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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
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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.

Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach
FST Soapbox

The Face of Food Safety: How Do You Look?

By Jill Stuber
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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.

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

When We Work Harder Together, the Sky’s the Limit

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

John Carter, area Europe quality director at Ferrero, has been devoted to diversity for more than 20 years. This time, it’s our pleasure to speak with him to hear his perspective on female professionals in the industry and how his male peers can help encourage a diverse environment and break unconscious bias.

His background in engineering, along with an MBA, has given him a scientific mindset when making decisions. After his first job with Campden BRI in the UK, John had positions at Kraft/Mondelez, Metro, Danone, and is now at Ferrero; in that time, he has gained tremendous food safety and quality experience. As is the case with many food safety professionals, John is proud to be part of an industry where he can use his technical knowledge to protect public health. “Food safety is not competitive; it’s a global collaboration, and a rewarding field,” he said.

John Carter, Ferrero
John Carter, area Europe quality director at Ferrero

John advises young professionals to avoid limiting themselves to one function. Explore different functions within a business; if you have been working within food safety for more than 20 years, you might not focus on the full scope of the food industry or food operations. To move forward into an advanced position, especially toward a senior management position, John explained that one should have a helicopter view of the business and vision. For example, moving from food safety to the quality management system, to operations is one option, allowing you to see the big picture. “Don’t hesitate to explore other functions. At Kraft, we used to say that to be a senior executive, you need to do 2, 2, and 2, meaning you need to do two countries, two categories, and two functions. Afterward, you can say you know the company,” he said.

In the future, John hopes to see at least a 50-50 ratio of male-to-female professionals, or an even higher ratio of females.

Melody Ge: What is your most important piece of advice to aspiring—as well as current—food safety professionals?

John Carter: Walk the line and find the balance. To illustrate my point, I’ll tell a story about my experience at one company involving a recall of raw milk cheese due to positive E. coli 0157. It was quite a significant issue, but no one got sick, and we had the products withdrawn from the market. One of the questions we had at that time was why we were selling raw milk cheese. Why don’t we just use pasteurized milk and cheeses? However, the reality is that, in Europe, raw milk cheese is in the DNA of some countries. It would be hard to even think about their diet without raw milk cheese. So there must be another way to manage food safety apart from just pasteurizing the milk. How do you do it? What else can you do? Where are the risks? We, as food safety professionals, must answer these questions. So walking the line between the commercial impact and the risk is crucial. Hence, the skill of the job is to know how to make the decision properly. It’s very easy to say ‘no’ to everything, but it might not be business friendly.

What’s more important is to say ‘yes’ after a thorough risk assessment—for example, ‘yes but…’ or ‘yes with a condition of …’ Every day, we are confronting this issue. The skill in food safety and quality is to give these conditional yesses. It’s based on a logical, scientific and rational assessment of risks. The partnership with the business is that they see us as an enabling function rather than a blocking function.

Ge: Let’s focus on female professionals—any particular pieces of advice for them?

Carter: Be confident! Between men and women, there is this confidence vs. competency conundrum. Typically, men behave more confidently. ‘Can you do this? Yeah, sure!’; in contrast, for women, ‘Can you do this? Oh, well let me check, I am not sure.’ They may have the same level of competence, and maybe even the women are more competent (it’s the reality). I read a book recently called Why Men Win at Work by Gill Whitty-Collins. Gill also mentioned this in her book: We shouldn’t expect men to be less confident; we should encourage women to be more confident. (On the other hand, if I look at the women in my team, typically their competency is very high!)
The other thing is to be who you are, and keep up the competency. I will use emotional behavior as an example. A female quality manager who reported to me once was criticized by a senior colleague (a male) for being too emotional. I am more critical of the colleague, not the quality manager, because I think we as male managers need to understand emotional behavior instead of removing that behavior. She is emotional for a reason. A man’s way of dealing with that emotion might be to get angry, while a woman’s way might be to shed some tears. But the root cause is the same issue and has the same action plan. Thus, it’s important to get over the differences and manage her talent—and not label it, showing this kind of emotion as a weakness. For example, I would like to believe that crying is not the point; it’s a different way of dealing with stressful situations. You need to look for the root cause of the stress and address the stress, not judge the symptoms.

Ge: Do you believe in a glass ceiling for female professionals?

Carter: I was fortunate that I had an excellent female boss at Kraft. She believed that we needed 50/50 gender equality—that 50% of plant managers should be female, 50% of country managers should be female, etc. I had a good experience at Kraft in developing and seeing many female professionals thrive. In that specific environment, I wouldn’t agree that there was a glass ceiling for females; however, I see it elsewhere for sure. In other companies, I have been thinking about how we can get more females in director levels. It is not easy to just promote at the management level because it has to be a structural change. The system change must happen. Part of what I am trying to do right now throughout my career is address the structural problem. And senior men need to be part of the solution.

On the other hand, there are many aspects to a promotion. One needs to be good, really resilient and lucky. Luck is essential, and the right time and place are important. If you are good enough and you have been overlooked, then maybe you should go somewhere else (It is that simple). I think, in today’s world, the opportunities are there, and the recognition is there. It is the right timing now to break the ceiling. Every company I have ever worked in has started to change, so now is a good time to be in that situation.

Ge: Can you share a story that has impacted you and still inspires you today?

Carter: I remember meeting someone at Kraft, and she was doing something related to IT at that time. She was managing something related to complaints and was in a position where she got to know the quality function in the company. When we had an open role internally for a quality auditor, she applied for it. I was quite surprised when she came to me, because she was not qualified from a technical perspective. But when she told me she was interested, it inspired me. I assigned her to the factory in South Africa for training, and suddenly, she moved from a desk in Munich to a factory floor to deal with the operations and team in South Africa. Of course, the factory environment is challenging, and there is no easy factory. However, she was very talented and really loved it. (It could have gone the other way, but she nailed it). Then, she returned from this assignment and became a QA manager, eventually overseeing the whole SAP QA system. Of course, this is because of her background in the IT department before the QA training. Suddenly, she had this kind of unique knowledge of something, and no one understood the computer system or QA better than her. If she hadn’t come to me in need of a change, and if I hadn’t been inspired to provide a chance to an enthusiastic person, her path may have been different. So, go for it! Once the tough times pass, you will enjoy it, and then the sky is the limit.

