Tag Archives: food safety culture

Hand washing

Free Food Safety Culture Toolkit Launched by Alliance of Advocates, Food Safety Pros

Hand washing

The Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness (Alliance) is offering a free food safety culture toolkit tailored for small and medium-sized food businesses. Stop Foodborne Illness (STOP) is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting those affected by foodborne illness and advocating for food safety.

The kit, which is a guide to help manufacturing workforces find the ‘why’ behind their company’s food safety measures, is the result of a collaboration between STOP and Fortune 500 food safety practitioners at Amazon, Costco, Kellogg and more.

“Every year, one in six Americans are sickened by a foodborne illness. This toolkit helps companies shift away from ‘have to be safe’ to ‘want to to safe’ in order to protect overall public health,” says Dr. Vanessa Coffman, director of the Alliance. “Sharing our Alliance members’ best practices help smaller companies build a path toward stronger food safety cultures.”

Derek Stangle, Squadle
FST Soapbox

A Check on Food Service Safety

By Derek Stangle
No Comments
Derek Stangle, Squadle

Food safety is a primary concern worldwide. On a national scale, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earmarked $44.8M for food safety in the President’s FY2022 Budget Request, with more than half of that funding going to the New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative—a blueprint for the use of new and emerging technologies and approaches.

The New Era of Smarter Food Safety is centered around four core elements:

  • Tech-enabled Traceability
  • Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response
  • New Business Models and Retail Modernization
  • Food Safety Culture

These foundational pillars cover a range of technologies, analytics, business models and values. Working together, these elements help create a safer and more traceable food system.

The focus on food safety culture is particularly interesting. The FDA calls upon restaurants and food service providers to define food safety culture goals, and to develop and launch internal training on the principles of food safety, starting with education on the tools available for food safety with a particular focus on tools that assess and measure progress.

Creating that safety culture is critical to any brand in food service. Employees, equipped with the proper tools and procedures, are on the front lines of food safety: from ensuring proper food storage and refrigeration, to keeping food prep areas and utensils clearly marked, clean and sanitary, and cooking food to safe temperatures.

According to the Safe Food Alliance, food safety culture refers to the specific culture of a facility: the attitudes, beliefs, practices and values that determine what is happening when no one is watching. A strong culture of food safety helps a facility both prevent and catch deviations in their processes that can impact the safety, quality and legality of their products.

How to Maintain Cleanliness and Service Standards

Yet a food safety culture alone is not enough. Equip your employees for success by providing the proper tools and training. For new employees, training should include: education of the restaurant’s cleanliness and service standards, where these standards are derived from (i.e. FDA Food Code), the purpose of restaurant inspections and the consequences of receiving a food code violation.

Starting with the basics, employees should carefully inspect the kitchen, eating and dining areas, as well as restrooms, to make sure the restaurant meets legal health requirements and store-implemented standards. Implementation of the FDA food code ensures cleanliness and food safety practices, including the most current science, technology and legal precedents. Adhering to these guidelines enhances the customer and employee experience by reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses, and the likelihood of physical injury.

Maintaining cleanliness and service standards can be difficult, and the tasks required for food safety can be cumbersome for employees. Manual checklists can help ensure tasks are completed. Newer technologies, such as digital checklists, can further streamline food safety tasks, with compliance and visibility into whether procedures are being diligently followed and completed.

One major challenge of using manual/paper checklists is the lack of transparency in completion rates and quality of tasks. This is especially true for operators of multiple locations. Digital checklists can require employees to provide managers with evidence of task completion—signing a form or capturing a task completion photo.

A manager also can assess the state of restaurant cleanliness and predict threats to food safety and customer satisfaction remotely. For example, if a manager identifies that the tables in the customer seating area are overdue to be wiped down, they can alert employees to this issue.

Having a digital record of completion provides managers confidence that their procedures are being followed, especially when it comes time for restaurant inspection. These insights also allow managers to refine employee education. With effective implementation, these good habits will become routine.

Without an accurate view of operations, food safety and restaurant cleanliness standards cannot be accurately assessed. Eventually, these inconsistencies may cause unforeseen customer service conflicts and food code violations.

Establishing a food safety culture, backed by routine and technology tools, will help your team develop the habits needed to achieve and maintain the high level of cleanliness and service standards required to prevent foodborne illness and increase customer satisfaction.

 

Laura Dunn Nelson, Intertek Alchemy
FST Soapbox

Three Ways to Ensure Food Safety During Supply Chain Disruptions

By Laura Dunn Nelson
No Comments
Laura Dunn Nelson, Intertek Alchemy

For the last two years, we consumers have experienced the global supply chain challenges associated with a variety of items such as lack of home appliances, favorite packaged foods or paper towels. And now the Ukraine war has sparked a new supply chain crisis with projected shortages of chemicals, oilseeds, iron, steel, fertilizers, wood, palladium and nickel. It’s clear that disruptions will continue as the world endures a crippled supply chain.

Most consumers don’t consider how supply chain interruptions affect the production and safety of so many of the foods we eat. Delays in any food ingredient or packaging can disrupt production schedules, delay shipments, and lead to empty retail shelves for thousands of food processors, manufacturers and retailers across the globe.

As manufacturers cope with these challenges, they frequently have to identify new suppliers or change processes and formulas on the fly. These unanticipated changes may often lead to shortcuts that can pose significant risks to consumers and cause food recalls.

