Tag Archives: diversity

Steve Min
Women in Food Safety

Carve Your Own Path

By Laura Gutierrez Becerra
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Steve Min

The Women in Food Safety Group had the pleasure of speaking with Steve Min, Executive Vice President of R&D and Quality Assurance at International Dairy Queen (IDQ) about his career path as well as opportunities and advice for young female professionals who are interested in pursuing and/or expanding their careers in food safety.

Min, a secondgeneration Korean American, holds a bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Technology and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering from Ohio State University. His career has spanned food safety, R&D and quality management across multiple areas of the food supply chain. At IDQ, Min is responsible for ensuring global regulatory compliance, product development, and food safety and quality in more than 20 countries.

His personal journey in the food industry began at the age of 14 working in food concessions, food service and food catering. However, food science has run through his veins since birth as he is the son of a well-recognized food science professor. Min launched his professional career at Borden Foods and Mattson. He progressed to a management position at Battelle, where he focused on probabilistic and quantitative risk management, then a leadership position at Wendy’s before joining IDQ. 

Do you have any advice to those who are pursuing a career in R&D or FSQA?

Min: Try both. These two areas are tied to one another. Quality and safety are built in the development and specification process and further developed through the commercialization process. Understanding—and learning about—mitigation of food safety risk at the manufacturing and food service/end user level is imperative. I believe exploring both areas at early career stages is very valuable to help become well rounded and define a career path.

What motivated you to focus your career on food safety? 

Min: The combination of detailed thinking (risk analysis) and vision (risk mitigation) as well as the opportunity to solve problems piqued my interest. I enjoyed the analytical work during my college years. During grad. school, I focused my work on nonthermal technologies, such as Pulsed Electric Field processing, to inactivate organisms causing foodborne illnesses.

My engineering background helped me better understand the manufacturing process, while applying risk-based and science-based approaches to product design, quality and food safety.

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From the business perspective, understanding the importance of food safety to ensure companies are not negatively impacted is imperative. It also is important to recognize that safety is a continuous process that requires coordination with other teams to achieve customer satisfaction.

What do you like most about your job?

Min: Professionally, it allows me to interact and build relationships with people and share a risk-based culture. I take professional pride in knowing that our customers are getting safe food. Personally, I enjoy learning, which always is achieved by tackling issues and solving problems. The technical aspect of my career is fun, but that is only one aspect of the business. Success only is achievable through collaboration.

What are some of the obstacles or challenges you face as a food safety professional? 

Min: Throughout my career, I have faced challenges and I enjoy being challenged. It’s an opportunity to learn from other departments or pillars of the food industry, understand the challenges they are experiencing and define the work needed to solve a problem. This helps me stick to my beliefs and responsibilities during challenging times. Building relationships and your own credibility is extremely helpful, and this requires one to learn how to respectively disagree with and learn from people while effectively communicating the importance of food safety.

What have you learned by working with women during your career journey? 

Min: I have worked with outstanding female employees and leaders. Inclusion is something natural and important to me as I saw what my father, a Korean immigrant, experienced during his life.
Fundamentally, everyone brings strengths to work and I continue to learn about others’ strengths and how to best empower teammates to reach their potential. I’m putting more focus on understanding the background and the experience of a colleague or a new potential employee. I am learning to focus on understanding where and how the employee wants to grow and I try to help them break barriers or guide them on next steps to fulfill their career aspirations. To do this, I focus on the feedback I receive as a manager and try to be a better partner, as part of my own continuous development. I’m on an ongoing learning journey to leverage situational leadership and empathy in a way that allows all teammates to grow, find satisfaction and help IDQ achieve its mission and vision.

What is the best advice you received as a young professional? 

Min: There are three keys I learned from previous managers and mentors that guided me through a lot of challenges. I remain grateful to those who have helped me learn. They are:

  1. Build relationships in a time of calm and leverage them in a time of crisis.
  2. Seek and gather facts from different perspectives and assess them prior to making a final decision. There are often many sides of the story and details can be important but sometimes overlooked.
  3. “Stay on the side of the angels.” It’s all about doing what’s right. Doing what we think is right will protect people and the business.

I believe considering these three things is fundamental, especially when you work in a fast-paced environment.

If you could turn the clock back to the start of your career, what would you say to your younger self? 

