How did you become interested in food science?
I’ve always been interested in food products. As someone from a diverse background who has lived in other countries, I was lucky to try many types of cuisines and food products while growing up. Also, I have a sweet tooth and love candy products, and I am fascinated by how they are made.
Originally, I am from Marine Parade, Singapore. I was born there, and my family moved to Phuket, Thailand when I was about a year old. My parents worked for a global vacation resort company called Club Med, so that’s how I was able to be in such diverse locations. I lived in Thailand until I was seven years old, and then we moved to Port St. Lucie, Florida. I grew up there until leaving to attend UF, and now I currently live in Apopka, Florida working for The Coca-Cola Company. And now, I spend all day working in food science!
Would you share how you chose UF for your food science undergraduate degree and M.S. in Food Science and Human Nutrition?
I knew during high school that I wanted to attend UF, as it is the best public school in Florida. However, during my first year at UF, I was originally pre-med because I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do as a career. After a semester of being a pre-med biology major, I was introduced to food science as an alternative CALS major. In my second semester, I took food science courses and really enjoyed them, so I chose to pursue food science as my major.
By the time I was about to graduate, I knew my ultimate goal was to work in the food industry. Still, I felt that a master’s degree would be a great opportunity to better prepare myself. I had conducted research in Dr. Paul Sarnoski‘s lab as an undergraduate student, and he notified me that he had an assistantship spot for graduate school. I took the opportunity. I knew that I wouldn’t want to go back to school after starting in the food industry, so it was the best time for me to pursue my graduate degree.
You have a minor in management and sales in agribusiness—how has this minor influenced your scholarship and work?
The minor offered me great insight into understanding financial information at a deeper level. My day-to-day work in the food industry wouldn’t change much without the minor. Yet if I end up in a more leadership-oriented position that requires me to make business decisions, the skills I learned in the minor will help.
Tell me about your graduate research project in tomato juice beverages.
My graduate project focused on improving processed tomato juice products through the use of essence addition. In a nutshell, we used a large-scale rotary evaporator to distill tomato juice made from fresh Florida cultivars and collect the water. This water is called “essence” as it contains a lot of volatiles.
We used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS) to understand the flavor profiles of the different cultivars’ essences. Then, we added the essences to from-concentrate tomato juice products in varying concentrations and used sensory testing to see if the essences produced increased likability, flavor, and preference.
How has your time at UF impacted your work as a product development scientist at The Coca-Cola Company? What do you do from day to day?
My time at UF really prepared me for the work at Coca-Cola. I’m lucky that my thesis project applied so well to my job (tomato juice to now working with other fruit juice products). I use a lot of the skills I gained studying juice products to help me in my day-to-day work. I also want to give a lot of credit to the core food science curriculum at UF. It was very thorough and helped teach me the various disciplines of food science that I interact with often during work.
My days at Coca-Cola vary quite a bit. Some days, I may be working on the benchtop most of the time making samples of products. Other days, I may be in the pilot plant processing some samples for consumer or internal testing. I can be pretty busy with meetings or on the computer using formula and ingredient software to plan future samples. During non-COVID times, there was a good amount of travel to manufacturing plants, flavor houses, and more. I hope I can experience this travel soon.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I enjoy hanging out with my friends, watching sports, traveling to new places when I can, and trying to stay active. Also, I am an avid video game player!
If you were a food, what food would you be and why?
I would choose to be a durian. It’s a very stinky fruit with a spiked exterior, so they’re hard to handle. While some people do enjoy them, I feel most people would hate eating one, so by being a durian I wouldn’t get eaten!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to add a big thanks to the UF-FSHN department and all the faculty and staff that helped me get through undergraduate and graduate school. Thank you to my professor, Dr. Sarnoski, for giving me a chance to be one of his graduate students. I am grateful for my committee members: Dr. Renee Goodrich-Schneider, Dr. Samuel Hutton, and Dr. Denise Tieman.
Also, I want to thank all of my professors for doing such a great job teaching me and my classmates about food science. I really appreciate my advisors, Herschel Johnson and Jenna Grogan, for ensuring I was always on track. Finally, a big thanks to my classmates. There were many times we worked together and help each other succeed, and I wouldn’t have completed my time without them.
P.S. The Discover FSHN Series highlights the unique experiences of UF’s Food Science and Human Nutrition students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Want to read more about the amazing work going on in the FSHN department? See our previous features below:
Shannon Mai, Dietetics
Alex Colon, Dietetics and Jenny Duong, Food Science
Jackie Shannon, Nutritional Sciences
Jennifer Jordan, Food Science
Lily Tucciarone, Dietetics
Tim Cassella, Nutritional Sciences
Savanna Curtis, Food Science (M.S.)
Carley Rusch and Matthew Beke, Nutritional Sciences (Ph.D.)
Alexa Hosey, Dietetics (MS/DI)
Vicnie Leandre, Food Science (M.S.)
Rufus Theophilus, Nutritional Sciences (Ph.D.)
Amber Fritsche, Dietetics (MS/DI)
Amy Jones, Food Science (Ph.D.)
Melissa Perez Santana, Food Science (M.S.)
Dr. Naim Montazeri, Food Science/Food Virology
Dr. Jeanette Andrade, Dietetics
Dr. Zhiyong Cheng, Nutritional Sciences
Dr. Juan Andrade Laborde, Global Nutrition
Dr. Razieh Farzad, Food Science
Dr. Beth Gankofskie, Dietetics
Dr. Anne Mathews, Nutritional Sciences
Dr. Rebecca Gould, Dietetics, Postdoctoral Research
Dr. Becca Solch, Nutritional Sciences, Postdoctoral Research
Hannah Cooper, Dietetics, Private Practice
Dr. Richie Li, Food Science, Product Development
Doctor Brian Barrow, Nutritional Sciences, Medicine/Physician