Ge: What’s your opinion on unconscious bias?

Carter: I am pretty excited about this topic—I think it addresses the root cause of many issues. I have been working on diversity for the last 20 years; but only over the past couple of years have I started thinking about unconscious bias. The unconscious bias part is relatively new, but I think it may help us address the root cause of many of the behavior issues that we see in today’s world. Gill also mentioned this in her book. She was a senior vice president at P&G, and until she noticed unconscious bias, she was quite happy. So, this happens to females as well as to men. You suddenly see it, and then you see it everywhere.

I can give you another example of my own. Not so long ago, in one of the companies where I have worked, there was an internal announcement about senior leadership changes. When it was announced, I saw a list of 20 names on the screen and didn’t notice that they were all men until our diversity council had a meeting to discuss this issue. The council leader pointed out that we have zero female representatives among the twenty. Wow, I was shocked! I am a man and I genuinely care about diversity, yet my unconscious bias is that I didn’t even notice that there wasn’t a female name on the list. I had to reflect. With this unconscious bias, which we can all have, we need to work harder together.

I think there is a food safety parallel: perhaps the situation is a lot like when we first addressed food fraud at the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). Food fraud is a crime, and it’s possibly the oldest crime in the food industry—centuries old. Although legislation has been in place for years, it seemed that little concrete had been done about it; but after the melamine crisis in China, and various similar issues, we finally got a political imperative to address it in a systematic way. We now have GFSI guidance documents and CPOs, and we have the technology with DNA testing to guarantee authenticity. Finally, we have the tools and political will to ‘do something’ and really address the issue.

So, coming back to this topic of diversity and unconscious bias – in my opinion, this is the “food fraud” of society; it has been ongoing for a long time, and now is the time for us to make a change. We have to ‘do something’. Every company and culture has its own issues and characteristics and all cultures are different (diverse, right?) but when you have the willingness and tools to change an environment, you can take a series of steps to make that change. The time is right, but having awareness comes first.

Ge: Any last bits of advice for our WIFS group members?

Carter: I read a little book about 40 years ago, and the book’s thesis was that there are two things you need to do and have in life. One is that you need to have fun and enjoy life; the other is to learn as much as possible. In the course of mentoring many talented folks over the years, I have added two other things to this list; have patience and courage.

Patience, courage, learning, and fun! Try to live your life with those things in mind.

Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach
FST Soapbox

Move the Needle on Food Safety Culture Starting with Your FSQ Team

By Jill Stuber
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Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach

“Yeah, yeah, I know. We’re supposed to have FSQ (Food Safety and Quality) verify the line before we start. But c’mon, we could see the plastic so we just removed it and then we visually inspected all the product on that part of the line. We looked everywhere for the other missing piece. We didn’t find it, so somebody probably found it not knowing what it was and tossed it out. We radioed for someone for FSQ about five minutes ago and no one came. We did what we needed: Stopped the line, found the foreign material, and now we’re running again. We only have an hour of production left and we’re almost done filling this order.”

As the operations supervisor was telling me this, I could feel my entire body become agitated. My blood began to boil, and I had to bite my tongue to avoid saying unkind and unhelpful words.

It wasn’t the first time we’d had foreign material on that line that week. And to top it off, it was the same supervisor telling me they knew the FSQ Team had to be part of foreign material incidents, yet the supervisor decided the situation wasn’t important enough to follow the written SOP on handling foreign material that we all signed off on earlier in the month in an attempt at streamlining the process to be easier to execute.
I’m not sure what made me angrier—the fact we were having this conversation again or that this type of conversation always got under my skin. How was it I was blowing a gasket while the supervisor thought it was no big deal?

It all seemed to come down to a difference in beliefs. A difference in attitudes. A difference in the actions taken when no one is watching. This situation is showing the food safety culture of the organization, and everyone nearby is seeing it. This isn’t uncommon—these every-day moments are displays of the food safety culture within our organizations. These moments are an opportunity to create a new story around food safety culture.

It begs the question: How do we start to re-write food safety culture in these moments?
To write a new story around food safety culture, many say it needs to start at the top. In fact, GFSI, EU Regulations, and the New Era of Smarter Food Safety focus on top leaders creating the mission, values and key performance metrics around food safety culture. While I believe having top leadership support is important, I’d challenge one to consider: Does food safety culture really have to start at the top?

In 1989, Sidney Yoshida unveiled the concept of the “Iceberg of Ignorance” that found large knowledge gaps between senior management and the rest of the organization.1 Yoshida’s research concluded that top leaders are too far removed from the day-to-day operations, which limits them to only see the very tip of a problem, meaning most of the problem isn’t visible to them. When we consider Yoshida’s concept for food safety culture, one may conclude top leaders are unlikely to fully understand the frustration, depth and frequency of stories like the one illustrated above.

Then who is positioned to understand the issues around food safety culture and make a difference? After working with multiple teams across multiple companies in food safety and quality for more than 25 years, I can confidently say, no one wants to see food safety practices and systems working more effectively than the FSQ Team!

FSQ Teams see first-hand the effect of failures in the food safety and quality systems that plague companies through things like product on hold, downtime and customer complaints, as they are often the ones involved with resolving issues. That’s why they are perfectly positioned to make a meaningful, daily impact on how people understand, perceive and embrace food safety behaviors.

