The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), a professional society of governmental, private, academic and uniformed services sector environmental health professionals, has launched a new national assessment aimed at identifying the knowledge and training needs of retail food regulators. The NEHA is asking individuals working in retail regulatory food safety to complete a needs assessment survey, which was developed by NEHA as part of the NEHA-FDA Retail Flexible Funding Model (RFFM) Grant Program. The findings will be used by NEHA to bolster educational resources, reduce knowledge gaps and improve workforce capabilities to help ensure safe retail food for the public.
“This assessment is essentially a national census of the retail food regulatory community. It is significant for both what it includes and who it surveys,” said Rance Baker, director of the Entrepreneurial Zone department at NEHA. “With so many competing interests pursuing the same financial resources, it is important that we determine where the training dollars are needed most. This survey will look at the intersection between curricula and needs in the retail food regulatory community to identify the gaps in the integrated food safety system.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, restaurants were hit hard. Fine dining sales dropped by more than 90%, casual dining was down 75%, and fast casual decreased by 65%. Nearly two years later, the restaurant industry is still reeling. Most restaurants experienced huge financial losses, and many couldn’t survive. Our industry continues to deal with supply chain disruptions, rising prices, skyrocketing rent, labor shortages and other major challenges. To make matters worse, new COVID variants and surging cases has consumers on their couches watching Netflix and avoiding dining out.
Back in March 2020, delivery orders surged by 67%, and now 60% of American consumers order takeout or delivery at least once a week. Online ordering is growing 300% faster than in-house dining. And operators are discovering a colossal opportunity: Ghost kitchens.
Ghost kitchens allow operators to utilize commercial kitchens without the overhead (and expense) of a full restaurant space and staff. They focus solely on prepping and cooking “to go” orders, and don’t have the option of onsite dining.
While the business model may have shifted, ghost kitchens still need to prioritize food safety and quality, just as traditional restaurant kitchens do. As such, they should:
Embrace digital tools. Tech tools make food safety and quality assurance much easier to manage. Use digital tools to elevate food safety checklists and audits, track ingredient lists, manage allergen information, spot trends, etc. These solutions can help staff manage food safety processes, quickly, easily, efficiently and accurately.
Use sensors. Install digital sensors to check equipment. For instance, these tools can alert the team if a refrigerator or freezer door is accidentally left open, or if temperatures drop below a certain level. Digital thermometers are also essential to check food temps and to ensure foods are cooked properly.
Use tech tools for ongoing training. All workers must be trained in food safety, not just upon hiring, but throughout their tenure. Use tech tools to provide regular training and safety reminders. Send small “chunks” of information right to employees’ phones and provide online resources so they have valuable information right at their fingertips. Communicate regularly with employees, sending updates on COVID protocols and other important safety information.
Be transparent. Food safety practices used to happen “behind the scenes.” Restaurant guests just assumed that employees were taking proper safety precautions. Today, though, everyone’s demanding safer practices, and they want to see staff wearing masks, more frequent sanitation of high touch surfaces, proper social distancing, etc. Since ghost kitchens are a virtual business, you’ll have to proactively spotlight the safety and quality protocols you follow to reassure customers (and prospects) that you take safety very seriously.
Use social media to spotlight your safe practices. Traditional restaurants display health inspection letter grades and reports in their dining areas or storefront windows. Since ghost kitchens don’t have storefronts or dining areas, you’ll need to find new ways to spotlight your commitment to safety. Post information on your website and social media platforms about your meticulous attention to safety and quality to make customers feel safe ordering from you.
Audit differently. Pre-COVID, restaurants and other commercial kitchens had third-party auditors come onsite occasionally to inspect their facilities. Now, food businesses—including ghost kitchens—must audit differently, especially when travel restrictions and other COVID-related disruptions make in-person auditing unfeasible. Use a combination of regular self-assessments, remote auditing, and onsite inspections (when possible) to ensure safety protocols are being followed, the facilities are spotless, equipment is working properly, etc. Previously, in-person audits were often viewed as punitive, with the Big, Bad Auditor coming onsite to point out a company’s mistakes. Now, teams are more engaged and invested in the process, making these inspections more collaborative and cooperative. Also, operators are conducting more frequent remote audits and self-inspections, rather than annual or bi-annual onsite audits, which is a great way to identify (and fix) infractions before they become liabilities.
