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Putting Food On The Shelf

Imagine strolling down a grocery aisle, seeing a food product and knowing you played a role in its development. It’s a satisfying feeling for Nicole Williams, a research scientist with Kraft Foods, in Glenview, Ill. She started to get this feeling as a high school student touring the food science department at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she later received a bachelor’s degree in food science before going on to earn a master’s in food microbiology at the UW-Madison.

The Kansas City native was fascinated by a sensory evaluation demonstration on the university tour. Students were encouraged to plug their noses while tasting food to experience the relationship between taste and smell. “I thought that was cool,” says Williams, who began to learn about an entire industry devoted to food technology. Her high school chemistry teacher cultivated Williams’s interest by having her work on food-related experiments.

After receiving her bachelor’s in 1994, Williams interned at R.J. Reynolds. She also taught for six months, beginning as a teacher’s aide, then assuming more responsibilities when the teacher resigned. She used the opportunity to teach fourth graders about science, including sensory evaluation.

An interest in food microbiology led Williams to the UW-Madison where she got her master’s in 1997. The microbiology background, she says, has helped her interact with chemical engineers at Kraft. She can talk with them about why certain processes can and cannot be done.

Williams says College food microbiologist Steven Ingham helped her a great deal and encouraged her to become an intern with Kraft. The internship involved working on the company’s Stove Top stuffing line. It was also a great opportunity to learn more about the corporate setting, she says.

The College, says Williams, gave her valuable technical knowledge and the skills to accomplish her objectives. Involvement with the College’s Food Science Club — Williams served as its president for two years — and the Institute of Food Technologists also improved her organizational and networking skills.

At Kraft, Williams is involved in product and package development and brand maintenance. She is currently evaluating how packaging can affect a product’s flavor, odor, color, moisture and shelf life.