Keep in mind, each year additional workload falls to the FSQ Team through new customer requirements, new regulations, new certification requirements, and more. That certainly explains how 60% of people have taken on more tasks than they can get done at work causing confusion in job responsibilities.2,3

Before we add another element to the FSQ plate, we need to ensure the FSQ Team is well positioned and energized to model the food safety behaviors that align with the culture we want to see. The following are several practical steps to support this journey:

  1. Evaluate Workload. Given 60% people have taken on more work than they can get done, evaluating workload is the first step to ensure the FSQ Team is ready to carry the food safety culture torch. Effects of overwork can be displayed as things like stress, or being disconnected, along with siloed work and even disconnected goals.4 Those outward appearing signs don’t typically align with the behaviors and attitudes aligned with the food safety culture wanted. A simple step to support alignment in the every-day behaviors and attitudes to support food safety culture is ensuring workloads are appropriate. An easy workload evaluation is to create a list of tasks, and compare it to the number of hours a person is expected to work. Just like production line time, if the workload is greater than available capacity, adjustment may be needed or vice versa.
  2. Provide Clarity around Decision Making Responsibilities. When actual work tasks aren’t clear, team members may also be unsure of where their decision making authority begins and ends – especially when it comes to food safety culture. Clarity comes from being curious, asking questions, and having conversations. For example: Can FSQ Team Members ask other Team Members to change how they’re doing a task to be more food safe? Should they ask the Team Member’s Lead or Supervisor first? Does it depend on the severity of the situation? When the FSQ Team sees behaviors that exemplify food safety culture, how are they able to recognize those fellow Team Members? When there are several options for safe handling of product, what’s the role of the FSQ Team in deciding which option is selected? Every individual will have a different perspective for these questions. Exploring how decisions are made and aligning across functional areas of the company will help FSQ Team Members carry the messaging around expected attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that support the food safety culture at the organization.
  3. Focus on Mindset. In FSQ, we are here to serve: The business, our team, our customers, and others. Showing up with the positive attitude to serve food safety culture can get lost when firefighting and being worried about getting everything done. After your FSQ Team has a clear picture of workload and responsibilities, a mindset around the food safety culture you want to see can be aligned in just a few minutes a day! Stuart Smalley was on to something when he repeatedly said, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me”. This type of mindset training had enumerable benefits for improved confidence, improved relationships, reduced stress, improving company outcomes, and more.5

The dreamy Food Safety Culture state where the inherent beliefs and behaviors that drive food safety are second nature to all team members is within reach. To reach that dream state, your FSQ Team is perfectly positioned at the front line every day to carry the food safety culture message. By taking these three practical steps, you’ll move the needle for taking care of your FSQ Team, which in turn, moves the needle on food safety culture for your organization.

References

  1. Adonix. (January 31, 2020). Uncovering the Iceberg of Ignorance.
  2. Bolden-Barrett, V. (2019). “Workers with overstuffed to-do lists feel overwhelmed, not organized, study shows“. HR DIVE.
  3. Stange, J. (February 6, 2020). 20 Employee Engagement Statistics that Impact Your Business.
  4. Martins, J. (May 21, 2021). Feeling Overworked? Strategies for Individuals and Teams to Regain Balance.
  5. Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

Be True to Yourself

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

Speaking with Kerry Bridges was such a happy and positive conversation. We laughed, chatted and found out that we have a lot of values in common, and it is our great pleasure to share this with the Women in Food Safety community. Kerry joined Chipotle about two and half years ago as the vice president of food safety; prior to the position, Kerry worked for Walmart within Frank Yiannas’s team, Tesco, Primus GFS and Jack-in-the-Box. From having positions with a regional focus to international markets, Kerry fell in love with the industry. “This is my happy place,” she said. “I love what I am doing. I admire the company and the team I am working with right now. I keep learning and growing every day.”

A major impression that Kerry left on me was her self-confidence and the positive attitude towards her life and work throughout her journey. I asked her whether she grew up with such strong confidence. “No, absolutely not!” Kerry laughed and continued, “I had a lot of self-doubt when I was young. I wish I could have been more confident back then. When I first graduated, I felt like I was not ready for this responsibility and I did not want to present in public. Hiding in the lab where no one could see me was where I felt comfortable. Fortunately, I had leaders who kept pulling me out of that; they encouraged me and believed in my potential. I think after enough times of being thrown into uncomfortable situations, I got comfortable with the uncomfortable. I changed my mindset to, ‘I can do this, and I enjoy doing this’. Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. It took time, repetition, great mentors, good leadership, and confidence. I started enjoying what I was doing and found it empowering as I became better at it.”

Being a female executive, Kerry demonstrated her leadership style, confidence, authenticity and wisdom throughout our conversation. One especially important point she made (and I agree with) was about female leadership: “Leadership isn’t about gender. To be a good leader, one doesn’t take an iron fist, but rather relationships, compassion and trust.” Sitting at the executive team table, Kerry also learned that it is important to be true to who you are.

As a food safety professional, it’s impossible to divide the line between life and work, as we can’t clock out when it’s five in the afternoon and leave an emergency behind until the following morning. Kerry keeps only one cell phone number for her team as well as her nanny. “I have to simultaneously wear both my mom hat as well as my food safety professional hat,” she said.

Melody Ge: Did you always know that you would love food safety and it would become your career?

Kerry Bridges: Actually, I was unsure about my future while at school or even shortly after graduation. However, one thing I did know was that I want to contribute to public health. Both my mom and my grandmother are nurses, so the commitment to public health was a part of me. I initially wasn’t sure what I could do with a food science degree, so I started as a bio technologist at a lab. After a very short period of time, I realized that I was not using the tools I learned from my food science degree at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. I had to shift my direction, so I applied for a position at Jack-in-the-Box. I worked with industry crusader, David Theno, and this was where my food safety journey started. I found it fascinating that I could have an impact on public health with my science background. It was incredibly rewarding to have great mentors and leaders who believed in me and helped guide my career. I love my job, and I feel a sense of accomplishment in preventing something [bad] from happening in public health.

Ge: If you could turn back the clock, what would say to the younger Kerry?

Bridges: First, I would say believe in yourself. Get involved with the industry, be exposed to the great leaders and the innovative things that are happening in food safety. The impact that you could make on the food system is powerful and motivating. Second, enjoy the ride. I remember at one point, I didn’t have kids yet, although my husband and I always wanted a big family. I was thinking about what I could do with my career, especially since I was so passionate about public health. I had a lot of stress and anxiety with the unknowns. However, now I am certain things will always work out. I left my home state of California with my husband and two kids to live in Arkansas to join Walmart. I eventually came back to California with four kids, including a newborn baby to join Chipotle. Now I have my big happy family and as well as a dream job. I wish I could have enjoyed the ride a little more instead of putting so much pressure on myself back then and believed that things would work out.

Ge: It’s very hard not to ask the question about how you balance all your times after knowing you have a wonderful big family. Any tips to share?