Prioritize food safety. Even though your business model may have changed from a traditional restaurant to a ghost kitchen, your focus on food safety must remain top-of-mind. Follow food safety protocols: Cook to proper temps, store foods properly, don’t cross-contaminate, accommodate food allergies, etc. In addition, be sure everyone on your team follows COVID protocols: Frequent sanitation of high-touch areas, frequent hand washing, social distancing, masking and not working when ill.
Only work with vendors that prioritize food safety. Be aware of your vendors’ food safety policies. Only work with suppliers that adhere to the strictest safety and quality standards, and make sure that they’re properly certified. New software solutions allow you to easily manage and track supplier certifications.
Accommodate food-allergic guests. Train your staff about food allergies. Have a knowledgeable manager carefully oversee meal prep (and answer questions) for food-allergic customers. Designate an allergy-friendly prep area where foods can be prepared without contamination risk. Use clean and sanitized utensils to prepare allergy-friendly foods. Mark food-allergic guests’ meals with a frill pick or special colored container. Put allergy-friendly meals in separate containers for delivery so there’s no risk of cross-contamination.
Deliver foods safely. Delivery-only concepts must ensure that foods are kept safe from their kitchen to their customers’ homes. Your drivers should have equipment to keep foods at proper temperatures—hot foods hot, cold foods cold—during delivery. Drivers should also sanitize their hands frequently, including after they touch doorknobs, doorbells, money, pens, etc.
Ghost kitchens are an exciting new chapter for our industry. It has been wonderful to see savvy operators pivot to this new business model to accommodate increased consumer demand for “to go” meal options. While ghost kitchens operate without the overhead and infrastructure of traditional restaurants, they still must prioritize food safety every day, for every shift and every meal.
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.
This week the final episode of the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series takes place, and appropriately closes out with an afternoon of insights about navigating a career in food safety. The following is the agenda for Thursday’s episode, which begins at 12 pm ET.
A Modern, Multi-Layered Approach to Professional Development in Food Safety, with Darin Detwiler, Northeastern University
What I Wish I Had Known Early in My FSQ Career, with Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach and Tia Glave, Tia Glave Consulting
Mentorship Minute and Career Development Journey: From QA Technician to SVP, a conversation between Deborah Coviello, Illumination Partners and Brian Perry, TreeHouse Foods
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.
Dr. Kathryn Birmingham, one of ImEPIK’s PCQI training experts, provides guidance to Juan, a future PCQI in a plant that receives ingredients for ready-to-eat energy bars.
Juan: I’m new on the food safety team at a small company and the next person to be trained as a PCQI. Our team wants to make sure we are meeting the requirements in our food safety plan under the Preventive Controls for Human Food Rule in FSMA. There are a lot of players along our ingredients supply chain. Who is ultimately responsible for product safety?
Kathryn Birmingham: As you know Juan, if you manufacture, process, hold or pack an ingredient or food product, food safety is your responsibility. For all of the players along the supply chain FSMA focuses on risk assessment and identifying hazards and preventive controls when required. Your team must have a plan and implement verification activities for the supply chain preventive controls for the food ingredients with hazards you have identified needing a control.
Juan: So, we are sourcing chocolate from a number of suppliers or our bars. They all provide COAs with the shipment that tell us the chocolate is manufactured to be free of pathogens like Salmonella. Usually we get a laboratory report on the sample testing for vegetative pathogens from the supplier for each shipment. We put that in our food safety plan to verify that the hazard was controlled by the supplier. But one of the suppliers has not provided sample testing results we requested. We have finished product to get out the door, but we have to ensure our product doesn’t harm consumers. On top of that, we can’t risk a costly product recall.
Kathryn: Right, Juan. That Certificate of Analysis may not be enough to verify that your chocolate supplier is effectively controlling for the hazard of Salmonella. For your product process flow the chocolate will never have a kill step to mitigate the hazard. If you cannot be sure that the hazard has been significantly minimized or prevented before receipt of the chocolate – per section 117.410 in the PCHF Rule – you have some choices to make. If you are using a foreign supplier there are considerations if the supplier is or is not in compliance with the FDA’s Foreign Supplier Verification Program.
Juan: So it looks like we may have to take on the cost and additional time of sample testing?
Kathryn: Remember, supplier approval is based on performance. If your supplier does not give you the evidence for verification you may need to conduct an onsite audit, perform sampling and testing and review other supplier records. You decide if the supplier meets your Supply Chain Control Program or Foreign Supply Chain Control Program.
