A Future in Food - Case Studies

Glasgow Scientific Services: Scotland's Food Detectives

Providing scientific support to roughly half of Scotland, Glasgow Scientific Services (GSS) is the biggest local authority laboratory in the UK. While not working solely in the food and drink industry, the service's resources and skills in microbiological testing, and in gauging food quality and safety, are in high demand.

GSS has a very wide remit and works with the private business sector, other local authorities and local government departments such as Trading Standards and Environmental Health. Analytical work covers contaminants, composition, substitution and labelling; while microbiological testing focuses on water and food quality with samples routinely tested including ready-to-eat foods, shellfish, dairy products and drinking water.

GSS are strong advocates for links between school and industry. As Gary Walker, Manager at GSS said: “We believe that it is important to support young people and give them us much information as possible so they can then make an informed career choice. A Future in Food links in with the Curriculum for Excellence and, for us, that means not just science but also other areas such as report writing, presentation skills, thinking on your feet, numeracy and a host of other skills that are required in the real-life workplace.”

Food careers not always in obvious places

The food and drink industry is not as well understood as most industry sectors, so exciting careers are often found in unexpected places. For instance, have you thought about who responds to complaints from the general public about misleading food labels, 'watered down' pub drinks, suspected food poisoning cases or, even, bad smells and odours?

Glasgow Scientific Services (GSS) is located in a quiet residential part of Springburn. As Gary Walker, Manager at GSS explains: ““We apply a whole range of science yet people don't really know who we are, where we are or what we do. There does tend to be an air of mystery surrounding us but really we're just scientists doing our best to protect the public.”

“In any year, we are handling up to 35,000 samples which can create up to one million results – that's a huge workload for what is a relatively small team of just 50 people here in Glasgow.”

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Varied and Intriguing Career Opportunities

As Gary Walker, Manager at Glasgow Scientific Services explains: “Our people come to work knowing that no two days are likely to be the same.”

Varied and intriguing career opportunities

He continues: “We could be testing a private water supply from Argyll one day then looking at the nutritional content of school meals the next. We might have a food labelling issue to investigate or be called to a hotel out-of-hours after a food poisoning outbreak – there's never a dull moment!”

While Gary admits that the popularity of TV series such as CSI has raised the profile of lab work and given the “white coats” image of the laboratory a welcome boost, he is quick to stress that it isn't always glamorous. He explains: “There's a lot of sampling and routine analysis but there is a bit of detective work as well because it's often about solving a problem and finding a solution using technology and various approaches.”

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Benefiting from industry/education links

Glasgow Scientific Services (GSS) actively engages with schools, college and universities. For instance, many 4th year secondary school pupils benefit from work experience. As GSS Manager, Gary Walker explains: “They come to us for a week and we give them a good, all-round view of the type of job they could have as a scientist. It also gives them a sound grounding and excellent flavour of what to expect”.

GSS also welcomes several students to its ranks each year with young people from Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of the West of Scotland and the University of Aberdeen among those completing work experience.

Says Gary Walker: “Three months would be the minimum amount of time a student spends with us but some are here for a year. Many go on to find permanent jobs in the food industry based on their experiences with us.”

GSS also takes on apprentices, supported through day release.

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More information


Images from Glasgow Metropolitan College


Last reviewed: 19 Oct 2011