Bridges: Don’t sweat the small stuff. My mother used to say, “Do the best you can do, and that’s all you can do!” It’s so simple and so true. Honestly, the real answer is that things aren’t balanced between these two parts most of the time [work/life]. That’s just the reality. We all struggle, but I like to call these moments, chapters. Give yourself grace and resilience for the chapter in your life, whether it’s two days or two weeks. Sometimes, it can seem like nothing is coming together, but this is part of life. You may see everyone around you having everything figured while you can’t make things happen; chances are, those people had their own challenges and chapters at one point as well. Allowing and knowing that are important. Some days can be really hard to get through, but you do the best you can and remember that tomorrow is a new day. We can’t beat ourselves up over things we could have done. Continuous improvement is important, along with learning, and not sweating the small stuff.

Ge: Can you share an unforgettable moment that still has an impact on you today?

Bridges: I have cried with people who lost their loved ones as a result of a foodborne outbreak as well as worked with suppliers who played a role in a major recall event. All those conversations really stuck with me. In the past, working closely with the suppliers, we would ask questions like ‘how could you let this happen?’ Now, I’ve really changed my prospective—I want transparency, and I try to help them through a crisis. It’s very important to partner with them. After working with Dave Theno, my thought process on how to support suppliers changed.

I have worked for two brands that have experienced major outbreaks. Even today, I can’t leave a food safety conference without hearing about the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak or seeing Chipotle used as an example on someone’s presentation slides. Of course, my instinct is, ‘I wish they could share more good stories on how these brands have thrived and what they did afterwards.’ But at the same time, if these are examples that are going to help to raise awareness and allow others to develop the right food safety programs, then they’re worth sharing. I joined both companies after their crises, and although I don’t get the credit for developing a solid food safety system throughout the hard times, I am lucky that I can tell the positive story.

Ge: Do you have any advice for young female professionals, and where you envision women to be in this industry in five years?

Bridges: It’s important to understand there are so many opportunities within food safety. This is an open field with a plethora of options. Now more than ever, there is incremental awareness of public health and food science. To those who are young, I’d advise them to network and get involved. The women in food safety platform will really help. We need to do more to encourage and provide visibility for the younger generations to learn about this industry.

For the future, I want to see fewer limitations and more opportunities for females. There needs to be a mix of diverse role models for the youth. Chipotle is a great example of an organization that supports female advancement, which is one of the reasons why I joined. Chipotle shares my same values, which is important when looking for an employer. I hope more companies will continue to mirror this for their workforce.

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

The Breadcrumbs that Lead to Success

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

It was a great pleasure to sit down with Jennifer Crandall, CEO, founder and owner of the Safe Food En Route, LLC. She has more than 20 years’ experience in food safety, and tremendous experience as a business entrepreneur.

Jennifer Crandall
Jennifer Crandall, CEO, founder and owner of the Safe Food En Route, LLC, has more than 20 years’ experience in food safety, and tremendous experience as a business entrepreneur.

Jennifer started her career in production for a variety of products after she graduated from Purdue University as a Food Science major. When she looks back at her career path, Jennifer says all the dots are connected together in getting her to where she is now—as though she was leaving her own “breadcrumbs” in each stage, and now everything has come back together. For example, after she spent eight years on the production line, she took a position at Kroger Manufacturing for the next 12 years, where she had opportunities to work at positions in corporate food technology, regulatory compliance and global sourcing roles. Jennifer said, “it was a detour at the time when I took the sourcing position, however, it was these last two positions that set the foundation and knowledge when starting Safe Food En Route“…“I went the path of least resistance, what felt right at that time, and that natural interest just linked to the next opportunity. Each time I moved around, I either learned something new or developed another skill—that’s what motivated me. I left myself breadcrumbs along the way, so when I looked back, I knew where I had been,” she said. “I don’t regret any of the decisions that I made in getting me into the position where I am today.” Jennifer shared one quote she learned from Kathy Beechem, a retired EVP of US Bank: “When you are facing two choices, always take the path with the most opportunities!” “Her words still have an impact on me. Every time I make a choice, I choose the one that gave me more opportunities to grow,” Jennifer said.

We ended our conversation with some tips Jennifer would have given to her younger self, back 20 years ago. First: Use your network more, and do not be afraid to ask more questions. Second: Do not be afraid. You have unlimited potential and are destined for great things. Decide what you want with all your heart and focus on it.

“All in all, it is crucial to understand what you want, and understand who you are!” Jennifer said.

Melody Ge: Every time I speak with you, you are very confident and comfortable in the conversation. What tips can you share on being confident?

Jennifer Crandall: Thank you, and I think it still comes with practice. There are three things I think I would like to share.

  1. Be prepared. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be.
  2. Be on time and enforce your own boundaries. Be realistic with the time you need for preparation; you can’t prepare for everything, especially if it’s a discussion. But give yourself the space and grace to have that preparation time within the boundaries.
  3. Recognize and understand your own needs, simply as knowing yourself. It’s probably a good tip to reemphasize and work in a lot of other situations. It’s surprising how many people that do not self-reflect. I see many people living their life like a pinball machine, not knowing where they are going. That will show that they lack confidence, because they are waiting for someone to tell them where to go. Women especially will wait on other people to tell them what they are good at. If you are waiting on someone to tell you your strengths, then you are going to be waiting your whole life, because you are never going to believe what other people tell you. So know yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses.

Ge: Why and what persuaded you to start your own business? Do you have any advice for females out there who are interested in starting their own business?

Crandall: I wrote down several version of answers for this [question] and they all kind of fall into four buckets: Professional, Inspiration, Timing, and Trusting myself.

To start from personal experience in my professional life, I was feeling really burned out at one stage with corporate, and I knew I needed to change my career. I also recognized a pattern in corporate life; and in reality, people need to live their life beyond their career. At the same time, my family member was having a heart problem, and a colleague passed away from an illness soon after he retired. In addition, I had a friend’s husband pass away from cancer. All these combined circumstances caused me to reflect, as I already had some thoughts about the meaning of life. Life isn’t about just moving up in the corporate ladder.

Moving on to Inspiration: An inspiring moment happened around that time, as one of my female colleagues who was a counterpart left the company. She left a couple years before I did, and had no plan—she just wanted to take a pause in her career. I was like, “How is that even happening, what are you talking about?” She told me she did this after reading the book, The Escape Manifesto Book: Quit Your Corporate Job. Do Something Different! The book is about how people use the skills they learned from corporate careers and implement them outside the corporate environment. That day, I downloaded the audio book, and started listening to it. I listened to it 13 times during the year of 2017 (it’s a short book), and it really gave me some things to think about. I was inspired, and I am still using some of the tools the book recommended today to run my own business.