Juan: My team members need to learn more about what we need to do to comply with FSMA and the PCHF Rule. Tell me about what we can learn through PCQI training.
Kathryn: Preventive Controls Qualified Individuals are trained in a methodical process for decision-making on hazards and preventive controls. The best training fosters a positive food safety culture and includes practice on team scenarios.
A PCQI must be able to identify hazards associated with a product and process, determine the appropriate preventive controls and develop associated monitoring and corrective actions for hazards that are identified. PCQIs must also establish and implement appropriate verification activities for the application of preventive controls. All of that is included in the food safety plan they oversee.
Juan: What choices do we have for online PCQI training?
Kathryn: First choose your food safety team members. If your company is registering with the FDA you are required to have at least one PCQI at each facility. Most companies train multiple or back up employees for the PCQI role to ensure they are covered during vacations, sick time, various shifts or employee turnover.
Look for courses that include the FDA’s standard curriculum, like ImEPIK’s PCQI Online. The PCHF Rule does not require that PCQIs hold a specific training certificate, but FDA inspectors want to see that the PCQI has been successful in a training with the requisite learning objectives and content. There are many PCQI training options on the market. Some providers claim that their training is the only accepted training – that’s simply not true.
Look for courses that have a multiple of scenarios with different food products and challenge situations for practice and wider breadth of learning.
ImEPIK’s PCQI Course is interactive and 100% online. The ten-module training is entirely self-paced thus does not require travel or scheduling on-line webinars or sessions. You simply log in, work through the course as you have time, and earn your completion certificate to document in your food safety plan. If you take a break, the work you have done will be saved, and you pick up where you left off when you return to the course. This allows for reflection and practice in the workplace as you move through the modules.
It’s an ever changing environment for the food safety professional and quality training makes a big difference in keeping up with changes and staying regulatory compliant. Take PCQI Online and position yourself and your facility for food safety success.
About Kathryn Birmingham, Ph.D
Kathryn Birmingham, Ph.D., is Chief Operating Officer of ImEPIK. Birmingham leads the company’s course development teams and ensures that the online training solutions are of high quality. She is certified as a Lead Instructor to teach the FSPCA’s Preventive Controls Qualified Individual course.
Dr. Birmingham taught graduate and doctoral students at the University of Florida and served as Dean of Arts and Sciences at Florida State College. At the latter she lead the Biotechnology Degree program and Institute for Food Safety analytical lab. She was Principal Investigator (PI) for its National Science Foundation studies.
Energy usage has increased worldwide, especially with everyone isolated due to COVID-19. That translates to higher costs across most sectors. The Energy Information Agency (EIA) expects U.S. electricity consumption to grow by 2.1% this year.
Coupled with the rising adoption of renewable energy and green initiatives, it makes sense to cut down on electricity consumption as much as possible. Commercial operations, food manufacturers included, could stand to benefit from reduced energy usage.
The question isn’t necessarily “why,” but “how.” What can food manufacturers and similar commercial providers do to reduce electricity requirements? What are some ways to minimize consumption and achieve efficient food production processes?
1. Energy Audits
Process and energy audits are a must. How could one hope to improve a system without understanding everything there is to know about it? More specifically, how could a company reduce energy consumption if they don’t know where, when and how it’s being used? That’s why energy and resource audits are crucial to optimization. It doesn’t matter whether they are conducted in-house or by a third party. What’s important is that they are accurate and detailed.
Inspectors will examine heating, refrigeration and cooling systems, facility processes, equipment, infrastructure, and beyond. Everything that uses electricity will be part of the audit, and analysts will be able to discern how much power each component is using. The statistics then inform action, driving a reduction in energy consumption. With this information, company analysts can also create a food manufacturing cost breakdown, which can be used to improve other areas of the business.
It’s easy to draw a line between regular energy audits and improved food safety, too. The ability to continuously monitor facility equipment performance means a lower chance of failure and more consistent quality. Keeping a digital eye on optimal performance means a reduced risk of one machine negatively impacting others if it begins performing suboptimally or erratically.
2. Upgraded Equipment
Energy conservation is as much about improving efficiencies as it is about using less electricity overall. While not always true, as a general rule, newer equipment tends to be much more economical at utilizing electricity.
Over time, technology has improved considerably to use less power, utilize resources more effectively and incorporate new methods for completing various actions, sometimes with significant performance boosts. In other words, new equipment can bring energy consumption down and will also improve productivity and output. Because it’s not cost-effective to replace equipment often, that’s precisely where audit information comes in handy.