Steve Min: Put more focus on networking and relationship building. Continue to help others, which ultimately helps all of us. Put your fears aside and take some risks. Learn more about business. Exercise more and spend more time with family.

What advice would you offer to young women, students and early-career professionals seeking to become leaders in food safety?  

Min: Starting a career path is an important decision. Research the entire scope of options that are available and talk to people that are in these roles, both new and tenured employees. I’ve never come across someone in our industry that hasn’t been willing to share their experiences with another, so just reach out. From there, consider what motivates you.

When you are starting out, you may need to switch jobs. This can be challenging but it may help you learn, find passion and carve your path. If you can explore both R&D and food safety/QA earlier in your career, it may help you become a well-rounded food professional and enable you to think about food safety more holistically.

Soft skills are especially important for career advancement, so learn to develop them as early as possible, specifically collaboration, business acumen, communication, and cross-functional leadership. Try always to put yourself in other people’s shoes to develop these soft skills. Ask for help, be bold, and don’t shy away from a challenge.

What do you hope to see in the next three to five years in terms of development and mentoring of women in the industry? 

Min: Right now, women are a tremendous part of the industry, and we have some wonderful women leaders. When I conduct interviews, I see a pipeline of capable and intelligent women who have strong career aspirations. I strive for continued growth of younger generations within the company and industry and help develop them to fit key roles in the future.

What advice do you have for those working towards a position in the executive team? 

Min: Develop your soft skills and find opportunities to display the quality of your work, your capabilities, and your leadership skills. Set your own vision and goals and look for strategic projects that can help you achieve those goals. Be bold, put yourself out there, and demonstrate your abilities. This requires stretching your comfort zone, raising your hand and seeking stretch opportunities. It is often important to take initiative to get promoted. The key piece of this is strategic thinking and having a vision. When you have a goal, you can assess the situation, and then work backwards and cross-functionally to complete projects and achieve priorities.

As a senior leader for a global team, do you have any suggestions on increasing diversity in the food industry?   

Min: Work with HR to continue to widen recruiting circles. Be deliberate in learning and having conversations about diversity and inclusion. If travel is part of your job, it is a great opportunity to learn from people who have varying cultures and backgrounds. It’s important to build more diverse relationships and help others make connections. Inclusion is so important and learning and practicing day-to-day inclusivity will drive positive change. Invest in relationships, teach others and keep learning. Consider leaning into or leading opportunities that come your way in this space.

Melody Ge
Women in Food Safety

The Career Journey: Networking, Mentorship and the Balance

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge

As part of a special offering, Episode 9 has been made available for viewing on demand for free. Register to view the on-demand recording.We were thrilled to have our first Women In Food Safety event with Food Safety Tech during the Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series on November 5. Industry leaders and professionals gathered to discuss women in this field, advocate for our strengths and provide advice to young female professionals as well as those who are at mid- or late-career stages. During the sessions in the episode, we explored self-development, networking, mentorship and leadership. The following are some of the issues we tackled.

When you first start your career or a job, don’t be afraid to take opportunities that have the potential for growth, and remember that all your experiences play a part in helping you achieve your final goal. While soft skills are crucial when looking for a job, technical skills shouldn’t be omitted, emphasized Martin Wiedmann, Ph.D., professor at Cornell University. You need to know how to do the basics; then you can be able to lead and teach others.


Mentorship and reversed mentorship were discussed throughout the episode. Different perspectives were brought up, however, everyone agreed that mentorship is very helpful throughout a career journey. Whether you are a mentor or a mentee, you can learn from each other. Self-learning and continuous development are crucial regardless of which stage you are at in your career. Mentorship happens organically and naturally, but one thing you need to think about prior to seeking a mentor is, what do you need one for? What do you want to learn and achieve? Lisa Robinson, VP of global food safety and public health at Ecolab, raised the question and continued: “For example, I have a mentor in business, because I know that is where I need help and advice.. Don’t be afraid to reach out to find your own mentor. “The mentor should have interests in your growth, and there has to be chemistry between mentors and mentees,” said Cindy Jiang, senior director of global food and packaging safety at McDonald’s Corp.