Timing: FSMA was perfectly timed with the opportunity for me to launch a business around FSVP consultation because implementation of the regulation was beginning, and Kroger had just trained me on it; I was having so many conversations with suppliers in my final Kroger position as a supplier verification program manager. In addition, I picked up about 2500 connections from my global sourcing role, and everything was really coming together. Again, like the breadcrumbs, the dots are finally connected.

On Trusting Myself: I was inspired by an interview between Oprah and Maya Angelou to write down all the people that influenced me to the point I was at in my career. I ended up with a list of hundreds of people that supported me to the point I was in life. I realized I did not fully believe in myself, but all these people on the list did. And I thought, “If they believe in me, why can’t I believe in myself?” So trusting myself is like the last kick to give me the courage to take the leap. Once I knew what I was going to do, those four factors kicked in at the same time to push me forward with my own business with confidence.

Ge: Based on what you have learned from your own career, what advice would you give to female professionals?

Crandall: Three things come to mind:

  1. Believe in yourself that you are worthy and deserving of anything you want in your personal and professional life. It is allowed, you are allowed, and as long as they do not negatively impact people, you are allowed to have them. As women, I think we always put ourselves last and never believe we are allowed to have those things. We are.
  2. Nothing beats a good friend, mentor or a coach. They will take you far. We need friends that can help give us unbiased judgment and coaching to help lead our lives. I was an athlete growing up; 25 years after being on the diving board, I still learn things from diving and from my coach. I am fascinated how the physics side of sports and the coaching can continue to help me in my real life. Coaching has guided me to where I am today. Right now, I hired a coach to guide me on how to be a better CEO and entrepreneur; how to streamline my business. And in thinking about mentors, they can be anyone, for example, listening to audio books, watching an interview, who is influencing you… those all can be mentors.
  3. Don’t limit yourself. It happens either through allowing others to limit you, or you may do it through limiting your own beliefs around other people. There are no limits on you or what you can do except how you allow other people to put them on you; or you may allow systems or structures to limit yourself. I learned that I am limitless—and there was a time when I didn’t know I was. It can still be scary now to say that I am limitless. But I do believe it. I went through a lot of what coaches call “limiting beliefs” before I got to this point.

Ge: Do you have any final tips for female students and those professionals who are working towards being on an executive team?

Crandall: For students I would say, be patient and spend time in the field. For example, spend five to 10 years to master your skills on the production floor, take time learning quality assurance and food safety systems. Learn the basics and master it. I know it is hard, but it is worth it.

For those who are working towards being in an executive position, I would say think in a business manner. In some form or fashion, add business to your knowledge and thoughts. It doesn’t have to be earning an MBA degree, but at least learn some skills to know what it is involved in being a business person—i.e., things like sales, networks, marketing, finances, and accounting. You don’t want to start an executive position without having some basic knowledge of how a business runs. Make risky choices as often as possible and make the uncomfortable comfortable. My coaches often repeat this, and I want to share it with the group. Take those risks and learn to speak the language that professionals at the executive table often speak.

Kathy Wybourn, DNV-GL

Ask the Expert: What Makes a Company’s Food Safety Culture Strong?

Kathy Wybourn, DNV-GL

Q: What are the maturity levels of food safety culture?

Kathleen Wybourn: The UK Food Standards Agency defines 6 levels of maturity:

  1. Calculative non-compliers intentionally violate regulations for reasons of financial gain. They only comply under inspection requirements, prioritize productivity at the cost of hygiene and, lack adequacy of facilities and/or equipment. They are accustomed to bad conditions without realizing risks and continuously do not comply with food safety requirements.
  2. Doubting compliers question the overall risk posed by lack of food safety, leadership is not a reference for behavior, exhibit failures of structures, equipment and utensils; training is an unnecessary investment for them, employee suggestions are not encouraged. They do not understand the potential severity of deviations from food safety regulations.
  3. Dependent compliers seek advice or instructions and see food safety as something that needs to be addressed by others. Possibly, if there is no external control, food standards are not met; they have a few structural deficiencies, including employee facilities, they are not proactive about food safety, have some awareness of contamination risks, while knowing the rules and legislation, and rely on external sources for updates on legislation and to tell them, if and what needs to be changed.
  4. Proactive understand that hazards are significant and accept that requirements are effective and necessary. Their leaders are a good example, care for the safety of food constantly, work conditions ensure the work is done properly. Employees are encouraged to warn about deviations, review their procedures to comply with new regulations.
  5. Leaders see food safety and quality as a part of their business. They encourage, explain and praise good practices, the board adopts improvements and view them as investment and not cost, seek best practices, not only compliance with regulation. They are never complacent, when it comes to food safety, and food safety rules are not questioned by them.

Q: If your leadership and management do not want to get engaged, which steps can you take to develop your organizations food safety culture?

Wybourn: This depends on each organization; however, technologists and practitioners should provide education and knowledge to their management regarding food safety culture. If you are a certified site, it is a requirement, not a nice to have. The FDA is considering reducing inspections and the worst what can happen is a recall and food safety culture can assist with preventing. Food safety culture is beyond food safety management systems. Showing your leadership, the full benefits and positive results will get their attention.

Kathy Wybourn, DNV
Kathleen Wybourn, DNV Director, Food & Beverage Supply Chain and Product Assurance, North America

About Kathleen Wybourn, DNV Director, Food & Beverage Supply Chain and Product Assurance, North America

Kathleen began her career in food manufacturing at the NutraSweet Division of GD Searle/Monsanto where she held various managerial positions including managing analytical and microbiology labs, quality control, quality assurance, supplier audits and operations. Since leaving food manufacturing, Kathleen has worked in various food safety auditing management positions, including Director of Operations at the GMA as Director of the GMA SAFE program.