The best practice would be to replace equipment before it malfunctions or breaks down, but also after it has declined in performance and efficiency. It would mean constantly analyzing equipment through real-time metrics and statistics.
Better production, more output, and fewer costs lead to greater profit, so it’s worth the investment.
More efficient and modern equipment typically features other upgraded components that impact performance and food safety as well, including updated materials, tighter tolerances, and improved microbial and viral resistance. Next-generation food prep and packaging stations that automate sanitation using ultraviolet (UV) light are examples.
3. Retooled Infrastructure
If the operation is located in an older building, it’s likely that much of the existing infrastructure and equipment is not just dated but also less efficient.
For example, traditional lighting sources use a lot more energy than LED or smart lighting solutions. HVAC systems may be non-existent or extremely outdated. Even facilities that are just a few years old may have obsolete elements.
This stretches far beyond the basics such as lighting to include power and utility components. A well-built and quality transformer setup will save money over time, for example. Replacing aging equipment can save food processing plants cash in the long run.
Investing in a transformer that doesn’t use a liquid cooling agent gives plant owners more options as they can be placed indoors or outdoors. They also have other business benefits, like longer lifecycles, lower fire risks, a more eco-friendly operation, and higher efficiency. A lower risk of fires, smoke intrusion and other destructive events also means greater security and peace of mind for delicate and perishable foods and food components.
Upgrading these components is more cost-effective than moving to a new location or building a whole new facility. It is often these kinds of incremental hardware and operational updates that can offer the best impact.
4. Better Refrigeration and Cooling
In 2019, the EIA reported that the commercial food sector used 154 billion kilowatt-hours of energy on cooling alone. That’s nearly 4% of the entire country’s annual energy usage. It isn’t just because cooling systems are running constantly year-round. It’s also because many companies refuse to upgrade to more efficient solutions.
Refrigeration is a massive energy hog. So how can it be improved? There are several ways:
More efficient motors
Reduced and more effective use of refrigeration space for walk-ins
Smarter fans with variable frequency drives (VFDs)
Renewable energy farms
Intermittent absorption refrigeration
Food waste at the retail and consumer levels amounts to 30–40% of the United States’ total output and billions of tons per year. Better and more reliable refrigeration technology at every stage of the supply chain, including warehouses and vehicles, means less food wasted worldwide and greater security for products at rest and in transit.
5. Monitor, Automate and Notify
Through real-time monitoring and automated processes, managers and operations teams can take action to reduce consumption. For instance, let’s say an employee walks away from a piece of equipment and leaves it powered on. With traditional equipment, that machine would continue draining power and increasing costs.
With automated and smart equipment, a notification would be sent to the appropriate administrator, who can then send out an order to have the machine shut down. Moreover, this can all happen within an instant, and administrators can be off-site and notified remotely.
Even better, the process could be improved further by installing an IoT sensor that automatically turns off the hardware after an expiration period.
An energy dashboard, accessible via mobile platforms, would allow facility managers to keep an eye on resource consumption, general costs, and operations no matter where they are. Creating a unified and always-on system with automation is definitely possible with the help of modern technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT).
The cost of food supply chain recalls stands at 48 million illnesses and $55.5 billion per year in productivity losses, amelioration efforts and the rest of the fallout. As with the other points made here, an investment in higher-efficiency equipment with lower power requirements translates to dividends elsewhere.
More efficient and widely connected machines in the supply chain mean fewer opportunities for failure and pricey recalls. This also leads to ongoing cost savings, which begin on day one.
6. Educate Employees
A cultural response to energy reductions can also have a huge impact. By training and educating employees on the importance of energy conservation, companies can gain an edge. This could include steps as simple as turning off the lights when departing an unoccupied room, remembering to power down equipment, or discussing more effective techniques.
If and when people are armed with the correct knowledge, they can make more informed decisions. The idea is to build a culture around energy conservation, operational efficiencies, and smarter utilization. Make it a team-based practice so everyone holds themselves accountable and values the initiative.
Cultivating mindfulness in this area of the company’s culture translates elsewhere, too. Safeguarding against unsafe habits, incorrect equipment usage and improper handling techniques, and encouraging workspace sanitization, is everybody’s responsibility.
Whether it’s saving money on electricity for the company’s and planet’s sake or protecting the customer from product defects, ongoing education makes for a stronger culture and a more reliable product.