It’s often hard to imagine all the interdependencies within the global supply chain, but one missed shipment or unavailable product can produce ripple effects throughout the globe. To reduce the risks associated with supply chain delays, food processors should implement resiliency measures such as effective change management and food safety vendor audit programs, detailed product specification and vendor expectation requirements, and multi-sourced vendor strategies.

To address these issues, this article reviews three ways food manufacturers can continue to minimize delays and reduce food safety risks when the supply chain interrupts production.

Learn more about how to address risks in the supply chain by attending the Food Safety Tech Hazards Series: Supply Chain | May 18 @ 12 pm ET1. Empower Workers to Report Issues

It’s always important to remember that employees can be the best defense against food safety threats. They’re the ones who interact with the products day-to-day and have the most familiarity with the ingredients. Their expertise is especially important now that supply chain disruptions are introducing new issues and anomalies.

Food manufacturers should train employees to understand which ingredients and products are acceptable and encourage them to speak up when they notice any anomalies. It’s also critical that training instills in workers the idea that they share the responsibility to ensure the safety and quality of the products they produce.

When frontline employees have the authority and the autonomy to alert their supervisors when they see something unusual or unexpected, they can become a powerful weapon in the food safety risk prevention arsenal. Harnessing the eyes of all your employees as your ultimate quality control team will help prevent costly recalls, product rework and further production delays.

2. Review Supplier Specs

When food manufacturers start working with a new supplier, they should take the necessary time to review their detailed product specifications to understand the technical and functional aspects of their product. From nutritional values and potential allergens to ingredients and chemical properties, it’s critical to have a full picture of what goes into the product before incorporating it into your manufacturing process.

As a best practice, manufacturers should also ask for a copy of the supplier’s recent GFSI food safety audits or equivalent and proof of liability insurance.

It’s also critical to thoroughly review vendor product specifications to confirm that a newly sourced ingredient meets your purchase expectations, label requirements, and food safety and quality risk profile. Considering how quickly an interruption can occur, it’s important to establish new vendor expectations and develop a supplier questionnaire. In addition, always plan ahead by sourcing multiple backup suppliers prior to ingredient and packaging disruptions.

3. Examine Supplier Labels

Understanding the product specifications is a critical first step, but it’s equally important to compare the label to the specs to ensure it is compliant and expected.

When a package arrives on the dock, receivers need to know if the contracted product has arrived as specified. Is the product packaged correctly, within expected shelf life, in a sanitary condition? Receivers should answer these and other questions by looking for inconsistencies per pallet like mixed lot codes and product shelf-life variances. Employees should also check the condition of incoming products including noting unusual odors or colors that might not seem right or for packaging that looks different from prior shipments.

The ongoing supply chain disruptions are predicted to continue this year, which means they can potentially cause food safety challenges based on inconsistencies in raw materials and undocumented process changes in production. Food safety leaders must hone their change management skills to successfully lead their organizations through these challenging times.

Adhering to the strict practices detailed in this article might seem like a lot of extra work and attention, but it’s actually something food manufacturers should be doing all the time as part of a mature food safety culture.

Rick Farrell, Plant-Tours
FST Soapbox

Communication Tools Food Manufacturers Should Use

By Rick Farrell
No Comments
Rick Farrell, Plant-Tours

As the world continues to work toward economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, food manufacturers have been investing in products and equipment that can enhance their growth. The following are some communication tools that companies should consider adding to their arsenal to improve collaboration between workers, prevent costly mistakes and save money in the long run.

1. Cloud-Hosted Technology

With remote work becoming common in companies across the world, cloud-based technology is turning out to be an invaluable asset. In 2021, we saw a rise in labeling software providers that offer ways for local labeling software to get access to data stored in the cloud. That made it easier to obtain variable data that needed to be put on label templates at print time.

Cloud-hosted technology allows food manufacturers to print the correct labels with the right data at the proper time, and in a simple and secure manner. As a result, they can avoid risky and potentially dangerous mistakes in labeling.

2. Smart Manufacturing

Smart manufacturing is a method for companies to use data to optimize every part of the production process. Radio frequency identification (RFID) and barcode technologies are two of the most popular data carriers used by IoT devices. Such device-to-software communication helps efficiently deliver data while avoiding time-consuming manual procedures that might result in more time loss or costs.

3. New On-Spot Communication Equipment

Many factories still use cheap and outdated headsets to communicate inside loud spaces and next to machinery. That often results in unclear messages. Failing to give and receive a clear message can have dire consequences, especially in terms of food safety. For this reason, food manufacturers should regularly update headsets and other devices they use to convey messages inside factories.

Enhance Communication in Loud Facilities

There are companies that offer a modern solution to the communication problems inside factories. The following are some quality options to offer to enhance communication in loud places.

1. Two-Way Communication Headsets

Originally intended for tour guides and their groups, two-way communication headsets can have various purposes inside food factories. For instance, you can use them to make effective communication easier among your workers in the noisy parts of your plant. Or perhaps, you can use them when you bring in visitors, business partners and potential investors for a quick and interactive look around. In any case, a wireless two-way headsets system makes talking and listening quick and simple, despite ambient sounds.