Women in Food Safety have five focused mentorship areas of focus:

  • Diversity/culture
    • For women with a diverse cultural background, focusing on helping their needs in work culture
  • Adventure starts
    • For women in school, focusing on bridging the gap between academic and industry, focusing on helping the start of their career, and providing a pipeline for future food safety professionals
  • Leadership
    • For women at an early career stage, focusing on helping them step up to senior management, and providing a pipeline for future leadership
  • Boots on the ground
    o For women working on-site, focusing on helping their needs in work culture
  • Work and life
    • For women who just came back from maternity leave or a long break, focusing on helping their needs when going through life-changing times with minimal impact on work

Mentors can be one or more, but it all depends on your goal and what you want.

Climbing the Career Ladder

There are many barriers and challenges throughout a career, but what’s important to keep us going during this journey is ourselves—stay humble, keep learning, and keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. “If you don’t take care for yourself, the rest doesn’t matter,” said Lisa Robinson. She added, “If I am not well, I cannot do anything well.” In today’s environment, the competition is high. We are all looking to find balance, and we need to commit time to ourselves and our family. One way of doing so is to learn how to and be comfortable with saying “no”.

On the other hand, saying “yes” is just as important as saying “no”. Lisa shared a story: She learned that the company she was working at was interviewing for a VP position that she is interested in pursuing. She went to her boss and asked why she wasn’t considered. He responded, “I thought you were very happy with what you are doing.” By sharing this story, Lisa emphasized that speaking up to your boss and saying what you want is important. While you may be enjoying what you are doing, don’t forget to look ahead and make known what you ultimately want.

In addition, “sometimes barriers or rejection might not be a bad thing,” said Allison Jennings, global director of food safety, quality, compliance at Amazon. “Understand what your goal is and find what you love, [and] of course, finding out what you don’t love is also important. When one door closes, another one will be open.”

“Think about how you achieve your goal instead of what you have achieved. Don’t bring a problem without a potential solution; also, don’t bring a solution without understanding the problem thoroughly,” said Sara Mortimore, VP of global food safety and quality at Walmart. As a leader, we all need to develop our team and ourselves together, create a psychologically safe environment where team members can speak up and share their thoughts freely. As female leaders, we tend to be less confident when taking responsibilities or making decisions. “Yes, I can do it! Be confident with yourself when opportunities come to you, ” Sara said as she encouraged the group.


Last but not least, build your own network! All the speakers during this session mentioned the importance and benefits of networking. The food safety industry is a close-knit family. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help.

Let’s be honest, there are challenges for females in the industry, and as far as we have come, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. But what’s important is that we are all very clear of our goals and how to get there. We are working on this together.

Please check out our group on LinkedIn. Follow #womeninfoodsafety

This summary is written based on the opinions and presentations by the speakers.

Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech
Women in Food Safety

Help Us Shape Our Future Vision

By Maria Fontanazza, Melody Ge
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Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech

Women in food safety are increasingly playing more critical roles in their organizations because of our objective decision-making, compassion, communication prowess and ability to collaborate. During this year’s Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series, we are pleased to join Food Safety Tech with a Women in Food Safety Day. It’s our day: We will discuss the challenges and opportunities that we encounter as a gender, especially during this uncertain era in the world. We will also address issues surrounding students who are devoting their research to improving food safety and quality. We welcome your contribution, support and ideas.

The 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series will take place every Thursday during the fall, beginning on September 10. If you are interested in presenting during the Women in Food Safety Day, we invite you to submit an abstract. Please note that the day in which the Women in Food Safety session will be held will be announced after we receive the abstracts.

When the Women in Food Safety group was first founded, the mission was to provide a community and networking platform for women in the industry to share their experiences and to seek advice from peers; more importantly, to help young female professionals and students to grow into future outstanding women leaders in the food safety industry.

To carry this mission, the group founder and committee are pleased to announce a mentorship program with below five focused areas:

  1. Diversity/culture: For women with a diverse background, focusing on their needs in different work culture
  2. Adventure Starts: For women in school, focusing on bridging the gap of moving from academia to industry; focus on starting their career, and create a pipeline for future food safety professionals
  3. The Future Leadership: For women at early career stage, focusing on step up to senior management, pipeline for future women leadership
  4. Working in Manufacturing: For women working in manufacturing sites, focusing on their needs in this specific work environment
  5. Work/Life balance: For women who are facing decision-makings, balancing work and life. The focus is on helping their needs when going through life’s exciting times and long leave from professional areas with minimal impact on work.

We welcome all industry professionals and fellows who are interested. We look forward to seeing you during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series, beginning on September 10. Together, we can make it. Join us to empower women and the food safety industry to leverage our unique leadership strength and skills.