Make It Happen
The longer a manufacturer continues to operate without efficient solutions in place like the ones discussed in this column, the greater the energy consumption levels and the higher the expenses. It is beneficial to all to adopt some of these practices as soon as possible, and there’s no question that it will result in higher profits. In several ways, some less obvious than others, this efficiency transformation means safer products, employees and customers, too.
As energy prices continue to climb across all sectors and the impact on the environment mounts, it makes sense to reduce consumption, find smarter sources like renewable energy, and upgrade equipment, processes and operations accordingly.
Color-coding as a quality assurance and safety measure has been on the rise since the passage of FSMA in 2011. Now, 10 years later, color-coding is being used in a wide range of industries from food manufacturers and processors to pharmaceutical developers and even brewers. As the popularity of the practice of color-coding has increased, so too has the market for color-coded tools. Nowadays, those in the industry can find virtually every high-quality cleaning tool under the sun, and a hygienic tools storage option for that tool in the color needed. The improved quality and availability of these products is wonderful, but nice tools alone cannot ensure a successful color-coding plan. Color-coding compliance is only possible when there is team-wide buy-in. That means meeting the team where they are—making the plan important to every single employee who steps onto a production floor. To do that, it needs to be introduced in an inclusive manner. The following are some tips for creating and implementing an inclusive color-coding plan.
Draw Up the Plan With Folks Beyond Management
Before you ever lock in a color-coding plan—whether you plan to color-code by zone, by allergen or by shifts—you first need to consult a wide range of team members. One common mistake is developing a color-coding plan with only quality assurance experts and those in management. This presents a problem for a couple of reasons.
One, you’re missing out on the perspective of those who will most often be asked to execute the plan. Say you choose the color purple as one of the colors in your color-coding plan, and you purchase all of the tools you think you will need in that color. You roll out the plan only to find out there’s an essential tool you need, and it doesn’t come in that color. You now have a problem on your hands, and a costly one at that, as you’re going to need to start over with a new color and new tools.
Beyond needing that on-the-ground perspective, you miss out on a key opportunity to gain buy-in early on from those who will be directly involved in carrying out the plan. Do yourself a favor and invite shift leaders to the table. Explain to them what you would like to do with a color-coding plan and listen to any advice they might have on executing a plan everyone is going to want to see succeed. Generally speaking, it pays to go with a big-tent approach to planning, so spend some time thinking about which parties should be represented in the planning process to capture all of the varying viewpoints of those at your facility.
Ensure the Plan Is Color-Blind Friendly
As selecting colors is one of the most important things you do in drafting a color-coding plan,pay special attention to the colors themselves. Color-blindness affects 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women—certainly not a negligible amount, and something you want to take into consideration.
Once you figure out all of the tools you need, determine which colors can accommodate those needs. From that list, try to avoid the most commonly confused color pairings in your plan. Red and green, green and brown, green and blue, blue and gray, blue and purple, green and grey, and green and black are the most commonly confused. If possible, avoid using those color combinations. Instead, opt for high-contrast options such as orange and purple, purple and yellow, or blue and yellow to name a few.
Some people will also look to shades to help achieve a higher contrast. For example, lime green and a maroon red is much better for a color-blind person than your standard royal red and shamrock green. These days more tools are available in varied shades but, again, you need to ensure that you’re able to get every tool you need now—and in the foreseeable future—in the color you pick.
Should you need to use colors that are not high-contrast, do your best to keep those tools separate. If you are color-coding by zone, use the most commonly confused color combinations on the opposite ends of the facility, where they are less likely to swap places. You can also help by using tool storage boards such as shadow boards or wall racks that are color-coded to match the tools. That way, tools always go back to the same place after each use.
Employ Multilingual Trainings and Signage
Generally speaking, the food industry is particularly diverse, and many facilities employ staff whose first language is not English. Work with your HR team and managers to identify which languages are primarily spoken among your staff and ensure you can offer trainings on the color-coding plan in all of those languages. Frequently, facilities have employees who are multilingual and can therefore translate during a training session. If not, it may be wise to hire a translator. This presents a nominal fee, whereas an employee failing to follow a color-coding plan could have disastrous consequences.
It is also important to ensure that any signage you have explaining the color-coding plan is available in the primary languages of the employees.