Furthermore, most headsets for factories and tours are often heavy and bulky, which is why they quickly start irritating those wearing them. On the other hand, these two-way headsets are designed to be comfortable, attractive and lightweight, making them ideal for wearing for a longer period of time. And they are aesthetically appealing for any audience, including top VIPs. Therefore, your team and your guests will be able to focus on the information and their tasks with complete comfort and without any distractions. As a result, you will notice increased comprehension of your message with outside visitors and a higher level of efficiency and safety in your production areas as well as food safety levels.

2. Staff Communication Systems

A multi-channel staff communication system is another good way to ensure food safety in your factory. One example is a system that has fifteen channels, making it great for multiple employees, workgroups, and team communications, and has a transmission range of up to half a mile. It also has a two-way radio technology with privacy and long talk settings that allow you to speak without being interrupted. These types of headsets are sometimes outfitted with non-porous vinyl, which means you can disinfect them after each use.

Such a communication system also comes in handy in factories that follow COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. Not only can your employees stay safe by putting more space between each other, but their communication will remain clear and easy. That way, they will be able to focus on production and other safety guidelines.

3. Wireless Systems

Clarity of message is crucial to maintaining the necessary level of food safety in your plant. Good quality wireless systems provide clear, crisp sound, effective transmitting range, and great battery time. Furthermore, they are easy to use, maintain and store. Wireless systems also feature audio guide systems that make sure you don’t have to be worried about machinery being too loud and interrupting important information.

Conclusion

The past two years have taught us that food manufacturers who want to thrive despite both predictable and unexpected challenges need to respond and adapt quickly. A huge part of that flexibility comes from the willingness to accept changes and new tools that modern technology brings. So, from cloud computing to barcodes and better headsets, any step you take to improve communication in your factory will undoubtedly pay off in the long run.

Vanessa Lindstrom, United Airlines
Women in Food Safety

The Power of Communication

By Melody Ge
No Comments
Vanessa Lindstrom, United Airlines

As the global director of food safety and regulatory compliance at United Airlines, Vanessa Lindstrom is responsible for catering and lounges worldwide. When I first met Vanessa, I was impressed by her immediate confidence and positivity. During the conversation, she talked about the power of being positive, especially in today’s world and with the job functions we serve, and the importance of being resilient.

Vanessa was born and raised in Mumbai, India. She spent the first half of her career in the pharmaceutical industry and the second half in the food industry. The first job she got after earning her master’s degree was a management trainee position with a pharmaceutical company in the quality assurance department in India. From there, Vanessa moved to Australia and got a quality assurance position with a German multi-national pharmaceutical company. She always thought she would stay in the pharmaceutical industry—until she received a call from a headhunter for a position with Coca-Cola. The company gave her so many opportunities to learn and brought her to the United States to develop FSSC 22000 for a facility in California. Following this position, Vanessa had an opportunity to work for Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, where she was exposed to EU culture before she joined United Airlines.

Certainly, there were so many decisions and experiences gained with each opportunity. Vanessa’s advice is to believe in yourself and your capabilities, and to be willing to take risks. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The phrase might sound easy, but it can be hard to execute.

Melody Ge: How would you describe the values that support your success and drive you through all the changes and decisions involved in working with different cultures?

Vanessa Lindstrom, United Airlines
Vanessa Lindstrom, global director of food safety and regulatory compliance at United Airlines

Vanessa Lindstrom: I would say being open minded, having a willingness to learn and staying authentic. No matter who you meet, you can’t be guarded. Keeping your mind open helps when meeting with different groups of people who have different cultural backgrounds, and having a willingness to learn will help you become part of the group. I always try to bring my authentic self to every situation, regardless of whom I am meeting. Let me use my first job as management trainee as an example: Typically, you are only trained for one or two functions; but I was always curious and got my hands into everything that I could, and I asked lots of questions. I was like a sponge, and I learned so much, from materials management to supply chain to operations to quality assurance. Although it was a one-year training program with no guarantee of any permanent positions with the company, I ended up spending six years there working as a technical services executive after completing the training program. Those experiences set the foundation for my career. When I moved to Australia, I had no idea about pharmaceutical companies and locations when I first arrived. So I opened the yellow pages and hand wrote more than 100 cover letters to get a potential interview and job opportunity. The lesson there is to always try, because you don’t know where life will lead you.

On the other hand, use logic and science to do the right thing, which also has been my approach in working with different companies and countries. You must trust your judgment, no matter the situation. Be able to articulate to every audience—from the CEO to the shop floor employee. You have to be logical in your thoughts, use data and facts, and be able to talk to people in a way that is relatable versus fully technical. Each person is motivated and driven in a different way. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach or a one-size-fits-all. The challenge as a leader is to figure out what’s going to work and support the team with what they need.

Ge: Looking back at your career, would you say your path was planned?

Lindstrom: No, never—despite the fact that I keep telling my kids that they need to have a plan for the future. As I reflect on those conversations, I know, no matter what plan or vision I had for myself in terms of a career, I couldn’t have dreamed up where I am today. When an opportunity comes to you, oftentimes, it is when you are unprepared. You have to be open minded to the possibilities. Sometimes, you are going into an area that is uncharted territory, but you should have the confidence that you can figure it out, and from there success will come.

Ge: Can you share a story from your career that still has an impact on you today?

