Applying food science theory to cooking instructions generation and verification
Lois Ancomah and Alicia Wong spent ten weeks on a summer placement with the cooking instructions team at Leatherhead Food Research. Highlights ranged from sensory testing of desserts to the real-world application of food science principles they had covered at university.
When Lois and Alicia joined our cooking instructions team as interns, they were eager to put their knowledge of food science to work in our kitchens. Lois has completed three years of study at the Leeds University School of Food Science and Nutrition, and is about to embark on her Master’s. Alicia is set to enter the final year of her degree in food science and nutrition at the University of Surrey. They were selected to join us on summer placements following an interview process and practical assessment.
A robust, traceable process
Our cooking trials are conducted using a wide range of domestic equipment ranging from thermal ovens, grills, and hobs to microwave ovens and air fryers. The placement students were struck by the thorough approach taken to ‘before use’ checks and equipment calibration. As a UKAS-accredited cooking instructions laboratory this is central to our processes.
Alicia focused on microwave oven cooking trials, which meant checking the voltage of plugs and verifying power output of different models. Lois worked with thermal ovens, so she needed to calibrate temperatures across electric, gas, and fan models.
Both interns noted the rigour of our cooking trials, which is necessary to ensure instructions deliver reliable and repeatable outcomes.
“Once a cooking trial delivered the safety and sensory outcomes we were looking for, we repeated the process multiple times to validate the findings,” Alicia explains. “I had no idea how much effort went into ensuring the efficacy and traceability of cooking instructions.”
A science-led approach
Many of the foods Alicia and Lois worked with were manufactured products such as garlic bread, pizza, and breaded chicken. The day they focused on desserts, assessing sensory properties including aroma and taste, stands out as a highlight of the summer placement. However, they also enjoyed putting their scientific knowledge to the test when it came to more challenging products with natural variations in size and thickness, such as salmon fillets and beef tenderloin.
“It was fascinating to learn how professional food scientists apply principles such as carryover cooking to fresh products prepared using domestic equipment,” says Lois. “Satisfying retailer, safety, and quality standards for medium and well-done meat takes a lot of skill when blanket cooking instructions are required.”
Workplace learning will enrich studies
As our interns come to the end of their summer placements, they say they’ll take valuable learnings with them.
Alicia hopes to pursue a career in the FMCG sector, developing functional food products that are healthy and sustainable. Working with Leatherhead has given her new insights into the work that goes into making new products safe and convenient for consumers. She’s now considering how she might explore this in her final year dissertation.
For Lois, the internship has strengthened her ambition to work in food technology and safety. She’s interested in the technical aspects of achieving necessary time-temperature combinations without compromising sensory properties, and this topic will be central to her Master’s.
According to Natasha Burton, Head of Cooking Instructions at Leatherhead, both Lois and Alicia have made a significant contribution to the team: “It’s important to invest in young talent and interns always bring a fresh perspective for us too. Alicia and Lois are enthusiastic and quick to learn, so it’s been a pleasure to see their skills and confidence grow. I know they’re going to have a bright future in the food and beverage industry and wish them all the best.”
Both Lois and Alicia found that working with a mostly female team of scientists on the cooking instructions team was energising and inspiring.
Lois summed this up, saying: “We hear a lot about the male-domination of STEM careers, but we mainly worked with female scientists at Leatherhead. They were fantastic role models, and they all contribute to the department’s excellent reputation for science-led generation and verification of cooking instructions.”
Find out more about our cooking instructions services here.