Make Use of Different Teaching Methods
Just as in the classroom, employees come to work with different learning styles. It’s up to the employer to meet those different needs with varying teaching styles and materials that speak to the importance of the color-coding plan. For the auditory learners, an all-hands meeting where a leader explains the importance of color-coding is going to be great. For the visual learners, handouts and permanent signage throughout your facility will be appreciated.
Meanwhile, tactile learners might want to run through a practice of grabbing tools, seeing where they will be used and returning them to their designated storage spot to see the plan in action. While asking employees to go through these different teachings might draw some eye-rolls for those who feel they grasped the concept the first time, the exercise might help make the color-coding plan click for someone who struggled to understand what they were being asked to do. Additionally, repetition helps all learners, so revisit these trainings to refresh veteran staff and bring newer folks up to speed.
Finally, invite employees to share feedback with you along the way. An inclusive culture is one that allows everyone to have a voice. Make it clear that team members are welcome to share any feedback they have on the color-coding plan, the trainings and tools along the way. Once again, in the interest of accommodating everyone, it’s a good idea to offer multiple avenues for feedback reporting. You might like to invite employees to share feedback directly with managers and also offer an anonymous suggestion box that gets checked regularly. Every facility and every staff has unique needs, so listening to the suggestions that come your way can help shed light on important considerations.
Navigating the murky waters that COVID-19 presents has been no easy task for food companies. Being part of America’s critical infrastructure has meant that adapting to the pandemic has been unavoidable, and the industry has directly taken on the challenges to ensure the nation has a reliable food supply. But what about the frontline workers, their safety and how this ties into operational continuity as a whole? During last week’s episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, an expert panel discussed the practices that food companies have put in place during the pandemic and offered advice on managing the entire scope of COVID-19 challenges including screening employees and preventing infection transmission, safeguarding workers and the facility, administrative and engineering controls, education and training, and risk management.
“No doubt that it is a concert of controls and interventions that have allowed our industry to effectively combat this over the past several months,” said Sanjay Gummalla, senior vice president of scientific affairs at the American Frozen Foods Institute. “By and large, the industry has taken charge of this situation in a way that could not have been predicted.” Gummalla was joined by Trish Wester, founder of the Association for Food Safety Auditing Professionals and Melanie Neumann, executive vice president and general counsel for Matrix Sciences International.
First up, the COVID Czar—what is it and does your company have one? According to Neumann, this is a designated person, located both within a production facility as well as at the corporate location, who manages the bulk of the requirements and precautions that companies should be undertaking to address the pandemic. “We’re not trained in people safety—we’re trained in food safety,” said Neumann. “And it’s a lot to ask, especially on top of having to manage food safety.”
Some of the takeaways during the discussion include:
Administrative controls that must be managed: Appropriate cleaning, disinfection and sanitation; PPE; employee hygiene; shift management; and surveillance mechanisms
PPE: “It’s really clear now that face masks and coverings are critical in managing source control—it prevents the spread and protects other employees,” said Gummalla. “All employees wearing masks present the highest level of protection.” When the attendees were polled about whether face coverings are mandatory where they work, 91% answered ‘yes’.
Engineering controls within facility: Physical distancing measures such as plexiglass barriers, six-foot distance markings, traffic movement, limited employees, and hand sanitizer stations. “Engineering controls in a facility involve isolation from the virus,” said Gummalla. “In this case, controlling [and] reducing the exposure to the virus without relying on specific worker behavior. This is where facilities have implemented a great amount of thoughtful intervention, probably at a high capital cost as well.” Companies should also consider airflow management, which can involving bringing in an outside professional with expertise in negative and positive air pressure, advised Wester.
Verification activities and enterprise risk management: Neumann emphasized the importance of documentation as well as advising companies to apply a maturity model (similar to a food safety culture maturity model) to a COVID control program. The goal is to ensure that employees are following certain behaviors when no one is watching. “We want to be able to go from ‘told’ to ‘habit’,” she said.
Education and training: Using posters, infographics, brochures and videos, all of which are multilingual, to help emphasize that responsibility lies with every employee. “It is important to recognize the transmission is predominately is person to person,” said Gummalla. Do you have a daily huddle? Neumann suggests having a regular dialogue with employees about COVID.
The future, 2021 and beyond: Does your company have a contingency, preparedness or recovery plan? “The next six months are going to be critical; in many parts of the world, the worse is not over yet,” said Gummalla. “There will be a lot more innovation in our industry, and communication will be at the heart of all of this.”
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