Lindstrom: For me, the most impactful story that I can tell is from when I was the QA manager at one of the Coca-Cola facilities in 2008. We received word from corporate that we would not be able to supply products to Walmart unless we had GFSI certification. At first, I thought, what is GFSI? I started learning and working with different departments on which scheme we should be certified. We chose FSSC 22000 because our existing system was ISO based. My biggest concern was the culture, in particular, the challenges that come with document control. So, I decided to move everything to digital. Of course, it was difficult, as the workforce consisted of multiple generations and diverse cultures. It was quite an effort to convince and explain to everyone that digital was the direction we should go. Everyone was challenging me to justify the decision to go digital and achieve certification within 12 months. Other than saying they would keep their job, I didn’t have a way to motivate the frontline team and get their buy in. So, I went to my management and asked for $50,000 in funding for a big party to celebrate if we eventually got the certification. Management approved, and I conveyed it to the team—that I needed their help and support to get the facility certified, and that afterward, they would get a party that they wouldn’t forget. After strong teamwork, we passed the audit. We went out for a big celebration and I can’t express how excited everyone was. We shut down production entirely and took everyone to Dave & Buster’s. Every single employee enjoyed the celebration. We gave them t-shirts that said we are FSSC 22000 certified. They were proud and rewarded for the accomplishment. It was a satisfying moment for the team and management. We went from having nothing in place to achieving FSSC 22000 certification and actually being a leading facility among the 67 Coca-Cola facilities.

Ge: What is your advice to young professionals who are just starting their career?

Lindstrom: My advice to young people is, you can’t just run away when there is an obstacle, and constantly change jobs to avoid difficulties. The bad boss, bad teammates, or the issues you have at your first job—they will exist in every single job afterward if you don’t learn how to overcome them or work through the difficulties. The only control that you have is to get over them yourself. If you run away, as soon as you encounter any issues or challenges, I can guarantee you those issues will be with you with any jobs you have because you are not learning how to communicate and deal with that situation.

Ge: What is your opinion on unconscious bias, and do you see any progress? Any suggestions related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)?

Lindstrom: I first heard about unconscious bias about 15 years ago. It was very interesting to become aware of the bias that exists. However, it’s very easy to choose to be a victim and say, everyone is against me because I am an Asian; or because I am a woman; or the entire environment is against me because they are biased. Being aware that bias exists, you need to know that you can’t use it as a crutch in your career. In today’s world, at United Airlines, diversity, equity, and inclusion are not just buzz words; the company is making a very deliberate effort to address it through different approaches within the company or through the broader community. On one hand, when an organization becomes aware of the DEI, you have to make sure that you are self-aware in terms of how you are dealing with different cultures, age groups, genders and different religions, etc. Take time to understand DEI and unconscious bias, talk to leaders that have experience with DEI and work through any situation, and do not immediately blame unconscious bias.

Ge: What advice can you offer to professionals who feel they are being treated unfairly?

Lindstrom: Communication is the key. In some cultures, communication is direct, whereas in others, it is not. Be aware of how you are going to proceed. Position power in today’s world is long gone, and it is in the past. It’s more about networking within your company and being able to influence others. For example, if I know I am going into a meeting that is going to be tough, I make sure that I have prepared well. Fundamentally, people all want to do the right thing, but they just don’t always know the right way to get there. They might have done something for a long time, and it takes time to change perspectives. Take the time to explain your self and the “why”, and that will go a long way.

Food Safety Consortium

10th Annual Food Safety Consortium Back In-Person with New Location and Focus

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Food Safety Consortium

EDGARTOWN, MA, Feb. 23, 2022 – Innovative Publishing Company, Inc., publisher of Food Safety Tech, has announced the dates for 2022 Food Safety Consortium as well as its new location. Now in its 10th year, the Consortium is moving to Parsippany, New Jersey and will take place October 19-21.

“COVID-19’s impact on the food safety community has been significant and its impact will continue to be felt for years,” said Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing Company and director of the Food Safety Consortium, in his blog about the current state of the food industry. “The goal now is not to get food safety back to 2019 levels but to build it better. These issues must be discussed among peers and best practices must be shared. This year’s event will help facilitate this much needed critical thinking and meeting of the minds.”

The 2022 program will feature panel discussions and concurrent breakout sessions intended for mid-to-senior-level food safety professionals that address important industry issues, including:

  • C-Suite Communication
  • Employee Culture
  • What is the State of Food Safety and Where is it Going?
  • Audits: Blending in-person with Remote
  • Quality 4.0: Data Analytics and Continuous Improvement
  • Digital Transformation of Food Safety & Quality
  • Technology: How Far is Too Far?
  • The Days FSQA Folks Fear the Most
  • FSQA’s Role in Worker Rights and Conditions
  • Analyzing and Judging Supplier’s Human Rights and Environmental Records
  • New Trends in Food Fraud
  • Diversification of Supply Chain Capacity
  • Product Reformulation Challenges due to Supply Chain Challenges
  • Traceability
  • Preparing the Next Generation of FSQA Leaders
  • Food Defense & Cybersecurity
  • Food Safety and Quality in the Growing World of e-commerce
  • Quality Helping Improve Manufacturing Efficiency with How Does Quality Show Value to the Organization?

The event will also feature special sessions led by our partners, including the Food Defense Consortium, GFSI, STOP Foodborne Illness and Women in Food Safety.

Tabletop exhibits and custom sponsorship packages are available. Contact Sales Director RJ Palermo.

