Women in Food Safety (WIFS) features female leaders in food safety to share their inspiring stories. This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Ingrid Munoz, FSQA Manager at the StarKist Galapesca site. We met Ingrid, who has worked for StarKist for 27 years, at the company’s headquarters in Reston, Virginia, where she is known throughout the company for her confidence, calm and “We got this!” good vibes.
Munoz came to Starkist through a friend’s introduction, first working at the laboratory at the Galapesca site, learning and absorbing everything she could about food safety, quality, processing and sanitation in tuna production. “It was challenging,” she said. “However, it was those responsibilities and challenges that hooked me, and I haven’t let go since then.” After working in the lab, Ingrid moved to fish reception, and then became a key leadership team member as the FSQA team leader at Galapesca site.
Ingrid mentioned one tip for women who are facing major changes, which is not to choose but to follow instinct, and you will shine naturally. “It’s about 60% knowing how to do it, and 40% knowing how to be when facing each choice,” she said.
At the end of the interview, Ingrid shared three principles that guide not only her career but also her life: passion, discipline and always step out the comfort zone! These three principles drive her entire FSQA team at the Galapesca site as well. Ingrid believes women will be more lifted, valued and heard in the future, and will certainly take key positions in the industry.
Ge: What is the main driver that has kept you working on FSQA with StarKist for more than 25 years?
Munoz: It’s perseverance and passion. In my opinion, it’s quite important to like what you are doing. I love what I do. The job is not easy, every day there are different issues. Whenever there are difficulties, these are the three main points I keep in my mind:
Think like a consumer
Think like a company owner
Think like an auditor
Fortunately, my company has given me the flexibility to try different approaches to improve our food safety and quality management system, while keeping these three thoughts in mind.
Ge: Well said Ingrid! Why are you passionate about FSQA?
Munoz: Because I like to take on new challenges and do things differently. I do prefer not to do the same things over and over. As we all know, every day is a different day in FSQA. That’s what originally attracted me to the field, and I feel the same way today.
GE: What have you learned from your female team members?
Munoz: Throughout working and guiding female team members, I have learned that FSQA is a field for women by our very nature. Women have a sixth sense when it comes to evaluating and predicting risks. We are dedicated and insightful. We are disciplined and we follow the rules. Women have unlimited capacities to innovate with creative solutions to continue improving food safety and quality.
Ge: Would you please share with us an unforgettable story that still has an impact on you today?
Munoz: My most unforgettable experience was in 2009. I was asked by our General Manager to lead the Quality Assurance (QA) department for four months while my boss (previous QA Manager) had to travel outside of country to fulfill a special mission. I accepted right away as I thought this would help me strengthen my abilities. Certainly, there were unknowns and challenges, however, I managed through with my big goal in my mind.
When my boss at that time returned, he congratulated me for having represented him better than he expected and, above all, because I led some significant changes that contributed positively to the management of the Safety and Quality System. This period of time was key to recognizing that I could achieve more. Shortly after, I was promoted from supervisor to department head. Not too long later, I was promoted to be the QA manager.
Always say yes to challenges, and you will be surprised how much you can achieve.
Ge: Thank you for sharing that! If you could turn the clock back to 20+ years ago, when you just started in the industry, what would you say to your younger self and would you make any decisions differently?
Munoz: I would say, “Ingrid, come on! Keep doing it, and enjoy more of what you do. Don’t be afraid!” Honestly, I don’t regret any decisions I have made so far. They were all good decisions at the time they were made. Certainly, as the industry grew, I got many other opportunities, however, I am faithful to my team and to Charlie. I appreciate and enjoy the opportunities I’ve had to try different things. My new ideas are always supported. I consider my team as my family, and I enjoy working with them. If I had it to do all over again, I would make the same decision to grow with the company and continue my commitment to support our consumers with safe and quality products.
Ge: What is your “golden nugget” tip for other females working in the industry?
Munoz: Think big! There are no obstacles that will stop us from growing and getting stronger. Do not lay down your own arms, because when we open up our arms and hold on to each other, all together we can do more than we think we can. Keep learning and keep motivating yourself. Follow your passion, exercise discipline and always step out of your comfort zone.
