April 14, 2024

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Food science alum finds appetizing career in product development- AgriLife Today

Growing up in San Antonio, Janet Adams ’98 ’01 was surrounded by good food – both at home and in her community.

A head and shoulders picture of a woman, food science and technology alum, Janet Adams. She is wearing a red dress and she has curly reddish-brown hair and she is wearing glasses. A head and shoulders picture of a woman, food science and technology alum, Janet Adams. She is wearing a red dress and she has curly reddish-brown hair and she is wearing glasses.
Janet Adams ’98 ’01, Department of Food Science and Technology alum and president of the Texas Food Processors Association, has had a varied and successful career in food science. (Courtesy photo)

“My friends always wanted to come to my house after school because my mom would have fresh baked cookies and snacks,” Adams said. “And I really enjoyed the food associated with San Antonio’s Hispanic culture. Growing up around that influence was also educational from a food standpoint.”  

During her teenage years, Adams developed a growing interest in the health-related aspects of food. After graduating from Winston Churchill High School, she decided to attend Texas A&M University. It was during her second semester at Texas A&M, particularly after taking an Introduction to Food Science class, that she became certain food science was the career path she wanted to pursue.  

“Texas A&M had a friendly atmosphere and was a good fit for my personality and career goals,” she said. “I also wanted to take classes in the Department of Food Science and Technology so I could give myself the best possible opportunities within a food science career after I graduated.”

Finding her ‘food science’ way as a student

Adams said as an undergraduate she was certain about her desire to pursue a career in product development. When she discovered many major food companies were primarily recruiting students with a graduate degree, she chose to stay at Texas A&M to pursue a master’s degree.

As a student, she received financial assistance by applying for food science scholarships through the Longhorn Institute of Food Technologists, the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the national Institute of Food Technologists, IFT, and the Texas Food Processors Association, TFPA. These connections would later play a large role in her career.  

Adams said she was also very involved in the Food Science Club.

“The club is an excellent way for students to get exposed to the industry and to be involved in the product development competition and college bowl,” she said. “I highly recommend all food science and technology students being involved in the club.”

She earned her bachelor’s degree in food science in 1998 and a master’s degree in 2001.

People and courses in food science that made a difference

Adams is quick to recognize Peter Murano, Ph.D., who has since retired from the Department of Food Science and Technology, as one of her most influential instructors. She said it was Murano who helped shape her career trajectory by introducing her to the field of food science and dedicating time to helping her determine the necessary coursework to achieve her goals.

She also said food chemistry was among the most useful of the courses she took, because it opened her mind to the everyday impact of chemistry in foods.

“Like most other students, I disliked chemistry, and especially organic chemistry,” Adams said. “But once I learned about chemistry related to food science, it suddenly made sense to me … it was the first time I actually understood chemistry. I also enjoyed my course in food microbiology, which was taught by Dr. Elsa Murano.”

She said she stays in touch with Murano and his wife, Elsa, professor and director of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture and Development, who she also considers a mentor.  

“They were a big influence on me and in finding the right direction for my career,” she said. “I really appreciate the Muranos because they put so much effort into supporting me and my goals, as they have done with numerous other students.”

Al Wagner, Ph.D., a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service food technologist and professor in the Department of Horticultural Sciences, was another individual Adams cited as an important influence in her education and career. Now, more than 20 years after she had him as in instructor, she is serving as president of TFPA and sits on its board of directors with Wagner.

Stepping into a food science career

“The basic knowledge gained in my food science classes has helped me in all the positions I have held since graduating,” she said. “It has given me an understanding of how processing works and about quality assurance concerns, product development and sourcing ingredients. It also gave me insights into how to meet customer needs by finding out about their processes and product requirements.”  

Between her junior and senior years as an undergraduate, Adams moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to fulfill an internship with Pizza Hut at what was then their corporate headquarters in Addison. She later landed her first full-time position at Frito Lay, where she was a product development scientist in research and development for the Frito Lay brands.

“I worked on cross-functional teams to develop new products to bring to the retail market,” she said. “One of my favorite developments was the guacamole Lay’s, because the seasoning was actually green. We had lots of discussions with marketing and many sensory tests to determine if consumers would buy green chips. And they did. It was a successful launch.”

After seven years, Adams changed to technical sales, which she has now been doing for nearly 15 years. She began working 10 years ago at Parker Products, which created the famous “Drumstick” novelty ice cream. Parker Products provides value-added ingredients to improve the flavor or texture of food products.

She later worked at Hanks Brokerage, a family owned food brokerage in the Dallas-Fort Worth area servicing a wide range of industries by providing industrial ingredients and finished goods for restaurant, food service, institutional and distribution purposes.

“I met Greg Hanks while I was a member of the Longhorn IFT, when I was secretary and he was chair elect of the chapter,” she said. “Fast forward 10 years later and he was my boss. It’s a fairly small world in the Texas food industry.”

Recently, Adams returned to work at Parker Products in a new role as a national account manager in technical sales, selling value-added ingredients to the ice cream, snack and confectionary industries.

Reflecting on her two-decade career in food science, she expressed how it has provided ample opportunities to gain insights into the Texas food industry. Now, she dedicates her time to imparting her industry wisdom to students, returning to the very classrooms where she once sat.

“When I spoke to students in Dr. (Rebecca) Creasy’s class this past fall, I told them that it’s helpful to work at a place where you enjoy their products,” Adams said. “Parker Products has grown and expanded since my first time there, and this will now allow me to better pursue my longtime interest in food product development.”  

Adam’s and the Texas Food Processors Association

As a TFPA scholarship recipient more than two decades ago, Adams was invited to one of the associations’ annual meetings.

TPFA is a nonprofit trade association representing companies engaged in the production of food products, including companies providing necessary raw materials, packaging, equipment, plant layout and design services, laboratory testing and other food industry business services.

“It was an amazing opportunity to interact with industry professionals,” she said. “Since then, I have been actively involved and have tried to give back to this organization that has been such an important part of my entire 20-plus-year career.”

TFPA helps connect people who need manufacturers or co-manufacturers and serves as a resource for all things related to food processing in Texas. She said her main role as TFPA president is to “grow the organization’s footprint” in the Texas food manufacturing space.

“Our goal is to further the food industry in Texas, and we do this by giving scholarships to deserving food science students.”

Adams highlighted the significance of TFPA in her career, emphasizing its role as a valuable source for mentors within the food industry who guided her to learn more about the field of food science.

As both TFPA president and a Texas A&M graduate, she seizes every opportunity to engage with those interested in pursuing careers in food science and technology.

“I tell those interested in this field to take as many jobs and internships as possible during college, so you can really learn what aspect of food science or the food industry you want to be involved in,” she said. “You may think you want to do research and development, but later find that quality assurance, sensory or some other role may be more to your liking. It’s okay to change your mind and take a different path if you find out your real interests lie in a different direction.”