Registration will open soon. To stay up to date on registration, event keynote and agenda announcements, opt in to Food Safety Tech.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech is a digital media community for food industry professionals interested in food safety and quality. We inform, educate and connect food manufacturers and processors, retail & food service, food laboratories, growers, suppliers and vendors, and regulatory agencies with original, in-depth features and reports, curated industry news and user-contributed content, and live and virtual events that offer knowledge, perspectives, strategies and resources to facilitate an environment that fosters safer food for consumers.

About the Food Safety Consortium

Food companies are concerned about protecting their customers, their brands and their own company’s financial bottom line. The term “Food Protection” requires a company-wide culture that incorporates food safety, food integrity and food defense into the company’s Food Protection strategy.

The Food Safety Consortium is an educational and networking event for Food Protection that has food safety, food integrity and food defense as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology and compliance, the “Consortium” enables attendees to engage in conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Delegates visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting-edge solutions, explore three high-level educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the evolving food industry.

Melanie Neumann, Neumann Risk Services
Women in Food Safety

Being an Ambassador for Science and Food Safety: Seek Out, Don’t Sit Back

By Melanie J. Neumann
No Comments
Melanie Neumann, Neumann Risk Services

A key focus of Women in Food Safety is to highlight female leaders in various food safety career paths. This month we have the privilege to speak with Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D., SVP of Food Safety & Technology at the United Fresh Produce Association, who has a storied career combining hard-core science with policy development that is risk-based, science-based and pragmatic to implement.

As many know, I am a lawyer. With that, I feel compelled to disclose the following disclaimer: I have worked alongside Jennifer as a business and industry colleague, and I consider her one of the most impressive, influential yet humble people I have ever met. Given my first-hand knowledge of her professional and personal contributions and unquestionable character, our conversation quickly dove deep into candid discussions about her career path, focusing on her passion for policy and seeing trade associations as a vehicle and a collective voice to influence and shape policy. Jennifer’s insights on being female in our industry are truly enlightening. See for yourself.

Melanie Neumann: Can you please summarize your career path to your position today, or what I like to consider your “path to produce?”

SVP, Food Safety, United Fresh Product Association
Jennifer McEntire, Senior Vice President, Food Safety and Technology, United Fresh Produce Association

Jennifer McEntire: I grew up in Long Island, which is not exactly the epi-center of agriculture. I liked science but didn’t want to be a doctor. At the time the University of Delaware looked through all the postcards (yes, I’m dating myself!) of kids interested in science and sent packets of information about the food science program. It was the best thing that could have happened to me! It was a small program; there were only four people in my graduating class; so I really couldn’t fly under the radar. I am the first person in my family to go to a university and I had no idea what graduate school was. Tons of people took me under their wing. I was able to do food safety research as an undergrad, which allowed me to jumpstart my graduate education. I truly had no plan to get a Ph.D. I wanted to work! But during my freshman year of college my biology professor nonchalantly mentioned that graduate students in sciences get paid to go to graduate school. I was like, WHAT?!? It was a no brainer. The more I got involved with the food science clubs at UD and at Rutgers (where I got my Ph.D.) and the more I networked with professionals at regional meetings of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), the more I learned about the breadth of career options. I knew I didn’t want to be an academic so I didn’t do a post doc. (That said, I love mentoring, training and professional development, and have been lucky to weave it into every job I’ve had). I liked the product development side but thought I might get bored in one company. Although I am an introvert, I like hearing different perspectives and meeting very different kinds of people. Once I saw the nexus of disciplines and perspectives in Washington D.C., I was hooked. Although I’ve always worked in the general food safety arena, at IFT, The Acheson Group, GMA, and now at United Fresh, each role has been vastly different and I keep realizing how much there is to learn.

Neumann: Much of your career centers around trade associations. Why did you choose this sector over others in the food industry?

McEntire: Trade associations provide me with a vehicle to fulfill my goal of being an “Ambassador for Science.” I was fortunate to have a rare opportunity as USDA National Needs Fellowship at Rutgers, which allowed me to work for both FDA and a trade association, the National Food Processors Association (NFPA), towards the end of my Ph.D. program. I quickly fell in love with the buzz of D.C. and realized this is where the action is—the intersection of science, law, policy and the power of networking. I accepted a permanent position with IFT in their D.C. office after graduation to continue my quest to learn more about the inner workings of D.C. as well as provide IFT with an even greater voice based on science. I’ve now been in D.C. over 20 years. I understand why it turns some people off, but I love it. I’m constantly meeting new people and really love being a conduit between the industry, the regulators, policy makers and others.

Neumann: From the start it seems like you were fortunate that you were able to start your career at the strategic level, or “forest”. What advice would you give someone who perhaps had a more typical start in a technical role, or “trees”, and wants to gain strategic roles in the industry?

McEntire: From the get-go at IFT I was pulling together expert panels, meaning I was constantly around experts, which was exhilarating for someone in her 20s. But I realize that’s atypical. Part of what I love about working in associations is the ability to connect people. Those are opportunities exist at every level. “Seek out, don’t sit back.” This advice applies equally personally and professionally. If you want to understand how your current technical role supports your food safety strategic plan or corporate strategy, seek out who you believe can answer your question and ask. If you have a suggestion to improve your role or an aspect of your food safety program, speak up. If you would really like a mentor but no one has assigned you one, seek them out. What worked for me early in my career and what still does today is that I study people. I may be at a conference listening to a presenter, and I will ask myself “what do I like about their style of communication?” or “What about them is capturing my attention enough to listen to them?” Adopting certain aspects you like, (or dislike and want to be sure you avoid doing!), and adapting your style to incorporate them is a great way to professionally evolve. This said, don’t lose yourself or your own style by impersonating or assimilating too much of others’ ways. What sets you up for success is designing an approach that leverages your personal strengths and is unique to “you”.