Food safety and quality assurance leaders are competing for a finite number of dollars within their respective organizations. Securing support or funding for new equipment, training or personnel can be challenging. Understanding the competing pressures and needs of corporate leaders can help FSQA professionals get their message across and ensure a commitment to food safety.
At the 2022 Food Safety Consortium in October, Deb Coviello, CEO, founder and business advisor at The Drop In CEO, moderated a panel discussion “Communicating to the C-Suite.” Panelists Peter Begg, senior vice president of quality and food safety at Hearthside Food Solutions, Melanie Neumann, JD, executive vice president and general counsel of Matrix Sciences International, and Ann Marie McNamara, vice president of food safety and quality for supply chain, manufacturing and commercialization at U.S. Foods, shared their tips and best practices for getting your message across in the board room.
When approaching the C-suite with updates and asks for financial support, you want to be both confident and concise. “If you can’t explain in five to seven slides what you need and why, you will lose them,” said Begg. “And it is very likely that you yourself do not understand the issue or are unclear of the implications and what the C-suite needs to know.”
McNamara tries to keep it to one slide and encourages FSQA professionals to: know your audience, stick to the facts, and communicate like an executive by using their terms and focusing on goals and metrics.
“You have to take off your FSQA hat and put on your business hat,” she said. “You can’t just be a technical expert, you need to be a translator and communicate the technical into business terms.”
Equate Risk to Dollar Amounts
If your consumers are at risk due to poor training, difficult-to-clean equipment or other concerns, you need to quickly equate the risk to a dollar amount when communicating with the C-suite. “You can use baseline data to quantify your risks,” said Neumann. For example, if you have a problematic piece equipment, look at the frequency and likelihood of inspection and the potential findings, and share this information as part of your presentation.
She follows a “go back to kindergarten” strategy to help develop a compelling presentation: learn and share the basic math, follow your ABCs by using clear, concise language and “do some show and tell,” said Neumann. In one instance, she brought a joint with multiple weld points from the floor to the board room to illustrate why this particular piece of equipment was so difficult to sanitize and had become a site of contamination. The leadership agreed to replace it.
“You need to be specific, and pick your battles,” said Neumann. “For example, if you need more ‘help,’ what does that look like—do you need more people, more training, a new system?”
Building Your Confidence
Standing in front of a group of executives to fight for your department can be intimidating. If public speaking is not your forte, practice speaking in front of a group. “Share your presentation with your team and ask what questions they would have to get feedback and input,” said McNamara.
Doing regular check-ins with the CFO regarding future resource needs, rather than waiting for a quarterly or annual presentation opportunity, can help you get a headstart on coming asks. In fact, developing relationships with all C-suite leaders is key to keeping food safety needs top of mind. “Introduce yourself to new leaders and understand how they want to be communicated with (i.e., text, email, phone),” said Begg. “Do regular check-ins with leadership and recommend quarterly presentations to keep them up to date.”
While all three panelists encouraged FSQA professionals to avoid getting emotional and focus on the facts as well as dollars and cents, you do want to remind executives of the impact of failure to act on food safety concerns. “Explain the financial risks and speak in terms of the impact to them, ‘What we want everyone in the company to understand is your loved ones are eating this food,’” said Begg.
Many of us know Rena Pierami from her successful leadership role as vice president of technical services at Mérieux Nutrisciences, from which she recently retired after 45 years in the industry. During the April gathering for Women in Food Safety, Rena, now managing director of Pierami Consulting, shared with us her sage advice on how to achieve a successful career in management without compromising your personal standards or charms.
Originally from Philadelphia, Rena completed a BS in Biological Sciences from Drexel University and an MS in Food Science from Michigan State University before moving to Louisville for a position with KFC. In the 20 years she was with them, Rena made a concerted effort to gain experience in and knowledge of the many different functions and departments within the company.
While she entered on a technical track, she ultimately moved into product development and from there into quality. While some opportunities were presented to her by the company, others she actively pursued to broaden her experience and understanding of food service and safety. Examples of these “extra-curricular” activities included a stint in strategic planning, participating in a reengineering program with external consultants and volunteering to run the United Way campaign for the KFC organization.