In 2008 Kathleen joined DNV as Director of Food Safety Solutions where she is responsible for the Food and Beverage division of DNV GL – Business Assurance. Kathleen has written articles on Food Safety Certification including: First Look: GFSI Adds New FSSC 22000 Standard, WAL-MART’s Magna Carta for Auditing, and Navigating the Jungle of Food Safety Standards – all published in various Food industry magazines. Kathleen was instrumental in the study conducted at Michigan State University on Food Safety Certification in the US titled “Food Safety in the U.S. Supply Chain – Consumer and Food Industry Perceptions.” Kathleen is very active with GFSI, having served on various Technical working groups and speaking at the GFSI Global Conferences.

Kathleen has a Bachelor of Science Degree from Northern Illinois University and an MBA from Loyola University of Chicago.

Content Sponsored by DNV.

Jill Hoffman, McCormick & Company
Women in Food Safety

Non-Profit Food Safety Careers: An Interview with Mitzi Baum at Stop Foodborne Illness

By Jill Hoffman
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Jill Hoffman, McCormick & Company

This month’s interview focuses on an area of food safety leadership we haven’t yet covered in our Women in Food Safety column: The non-profit sector. There are career paths in food safety in the non-profit sector and this month we’ve asked Mitzi Baum, CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness, to share her story of how she began her career and what wisdom she can offer those seeking roles in leadership or the non-profit sector.

When I met with Mitzi, I realized immediately she was a very down-to-earth leader who had a contagious energy to anyone that might cross paths with her. We started our conversation learning a bit about each other; she talked about her path from majoring in hospitality and restaurant management to working at Feeding America and to now heading up Stop Foodborne Illness. We chatted about some of the challenges we see for women in the food safety sector, and exchanged some stories and thoughts on why women face these challenges.

One story in particular that Mitzi shared was when she first realized the lack of female leadership in food safety. This story went back early in her career, more than 20 years ago, when she was asked to start engaging at industry conferences. When she arrived in the room at her first conference, she thought she stuck out like a sore thumb. There she was, dressed in a brightly colored outfit, entering a room that could best be described as “a sea of middle-aged men in gray suits”. Although this could have been intimidating for a young female at the time, Mitzi made the best of it and forced herself to introduce herself, talk to strangers, and sign up for every session and networking dinner possible. By the end of the conference, she had made lasting contacts, and her initial feels of intimidation were washed away.

Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness
Mitzi Baum, CEO, Stop Foodborne Illness

Mitzi and I talked a bit about how the non-profit sector works, and how far some have come, especially food banks. She has watched food banks evolve from small- and less-organized operations into major operations that are being run more efficiently and offering more food options because they’ve been able to raise substantial amounts of money to improve the operational capabilities and infrastructure. food banks went from dealing with dented cans and shelf-stable products to now offering fresh produce and frozen items simply because funding allowed improvements such as freezers and refrigerators to be added to food bank locations. She credits female leadership in making this change in the food bank system.

There is an emotional component to Mitzi’s job at Stop Foodborne Illness. She frequently engages with the families of victims of foodborne illness. Each of the stories that are shared is personal, and an element of empathy is critical as she works with them to share their story.

I really enjoyed getting to know Mitzi and I’m sure you will too as the following Q&A features some of her insights and experiences as being a female leader in the food safety world.

Jill Hoffman: Could you please tell us how you started your career and how you made it to where you are today?

Mitzi Baum: My career began in restaurants. My first job was at 15 years of age in a chili parlor in Cincinnati, OH. I went to college and earned a degree in restaurant/hospitality management and liked learning about food science and the micro aspects of food. I graduated and became a kitchen manager for the Peasant Restaurant Group in Atlanta, front-of-the-house manager for the Funky’s Restaurant Group in Cincinnati; and manager for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises in Chicago. I did not find the lifestyle rewarding and looked to other opportunities to apply my degree and developed skills. I was fortunate to find Feeding America (then called Second Harvest) to apply my knowledge of inventory management, food safety, operational standards and other aspects of management to the distribution of food to those in need of food assistance.

I conducted compliance audits for the food bank network for more than 13 years—traveling across the country assisting and learning from those working on the front lines. I moved into program management and then into the role of director of food safety to institute a compulsory third-party food safety audit for the network of food banks. There was a big learning curve at the food bank level to overcome, so we began to socialize the food safety audit, provided food safety improvement grants, walked individual food bank staff through the process, and we were able to successfully achieve our goal.

During my 23 years of experience at Feeding America, I developed many management and leadership skills that I wanted to flex and make a transition. The opportunity to step beyond food safety presented itself in the form of the CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness (STOP). I have been at STOP for a little more than two years and I have learned so much about leadership, management and myself.

Mitzi Baum will lead a panel discussion, “Get with the Program: Modernization of Poultry Inspections in the United States”, during the Salmonella: Detection, Mitigation, Control & Regulation virtual event on July 15 | Register nowHoffman: You have a background in the non-profit sector. What are some of the differences in working in the non-profit vs. the for-profit sector?

Baum: Non-profit work is focused on a mission or what an organization is trying to achieve. All work and work activities are focused on accomplishing the stated mission. Fundraising is also an integral part of the non-profit sector. While for-profits earn income by selling a tangible asset, the non-profit sector must work to identify individuals, foundations and other grant-making institutions that have an interest in their mission, engage and court them, and ask them for funding to support their stated activities to attain the mission. It takes time to increase awareness of a mission/organization and build a strong fundraising foundation to grow the organization.

Hoffman: You’ve also been teaching a course in the food safety master’s program at Michigan State University (MSU). How did you get into the role, what are you teaching, and what do you enjoy the most about the opportunity?

Baum: The current course I created for the Online Food Safety Program at MSU is called The Role of Food Safety in Food Waste Reduction. During my time at Feeding America, I worked in the area of food waste reduction and focused on the application of the same food safety standards that apply to retailers to donated foods. Realizing that food donation and food banks are part of our society and need was growing, it occurred to me to capitalize on the opportunity to expand the knowledge of students in the food safety program about food waste reduction. I enjoy knowing that the students taking the course have a better understanding of what happens to foods that are unsold and donated. It is an essential part of our societal infrastructure to focus on providing food to those in need and reducing food waste. My hope is for food safety professionals who take the course to be exposed to more information about the “last mile” that donated food travels.

Jaime Ragos, STOP’s 2020 Dave Theno Fellow, and I have been creating a new course for the Online Food Safety Program called Food Safety Failures. Jaime identified an opportunity to utilize case studies of outbreaks to provide a different perspective to the epidemiological investigation. The course will go live in the fall of 2021.