A key message from my perspective is not to sit back and wait for the career you want. Rather, my advice is to proactively seek out opportunities, answers to questions and relationships with others in your company and/or in the food industry that you believe you would benefit from interacting.

Neumann: Have you experienced challenges in being a female in this space?

McEntire: Subtle challenges, sure. In my case I feel it was more my age than my gender that I needed to overcome. But specific to gender, my biggest perceived challenge was the pressure I placed on myself. These self-imposed challenges were expectations I put on myself in part due to societal expectations or roles I thought I needed to play as a mother, partner, community member and as a professional. I expected to perform at 100% at all times in every role, and over time realized that isn’t sustainable, or even sane, to expect of yourself!

As a younger professional I knew that I had hurdles to overcome when I walked into a room (sometimes I still feel that way). What I learned over time is how the power of data helps in situations where, real or perceived, I felt that my audience wasn’t tuning in to me as much as others in the room. That is when I became even closer friends with data and gave thought about how to construct and communicate my key points. I learned that with sound facts based on sound science to support my position, I was the most informed person on that topic in the room, and my ability to successfully negotiate and convince the other stakeholders increased considerably. This was especially true when I tied the data to tell a compelling story. The most effective, influential professionals I have encountered, some I consider my mentors, are master storytellers—relying on facts when presenting their case in a way that tells a story.

Neumann: Do you have any additional insights or advice to share with women in food safety regardless of where they are at in their career journey?

McEntire: If you love what you do, and you do it well, be bold and be brave. So many people, male and female, saw a potential in me I wasn’t even aware of, and they made serious investments in me. I find that in the field of food safety, that’s pretty common. We are a friendly bunch! So reach out and start talking to people. You’ll be amazed how many people will chat with you at a meeting or return your email.

One thing that concerns me, and I don’t yet have enough anecdotal data to tell if younger women are more prone to this than their male counterparts, is this expectation that they have to know their full career path from the time they are 18 years old. They seem to put a lot of pressure on themselves to “have it all figured out”. As someone who is “Type A” and very much a planner, I can confidently say that no part of my career has been planned. I never ever could have predicted that I would wind up where I am today. I maintained an openness to new opportunities, listened a lot, and considered new information that became available. I did my best to not burn bridges, while at the same time sticking up for myself and for others. Food safety is hard. It takes a thick skin and at this point in my life I have to say that having a network of women food safety colleagues as a support system makes some of the more stressful days much easier.

Check out the Women in Food Safety column to learn about more female leaders like Jennifer. Join the conversation on For Women in Food Safety on LinkedIn.

Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

2021 FSC Episode 9 Preview: Professional Development, Training and Mentorship

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

This week the final episode of the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series takes place, and appropriately closes out with an afternoon of insights about navigating a career in food safety. The following is the agenda for Thursday’s episode, which begins at 12 pm ET.

  • A Modern, Multi-Layered Approach to Professional Development in Food Safety, with Darin Detwiler, Northeastern University
  • What I Wish I Had Known Early in My FSQ Career, with Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach and Tia Glave, Tia Glave Consulting
  • Mentorship Minute and Career Development Journey: From QA Technician to SVP, a conversation between Deborah Coviello, Illumination Partners and Brian Perry, TreeHouse Foods
Jill Stuber, Tia Glave
FST Soapbox

The Crossroads of Strategic, Tactical, and Operational Planning in Food Safety Culture

By Jill Stuber, Tia Glave
No Comments
Jill Stuber, Tia Glave

With the release of new food safety and quality regulations or requirements—such as food safety culture—there can be a flurry of action to understand how a food company’s systems and processes should change to meet the new regulations or requirements. The typical response begins with the phrase “we need a plan.” For many, “we need a plan” translates directly into action. It’s the phrase that drives people forward to start “doing” in the hopes of reaching the desired outcome.

A quick-to-action organization that skips the planning represents the classic mistake in understanding strategy, tactics and operations. These organizations will find that they are constantly spending time and money re-doing action steps or correcting errors they have made. This leads to a culture of confusion, frustration, anxiety and resistance, the opposite of what we want in any culture.

As food companies are trying to understand and implement a “food safety culture” into their organizations, it is the perfect opportunity to take a step back and review the differences between strategic, tactical and operational work. All three are essential for food safety and quality programs and building a strong culture of food safety.

Consider this. Only 22% of people believe their organization has a clear direction.1

Join Jill Stuber and Tia Glave as they discuss “What I Wish I had Known Early in my FSQ Career” during the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series on Thursday, November 4Many reasons contributing to the 22% are reported; however, most companies generally do not spend enough time in the planning phase to build a strategy and develop the team to implement that strategy. Most people are rewarded for being busy with metrics such as % efficiency, % yield, and sales, not necessarily for successful change management, which can signal trouble ahead. Building clear plans around food safety culture will energize your team to participate in the planning and come along on the adventure.