Expanding her knowledge base in this way allowed her to consider other career opportunities. When her job and division within KFC became redundant, she joined Silliker/ Mérieux NutriSciences. Although she had no formal business training, she was quick to learn what was needed and “how to live and die by a P&L.”
In her new position, Rena learned that she loved interacting with clients and developing relationships, which was her key focus and undoubtedly contributed to her success in growing the business.
The Golden Rules of Leadership
For those stepping into leadership positions, Rena shared the “golden rules” that she strove to follow in her career:
Do not get “hung up” on being a leader. When one takes on a leadership role, they often act based on how a leader is supposed to behave. Rena always worked hard to be herself and remain genuine. Rather than doing things that you think you are supposed to do as a leader, be yourself and exhibit the integrity and trust that a leader needs to get people to follow. In other words, Be You!
Be a good listener, and hear from everyone. The adage, “Everyone knows something that you don’t, and everyone is worth listening to,” is true, said Rena. A leader must listen, remain objective and retain confidentiality. If you can do this, people will remember you and trust you.
Keep current. In order to get ahead, you first need to stay up to date. Read daily updates and smart briefs to remain updated and share information with others if you think it would help them or be of interest to them.
Know your weaknesses, and use tools to help mitigate them. In her position, Rena had to keep abreast of huge amounts of information and a continuous flow of new contacts. She took copious notes and would annotate her contact list so that she would remember particular things about individuals when she next met them.
Compliment the people surrounding you. This makes others feel better about themselves and about you. Say something kind, always smile, and if you are having a tough time know that tomorrow will be a better day.
It is OK to get nervous. Learn to work through anxiety and self-doubt. Sometimes that anxiety peaks your performance, and do not be afraid of a challenge or trying something new.
Network and maintain contacts in the industry. Make an effort to meet others in your field, and do not burn bridges. Rena still looks to those who helped “raise” her for advice and friendship and to those whom she has helped guide and raise. “It’s so great to see folks prosper,” she said.
Be collaborative, and never stop learning. As the world of food safety expands in breadth and complexity, Rena stressed the need for an open mind and willingness to collaborate. “Collaboration creates some great friendships, and I have just learned the term ‘co-opetition’—the process of collaborating with a competitor within your industry. This is a great philosophy. Collaborations take all sorts of paths to the benefit of all,” she said.
Find your balance. The key to achieving a good work-life balance is being aware that the balancing point will change depending on your stage of life. For those with young children, it is important to develop a strong support system. It is also important to focus on maintaining your personal health throughout your career.
Resources for Current and Future Food Industry Leaders
Some of the leadership tools that Rena has found helpful in developing her career include books, especially those focused on situational leadership strategies and processes. Situational leadership refers to adapting your management style to each unique situation and adjusting your style based on your team members’ individuality, personalities, work styles and behaviors. Some of her favorite titles include:
“Strengths Finder 2.0” by Tom Rath
“Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg
“SPIN selling” by Neil Rackham
“The One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
Rena also cites social media, particularly LinkedIn, as a valuable tool that helps her stay connected and learn from others.
After an enlightening and inspiring discussion, Rena summarized her key takeaways for success in leadership:
Be yourself and be genuine with others
Be both a mentor and a mentee, and know this is a continuous cycle
Be open and collaborative
Learn about your industry and never stop learning. It helps you exude confidence.
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: 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.
Returning for its first in-person conference in two years, the GFSI Conference kicks off March 29 in Barcelona with key insights from the world’s largest multinational food organizations. GFSI leadership will discuss its current agenda within the scope of global food supply chain challenges, as well as the connection between food safety and sustainability. During the event, subject matter experts will participate in panel discussions that address recall readiness, audits, building capabilities, multi-stakeholder efforts in the public and private sectors, trust and transparency, innovation across the food safety ecosystem, sustainability and GFSI’s strategic priorities.
The full program, along with registration, speaker and partnership information, is available on GFSI’s website.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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