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How Food Tasters Work

By: Melanie Radzicki McManus  | 

The Pros and Cons of Being a Food Taster

Francois Savary of the Chocolate Center of Excellence performs a praline shelling demonstration at the Swiss chocolate maker Cailler in 2012.
Francois Savary of the Chocolate Center of Excellence performs a praline shelling demonstration at the Swiss chocolate maker Cailler in 2012.
© DENIS BALIBOUSE/Reuters/Corbis

There are many pros to becoming a professional food taster. For starters, the salary's not so bad. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't have a category for "food taster," its May 2013 occupational employment and wages report said the mean annual wage for food scientists and technologists was $65,340, with some professionals earning more than $100,000 annually. That's not too shabby. And if you're tasting Ben & Jerry's ice cream or Godiva chocolates nearly every workday, that's an additional -- and delectable -- perk.

But the job has its less glamorous side, too, mainly for the nonprofessional tasters. Tasting can be quite monotonous, for one thing, as tasters often examine one type of product, such as onion rings or coffee, for weeks at a time. It also requires a lot of concentration. You're typically not eating a fistful of chips and saying yay or nay. You'll take a small nibble out of a cookie, for example, and have to evaluate everything ingredient by ingredient, aspect by aspect. How buttery is it? Can you taste the vanilla? How strong is the cinnamon? Did it crumble or melt in your mouth? Were the raisins too dry? You may then have to assign each ingredient or aspect a numeric ranking. Then you spit it out. If you're working as part of a group sensory panel, discussions and negotiations with your fellow panelists may also have to take place, which can sometimes become prolonged and heated if panelists disagree [source: Saelinger].

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Sometimes there are side effects from taste-testing so many similar foods over and over, too. One consumer taster spent eight months on a panel for frozen fried foods, mainly sampling french fries. He reported coming home after tastings with huge blisters in his mouth from all of the salt. He added that many of his fellow panelists started having dental and health problems, so he decided to quit [source: Dang].

Finally, tasting can be an exhausting, stressful job, as it takes a lot of concentration for a proper evaluation. And your taste buds are easily fatigued. Tasters generally only work a few hours at a time, and some just an hour or so a few days a week. On the other hand, this type of schedule makes it a great part-time job for many. The pay for the non-professional might range from $12 to $16 per hour [source: Dang].

And in case you were wondering, people sample pet food, too.

Food taster FAQ

What is a professional taster?
There are two basic types of food tasters: The first group consists of professionally educated and trained men and women who are often employed as food technicians, food scientists or product developers. The second type comprises consumers who work part-time or on an as-needed basis to taste-test products for companies.
What does a food taster do?
Taste-testers take small bites of a particular food, which allows them to truly evaluate its various components. Then they spit it out and cleanse their palate in preparation for the next sample by sipping water or perhaps even gargling.
How do I become a food taster?
Professional food tasters say it helps to prepare your body as much as your mind for this job. Protect your 10,000 taste buds by passing on cigarettes, booze and super spicy or salty foods. Lay off the aftershave or cologne, as heavy scents can impair your sense of smell -- and 80 percent of taste is smell. Finally, eat your veggies.
What education do you need to be a food taster?
If you're interested in becoming a professional food taster, you'll most likely need a degree in food science or the culinary arts. A nutrition degree can also be helpful, as well as a post in product development at a food or beverage company.
How much do food tasters make?
According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for a food taster is $54,294.