Hoffman: What would be your number one piece of advice to young women, students and professionals who are planning to have lead roles in food safety?

Baum: My motto is “you can’t get what you want unless you ask for it”. You must be your own advocate and ask for what you want. Communicating what you want or see as your career path as a professional is essential to achieving your goal.

Hoffman: What are the significant advantages and/or disadvantages of being a female CEO?

Baum: I never look at being a woman as a disadvantage. Women are resilient and consistently persevere. If we can’t get over an obstacle, we find a way to go around it and continue on the path or create a new one. I consider that grit and determination to be the ultimate advantage.

Hoffman: What are the significant strengths of being a female executive?

Baum: Be decisive, be direct, be transparent, be inclusive and most of all, be you.

Hoffman: What do you hope to see in the next three to five years in terms of development and mentoring women in the industry? Do you see any gaps that need to be filled?

Baum: I would like to see more women in roles of authority in the industry. Women have many lived experiences that uniquely qualify them for executive-level positions.

There have been many groups created to support women in food safety which builds community. Individually, it is imperative that each of us is proactive and mentor each other. Mentoring works in both directions; those of us that have been in the work force for a longer period of time can learn a lot from those who just landed their first job. Conversely, we can share our experiences with the younger work force to provide guidance to navigate the current work environment and manage the challenges of being a younger person beginning their career path.

Hoffman: What would you advise females who are working towards a position on an executive or leadership team?

Baum: Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Admittedly, it was very scary to leave a career I cultivated over 23 years – it was comfortable, and I knew what to expect; I did not know what I was capable of until I took a leap of faith. I have many motivational quotes on my desk but my favorite, and the one that consistently urges me to embrace change and take risk, is from Pablo Picasso, “Action is the foundational key to all success.”

Deborah Coviello, Illumination Partners
Food Safety Culture Club

3 Tips to Managing Hard Conversations with Your Team

By Deborah A. Coviello
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Deborah Coviello, Illumination Partners

My heart sank when I had to call an emergency meeting with my team and had to basically say, “stop everything”, because we had multiple crises to manage. I had fallen victim to what so many organizations do: Ditch the strategic work in favor of firefighting. And here I was in that position, having to lead others and feeling so off track.

I pulled out my “Compass” to figure out how to stay grounded amidst the chaos and still move the organization with the strategic work in addition to the task at hand. The “Compass” I am referring to became my guide to stay calm amidst chaos and navigate my team through rough waters. But before I explain what I did, let me give you some context.

Crisis 1: We were having a food safety problem in one plant for which we’d not found the root cause and it was putting us in a position of constant mitigation. While it was fully contained, it would continue to show up, leaving us feeling helpless that we still hadn’t resolved it. On top of that, there was external pressure to resolve the issue, because there was also a major infrastructure enhancement due to start in the same area. To make matters worse, I was challenged to gain the support from some local leadership in order to bring in external resources to fill our capability gap given the multiple issues to manage.

Crisis 2: We had found a food safety issue with a supplier for which they were pushing back on us that it was not them. Despite collaboration to try to find the root cause of the quality issue, it soon escalated into our inability to ship products to a customer. When we brought all the interested parties together on a call we reached a conclusion that allowed us to continue shipping, but I felt defeated that I could not get to the root cause. What I did realize was that I got people’s attention and we collaborated on a solution—though not optimal. In the face of darkness, a leader’s leadership is truly challenged and doubt in your capabilities soon takes over.

Crisis 3: We had a food safety leader who was not performing and impacting the morale of the employees. We worked extensively to give them guidance and an opportunity to improve performance, but in the end we had to let them go. The energy we took to try to improve the situation for the manager and the employees ultimately was exhausting; we let them go and moved forward with interim leadership to help rebuild the organization.

I had to quickly manage resources, set expectations and provide a calm environment for my team to perform at their highest potential as we gathered in our “War Room” to manage the crisis. While The CEO’s Compass was not even an idea at that point, it was a story in the making and here’s why.1

To get back to True North or “Peace of Mind”, I needed to focus on three things.

  • Purpose. We needed to get back on track as being a trusted brand, and deliver safe and quality products that our customers expected. Diverting resources for this greater purpose gives us the freedom to focus and know we would get back to the strategic work once capacity allowed us. The team poured their collective wisdom into the situation and they naturally started to collaborate on the best approach.
  • Performance. I needed the framework to assess the needs of the organization, individual teams and the individuals themselves and provide the leadership, coaching and feedback needed during this time. I was no longer the subject matter expert and had to rely on really smart people on the best approach. My job was to remove barriers and provide tactical and emotional support so they could do their job.
  • Pride. The intersection of the humanity on my team with their intellectual property was my single most important tool to get through this challenge. The team had expertise in areas I had not needed to leverage, and since I knew their past and what they’ve done before, I was able to deploy resources based on acknowledging their gifts and put them in the right places for the multiple crises.

I cleared the table for my team to address these multiple crises and had to say, “stop everything”, and with these compass points in my pocket, they rose to the occasion and we addressed the crisis. Lessons unfolded into the strategic work we were meant to do. We had a few scars from these events, but we came out stronger than before.

As I assessed the Compass points of “Purpose, Performance and Pride” to set the strategy to navigate these crises, I found myself back on track and could continue forward with the strategic work and lessons learned from these events.

  • How do you manage through transformation or a crisis?
  • What hard conversations do you have with your team?
  • Do you have a Compass that with a few course corrections can get you back on track?
  • If you don’t have a Compass, do you know how to find one?

As food safety professionals, we need to support each other to grow our network and our collective capability via community.

Reference

  1. Coviello, D. (Publish Date August 2021). The CEO’s Compass – Your Guide to Get Back on Track is an approach to assess your organizational gaps and a deliver a strategy to get back on track to true north or “Peace of Mind”.
Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

Trust Your Intuition, Embrace Empathy

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

Early this year, Jill Stuber, who currently owns her own business called The Food Safety Coach, which focuses on coaching and consulting in the industry, accepted Women in Food Safety’s invitation to be interviewed. The hour went by fast, and Jill shared many insights on how her mindset changed from a microbiologist, to food safety professional to now as a business owner. Jill grew up on a farm in Wisconsin where she was first exposed to “food science 101”. It was not until her junior year of college that Jill officially took the course and confirmed that she really liked it. “It was the time I spent on the farm which formed my career foundation. It was the knowledge of agriculture and the intuition about product safety,” she said.

Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach
Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach

Jill still remembers how she got her first job out of college—a lot of which involved being persistent. She called Land O’Lakes every month to check whether there was an opening because it was her dream company, and she always wanted to be part of it. “Every time I drove past the building, I thought to myself, ‘I could work for them’”. Finally, the company responded that they were looking for someone to make the media in the lab, and Jill took the position without hesitation.

That first job started Jill’s career. She learned so much about lab management during her time at Land O’Lakes. Throughout her career, she tried many different roles related to food safety before she landed squarely in food safety. Jill suggested that those who are facing choices should trust their intuition. “It’s what drives you to the direction that there is something there for you,” she added.

It certainly was a shift when Jill started her own business during the pandemic. “I have always wanted to do it, but I hesitated for years, and COVID-19 helped me make the decision. It was my first full year owning my own business.” When asked what prompted her to start a business in coaching, Jill shared the following personal story.

Jill talked about an early career struggle when she first served as a corporate food safety & quality manager across three production facilities and the corporate lab. There was an instance in which the entire team was facing a challenging situation and her boss told her she had to let go one of her team members. She felt really bad—even until today. “In that moment, and for me, it was a personal thing. I just had to step back and say, ‘this is not right’. I still remembered the feeling, which was awful,” Jill said. This is certainly not the value Jill believed in and grew up with. She believed in working hard as a team and helping and trusting each other. “I asked the company to work with a coach so I could process the event, and that’s when it opened up my eyes to how coaches can navigate and support a person. I love helping people, and that’s how my interest in coaching started and it was the seed for establishing my business.”

Jill Stuber and other food safety experts discussed “The New Normal: COVID-19’s Lasting Impact on the Food Industry” during an Episode of the Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series on May 20, 2021The one thing that Jill believes today and throughout all her obstacles is to never give up. “Never say ‘no’ and never take ‘no’ for an answer. Of course, there will be hard times, but I always find another pathway. You have to be persistent and know where you are going and why you are doing it, and keep on that,” Jill said.

We ended our conversation discussing how we see the future for talented female professionals in the industry. “I think women are on a fantastic path of providing support for each other and even for others, not just women. I think we are doing a great job of trying to connect and understand what that support looks like. We are going to see more and more women are in decision making roles—roles they are really engaged in and thriving,” she said. “Women are standing in their power and becoming more and more comfortable in these positions. It’s also about recognizing the gifts that you bring.”

Melody Ge: How does it feel of being a CEO? Do you feel any different versus other roles that you’ve had?

Jill Stuber: LOL! I do not feel differently. I enjoy the flexibility it offers me, especially this past year with COVID. My kids are home, distance studying, and so it really helped me balance my time with my family. My ultimate goal is to live life on my own terms by helping people. So, it is definitely getting me a step closer to be able to do that, which is really all about just trying to be more present and have richer experiences versus going through the motions.

Ge: Sometimes it’s very hard to achieve living on your own terms. How did you start? Any words of advice?

Stuber: I always recommend starting small. Sometimes it is overwhelming when you think of the entire plan, right? Like for me, for example, stepping away from a steady income with a company is really hard to do. It is scary. If I had done that first, I probably would have not made the leap. However, I started small by really doing something a little different or making different choices each day in the direction I wanted to go versus “all-in”. This applies even to how I spend my time. After work, I usually would do things for my family, make dinners and do laundry. But I passed that stuff all to my family, not that I neglected my family, but I get everyone involved so that way I can make choices to maybe work on my own business, spend time with my family or even focus on self-care. So, every day, it is evaluating every single small thing I can do to help move in the direction that I ultimately want to be at.

Ge: We often hear people say that women are too emotional. What’s your opinion on that? Does emotion have a big impact on your decision making as a CEO?

Stuber: I think the big factor really has a lot to do with trusting yourself and your intuition. I know one of the questions here is being emotional. However, I really think that as business owners and women in the industry, we should embrace being emotional, because it is what gives us the empathy and compassion. And for me, emotion really helps me better serve my clients. At the end of the day, if I cannot serve them to the best of my abilities, I have failed both of us. I really try to listen to what they need so that I am helping them get the results they want. Sometimes, I think, what is wrong with being emotional? Why is there judgement around being emotional?

Ge: Yes! I thought about it too!

Stuber: It’s important (and good) to remember that women are wildly different than men. We process emotions and feelings differently. When we listen to the messages that women send us, it helps us really step into where we need to go to provide support. When we ignore those things and cut them off, I think it gives us a gap where our intuition is telling us to go versus where our mind is telling us to go. Our emotions keep us on, and I think it is kind of a check and balance on where we are going, and what is true to us. Our emotions bring us to alignment to what is going on. Also, I think it relates to how emotions play into the conversation. Even as we talk about bringing more women into leadership positions and organizations, I love that we still talk about what skills we need to get in there. However, sometimes, I wonder about how we can prepare the people already at the table for the leadership styles we, women, bring. Because it is not always about women having to adopt a new style or learn to make a decision differently, or to be less emotional, but how we prepare people who are already there to work with us and to understand how that emotion makes female valuable leaders in the space.

Ge: Do you have any advice, or some lesson learned, to share with the young professionals in the Women in Food Safety group?

Stuber: I would say there are two. First, it is following your intuition. I didn’t do this well when I was young; I followed technical data for quite a while. Now, with more experience, I think following and trusting your intuition is more valuable. I used to rely on technical data and thinking I had to have the answers; but really taking the time and engaging in human-to-human interaction is so much more powerful. The second piece of advice I would offer is that it’s okay that you don’t have all the answers. I think we are programmed as we go through the school that we are supposed to know the answers. It’s equally important to know how to find the resources and answers. I think that is important to share because in the end, the group of young professionals coming into the industry are the next generation that is going to make the difference in the industry. So, whatever we do to support them is important! I would like to let them know that we all want them to be successful and to love what they are doing. So, even though sometimes the industry can be intimidating, never be hesitant to reach out to others in the industry. Utilize and build your own network and be part of communities that can support you and allow you to support them in return.