Building clear plans start with understanding how strategic, tactical and operational plans support organizational direction. Let’s begin with having clarity around each term as they are often used interchangeably and often outside standard definitions. Consider these practical definitions:

Strategic (The HOW and the WHY): Designed with the entire organization in mind, typically at the highest levels of the organization, often with external support. Focused on three, five, 10 years out.

Tactical (The WHAT): Translates strategic ideas into a framework for the operational implementation. Focused on the next 12 months.

Operational (The DO): Specific actions and steps taken by front-line managers and team members to realize the tactical plans. Focused on today and this week.

To demonstrate a misuse of the terms, consider the following: A company is implementing new food safety and quality management software. Before implementation, top senior leaders choose an aggressive launch date and start working with a consulting firm and their leadership team to identify the software that works best for their organization. A software is chosen, and then it’s a race to implement the software before the launch date. Once the company realizes that they are not going to meet the launch date due to the implementation schedule taking longer than expected, the launch date is pushed back a month. The month passes, and even though implementation is underway, the company is not ready to launch. The top senior leaders decide to stick with the modified launch date. Months later, the company is still not using the software the way they had planned.

What went wrong? Critical parts of the strategic and tactical work were not done upfront, which led to poor operational work during the implementation phase. The company did a great job working through options with other leaders and choosing the best program; however, they failed to use that vision to evaluate the resources needed for implementation and then translate that vision into tactical steps to get a realistic timeline for launch. Unfortunately, this lack of planning leads to resources feeling overworked and frustrated.

When thinking about food safety culture (or any culture), having your team members feeling overworked and frustrated will only hurt. We have found that following these macro steps to navigate each phase ensures that organizations successfully develop and implement new strategies that will lead to energized and supportive team members.

1. Create a Vision (Strategy)

How and where does food safety culture align with the organization’s purpose and mission? The food safety culture strategy requires a story around what it is, why it is important, and how it supports the organization. We like to call it the Blue-Sky Vision encouraging people to think big—the sky’s the limit! The vision will evolve into a strategy around food safety culture that stems from activities like honoring what is working well in the organization, listening sessions that gather the voice of your team members, to engaging with external stakeholders to broaden perspectives. The vision should align with purpose and values. After all, “When the WHY is clear, the HOW is easy”— Unknown.

2. Evaluate Skills and Resources (Strategic and Tactical)

What in the organization, such as people, systems, and processes, will serve the Blue-Sky vision in the future? What additional skills and resources are needed? To build an organization to this point, many factors are likely working well and may serve as the foundation for moving forward. Yet, things must be released to get to the next level to make way for the new. For example, will the Food Safety Manager be the champion of food safety culture? If yes, what current tasks must they pass along to others or stop to fulfill the champion role? The practical side of allocating money and time is also critical at this step. The evolution of skills and resources to reach Blue-Sky won’t happen without intentional support.

3. Understand Incentives (Strategic and Tactical)

What’s motivating and encouraging team members in every function at every level to work toward the Blue-Sky vision? What incentives may pull team members off track and conflict with the Blue-Sky vision? Be careful here! There have been many discussions about incentivizing food safety behaviors where it is detrimental. An example is reducing the number of holds. A key metric around reducing holds may simply reduce communication that holds are needed, thus letting defective products out the door. Focus on “the why” and incentives team members that exemplify behaviors that support it.

4. Build Your Action Plan (Tactical)

Unless you like herding cats, you need a clear plan that outlines actions for each function and role. Without a detailed plan, everyone will work with their best intentions instead of the vision’s best intentions to move forward. This could be your individual or team’s 4-Quarter Plan or 30-60-90 Action Plan.

5. Implement Your Plan (Operational):

Hellen Keller says it best with “Ideas without action are useless.” If you’ve done all the work in the phases above, the fruits of that labor will be observed in the day-to-day work of each team member. What changes are related to procedures? How is time allocated to have a real-time discussion around food safety behaviors? How will relationships be fostered each day to build transparency and engagement?

By understanding the phases related to change management, evaluating and improving your organization’s food safety culture will be a joyous adventure. Engaging team members using catch-ball, a lean concept, at every single phase will align and energize the entire organization on your way to the Blue-Sky Vision of food safety culture that honors your organization, team members and clients.2

References

  1. 2019. Clifton, Jim, and Jim Harter. It’s the Manager: Moving from Boss to Coach. Gallup Press. P.20.
  2. Millard, M. (2016). The Role of Catchball in Strategic Planning.

Tia Glave and Jill Stuber collaborate to support clients through Catalyst LLC., an organization that sparks transformation in food safety and quality, weaving together individual growth, teamwork and organizational strategies.

Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach
FST Soapbox

The Face of Food Safety: How Do You Look?

By Jill Stuber
No Comments
Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach

What does food safety look like? As we enter the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, the elements around food safety behaviors, beliefs and attitudes are a bit elusive, making them challenging for the industry to define. For years, companies have provided messaging around food safety to clarify what food safety should look like for their team members. In reality, most of the statements are around the outcomes organizations want to see.

For example:

  • Food Safety and Quality are our number one priority.
  • We strive to meet and exceed all food safety & quality standards.
  • We are committed to producing high-quality, safe food.
  • Food safety is everyone’s responsibility.

While these messages may provide clarity around the organization’s beliefs and/or intended outcomes around food safety, how do these messages translate into how food safety behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes show up on a day-to-day basis?

