education we can choose an internship. For my own part, I spent five months in an internship with a Danish wine producer who, instead of making wine from grapes, has chosen to use the fruits and berries that grow well in Denmark. I was primarily involved in the daily work as a winemaker, and then I also had a project where I used the sedimented yeast from the wine production to try baking bread with. It was great to work in a company and experience the practical side of how work is done in a food company.

Åse: As we finished, it dawned on us that it might be quite difficult to get a job. The education was still new, and pharmacists, veterinarians and engineers had the jobs we were suited to. I was lucky enough to write my thesis at Schulstad, where I also got a job. But many of my fellow students were unemployed for a long time.

Helene: Not everyone has a job waiting right after defending their thesis, but most get jobs after a short while. There are a lot of companies that have employees with a MSc in Food Science and Technology, and they know what the education stands for.

Were/are there any special themes that engage the students?

Åse: Some of us were very preoccupied with additives, because until 1973 we only had a negative list of substances that we were not allowed to use in food, but in 1973 we got the positive list, which specified which substances could be used. Some pretty horrible things were used in food, and there was, for example, news about children who had violent allergic reactions to the additives used in sweets. When we visited companies, we were almost more interested in what additives they used than the products themselves, and there is no doubt that some of us made teachers squirm with our questions back then.

Helene: During my studies, sustainability has started to take up more and more space – among the students, but also in relation to the content of the courses, which have to a greater extent focused on sustainability and climate. Fermentation has also been a topic that many have become interested in.

How was the study environment while you were studying?

Åse: There were not many of us in the early years and we had some common things to fight for – especially getting the education organised so that the subjects suited us. For example, getting nutrition added to the education, and it helped bring us together as a group. There was a really good atmosphere in the programme. We did not pay much attention to what year we belonged to and talked a lot together across cohorts. The bromatology education was a godsend for me and it has been a pleasure to go to work – both when I was in the food industry – and later when I was employed at the University of Copenhagen as an assistant professor and later as an associate professor.

Helene: Even though the programme has gotten much larger, there is still a really good community – also across the cohorts. We arranged parties across the age groups, the tutors were from different age groups, and also talked across groups and got help from each other. On the master’s level, my study programme has been characterised by Covid-19, which affected half of the education. Fortunately, I was allowed to write my thesis at the university, where I could perform experiments in the laboratories. In general, there is a good unity and a comfortable study environment.