A quick internet search will provide a list of companies that have adopted best-in-class food safety culture practices with top leaders championing and modeling what that means through daily conversation, decision making, etc. Not all companies share that success story, and top leaders may find or refine their organization’s path around food safety culture. As top leaders are taking the time to create strategic plans for food safety culture, how can the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs around food safety be modeled for all to see?

It reminds me of an experience with one of my teams and our journey around championing food safety and quality. Shortly after being promoted into leading our FSQ function for multiple facilities across our organization, I soon found, with no surprise, that each facility had its own FSQ microcosm. As with anything, parts of the microcosms were good, and some, not-so-good. The FSQ Managers had completely different personalities, training and experience blending with and creating resistance in the microcosm to add to the mix.

Join Jill Stuber and other food safety experts for a discussion about industry professional development, training and mentorship on November 4, during the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual SeriesOur team focused on creating consistency in our team’s practices and organizational systems for food safety and quality. After several months together, it was clear the goal would require more than developing one version of the truth with documents; it would also require consistency in how the FSQ Managers “showed up” each day. Thus, we keyed the term the “Face of Food Safety,” which embodied our expectations around how we would each exhibit behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs around our role to support our Food Safety & Quality systems. For us, this insider term solidified our shared passion and belief that food safety culture started with us.

What led us to the conclusion that we had to step into the Face of Food Safety role given food safety culture is supposed to start at the top? Several pieces of evidence led us to this conclusion.

  • The term “Food Safety Culture” wasn’t even mainstream for top leaders to start discussing food safety culture. We recognized we needed to continue the food safety campaign across the organization using our team and our voices.
  • Our FSQ Leaders were already the go-to for food safety. Like many companies, when the food safety auditor walked in, they were taken directly to the FSQ Manager. If anyone in the organization were asked about who to talk to regarding food safety, they would direct people to the FSQ Manager. It’s no different than if someone asks about a financial report, they were likely led to the accounting department.
  • Our FSQ Leaders had the most technical training, even if not formal, to understand the practices and behaviors around food safety and should be already collaborating and championing best practices throughout the organization.

As we started on our quest to define the Faces of Food Safety further, we had some factors to consider impacting our approach.

First, our FSQ Managers came in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Some had high levels of formal training, and others had very practical experience. Some worked in the industry for eons, and others had less experience. Some were more natural leaders, and others were not, and personality tests showed we had a wide range in our team!.

Next, our FSQ Managers had specialized training regarding scientific methods to more effectively identify risks, guide solutions, and ultimately create and implement programs that consistently delivered safe food. However, besides the annual human resources training on conflict resolution or getting along, the FSQ Managers had no formal training in human behavior to fully understand elements of the human psyche that shape what people do.

Finally, we faced a standard human limitation—our ego. With serving others, our egos would have to take a back seat to allow the space to recognize our behaviors, our judgments and actions that didn’t align with the Face of Food Safety.

As I look back at work we did together to step fully into being the Face of Food Safety; there are three main areas we focused effort that minimized any factors around skills, experience or personalities yet allowed us to move forward with our quest.

1. Being available and approachable

  • Instead of sitting in meetings, running reports, and being “busy,” we focused on spending time with team members on the floor with FSQ Team Members and others to see what worked well, what didn’t work well, and in-the-moment coaching. The team evaluated workload capacity and incorporated these routine interactions into standard work to create capacity for this. No longer was spending time on the floor to talk with team members something we just hoped we’d get around to doing or only do during an investigation. While we still had copious amount of other work, we shifted our priority.
  • We spent time developing trust across our team to open doors to conversations that were previously off-limits. For a team that had rarely been physically in the same place at one time, our every-other-month in-person events and daily huddles that, at first felt like micromanaging, became the standard of how our team worked toward alignment and team building. These types of routines provided a foundation for conversations that started with “How do you think you came across in that email?” or “I know you didn’t intend to sound demanding, but some people had ruffled feathers”, or “Your serious face may send the message you don’t want to be bothered.”

2. Helping others help themselves

  • In the olden days, issues could be dropped like hot potatoes into the FSQ office for them to spearhead investigations, paperwork, and the like. People would come to the FSQ Managers for answers when often, the answers were already available to them. It took effort from FSQ Managers to provide guidance, re-direct and coach so others could join in owning parts of food safety and quality related to their work.
  • We were changing our attitudes that we had to be involved in everything. When we began helping others help themselves, it also gave us the freedom to let go and work in our own lane.

3. Being known for championing food safety & quality both from a policy standpoint but also being practical

  • Policies and procedures are fantastic tools to align practices. Even with the best-written documents, there are gaps and unforeseen events that challenge systems. In those moments, our team worked diligently to align on when policies and procedures had to be upheld versus when we would adjust (and update documents) to capture the practical nature of hiccups that happen in manufacturing. We didn’t want a practice to be okay in one facility but not another unless there was a very defined reason, so it wasn’t chalked up to personal preference. It took personal commitment to Our commitment to holding the line for each other.
  • Our team was relentless in talking about food safety and quality at every chance we had and related to other areas.

As leaders, our focused, aligned manner that welcomed collaboration and conversation was a cornerstone for being the Face of Food Safety. Using the three areas discussed in this article, we provided clear messaging and support to champion the food safety culture we wanted to see. While not every day was a utopia, our attitude shift and teamwork offered many more days of fulfillment from meaningful work than we had previously experienced and it made an impact for others.