Tag Archives: training

Laura Gutierrez Becerra
Women in Food Safety

Understanding Career Motivators Leads to Success

By Laura Gutierrez Becerra
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Laura Gutierrez Becerra

On behalf of the Women In Food Safety Group, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to interview Garry Hellmich, food safety and quality director at General Mills, and learn about his career path and leadership in food safety. During our discussion, Garry shared his perspective on how to continuously support and pursue women’s development, and offered advice to young female professionals who are interested in pursuing and/or expanding on a food safety career journey. Garry holds a food science degree from Purdue University and has dedicated his career to taking a preventive, risk-based mitigation approach to food through the supply chain and maintaining holistic quality management during the product lifecycle. His vast expertise lies in the food manufacturing sector where he started his career at Kroger and the Quaker Oats Company. From there, Garry built his experience through professional learning and getting promoted at Pillsbury and General Mills. His current responsibilities involve leading a large and high-performing global team of food safety subject matter experts at General Mills. He also shared some of his personal hobbies, which to no surprise includes cooking and baking—one of his signature personal favorites is chocolate truffles.

Garry believes in the power of continuously assessing yourself to identify and understand what your career motivators are in order to support career development. “Build your professional career, own your career and plan ahead,” he advises. Also, actively seeking career sponsors and mentors, and ensuring a dynamic team by building gender equality and diversity is key. “Food safety is not a competitive advantage—only the speed with which proactive risk mitigation is achieved is competitive,” says Hellmich.

Garry Hellmich, General Mills
Garry Hellmich, food safety and quality director at General Mills

Gutierrez Becerra: Tell us about how your career began and led you to where you are today.

Garry Hellmich: I am a food scientist; I received a food science degree from Purdue University. I have more that 35+ years of progressive quality and food safety responsibility in the food industry, including experience in RTE cereals, hot cereals, dry mixes, convenience & food service and dry meals. I started my professional career at Kroger and The Quaker Oats Company, and then in 1991, I joined General Mills (including Pillsbury) where I continued leading in food safety and quality. My first job functions in the food industry were as a laboratory technician responsible for conducting routine micro testing and quality production, as a supervisor responsible for managing the quality of incoming raw material for production release and vendor relationships.

Gutierrez Becerra: What persuaded and motivated you to focus your career on food safety?

Hellmich: I spent three years in college while pursuing a major in pharmacy. After realizing it was not the right thing for me, I decided to take a year off. During the break, while trying to figure out what to do and having lunch with my grandma, she triggered the question: Why don’t you do something involving food—you love food. Then, while conversing with other family members who worked in the food industry, I became inspired and motivated to get a food science degree. I returned to Purdue to continue school with a major in food science. I started my career at different companies, learning about the importance of food safety and implementing [those principles] right away. Pillsbury developed HACCP for NASA, so risk analysis and overall HACCP development have been key throughout my career in both quality and food safety. I enjoy working for the food industry and the fact that I can work to solve many different types of problems. For example, going back to early times in my career, we faced a product recall due to a physical hazard; we assessed the problem and emphasized the importance of hazard analysis and control measures. In addition to working through a recall and leading specific actions to manage it, I gained experience on how to ensure the demand of all impacted retail and foodservice customers is met. And also, I was inspired and motivated by the strong food industry collaboration on a prompted technical and safety solution.

Gutierrez Becerra: What has being a leader in food safety brought you at both a professional and personal level?

Hellmich: There is huge pride when seeing products on the shelf based on a project you have worked on, and this has had a personal impact as well. In working with professionals in food development—they love to see their products on the shelf and so do I; I am proud of the work they have done. [In this business], there is always an interesting problem that needs to be solved, and we gain experience from working on these challenging issues, and it helps us grow. For example, in the 90’s an allergen incident directed me to lead an effort to develop an enhanced allergen protection program at the manufacturing level, which achieved our goal to reduce consumer allergen risk going forward.

Gutierrez Becerra: What have you learned from partnering and working with women throughout your career journey?

Hellmich: I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of talented and qualified women. About 20 years ago, I was interviewing candidates for a job opening. After presenting my candidate selection (a male candidate), my manager (a female leader) challenged me with the question: Why you didn’t choose the other female candidate who was equivalent when it came to experience and would balance the team from a gender standpoint? Later in my career, I kept gender balance in my mind. You can instantly recognize that the dynamic changes when female leaders join a team. Gender diversity is important for success. Forty years ago, General Mills was a male-dominated company. Then, with an idea of making changes, the company decided to hire many female food scientists with PhDs. Today, we have almost a 50-50 gender balance within the company.

Gutierrez Becerra: What would be your number one piece of advice to young women, students and professionals who are planning to become leaders in food safety?

Hellmich: I think it is very important to identify your career motivators, whether it is [tackling] challenges, having work-life balance, job security or advancement. The first step is to assess and know yourself, and what is important for you to pursue in your career. For me, it has been security and to create value. I have stayed in food safety and quality for my entire career, despite having the opportunity to move into other areas. I have always been honest with myself on what motivates my career and what I want to achieve.

I’d like to share a story with you: One of my first female team members was about to turn down an offer for a manager position that involved moving to a different location. The reason was that there was no childcare available at the new location. I advised her to discuss her career motivators with her husband. Ultimately she ended up taking the position with the support of her husband, who stayed home as they settled down in a new city. It is important to think beyond yourself, because your family can help you.
We are owners of our own career timeline, and realizing your own expectations is important—they are different for everyone based on family and personal factors. And lastly, always invest in creating value, which will help you move up within an organization. Look ahead and make your plan. When starting a career, make sure it’s your own.

My advice for a new college graduate is that in the real world, it’s all about application. Learn as much as you can in your current role and make an investment in yourself. Be available to support your team in any capacity that will help you learn and gain experience. Always learn something new and be ready when the next opportunity comes to you.

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

Hellmich: A good mentor of mine once told me that ultimately, one key way to move up is to make your boss look good and to always be prepared to take on any of your manager’s and/or any other employee’s responsibilities when needed. Being always prepared is the highest investment you can make; focus on continuously learning a new leadership and technical skill at any position level. It’s very important to know the difference between choosing career sponsors and mentors. A mentor is assigned, and sponsor is created. A mentor advises you, while sponsors advocate for you and provide opportunities. People tend to become sponsors when they see that you create value to the team and the organization. Hence, the more value you continuously create to the organization, the further you will go.

In closing, I’d like to point out four key areas to keep in mind throughout your career: 1. Assess and know yourself; 2.Understand your career motivators; 3. Build a network of mentors for all areas of growth you are interested in; and 4. Create trust with your line of sponsors so you can truly grow yourself and earn your own career path in the long run.

food safety tech

Food Labs/Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference Includes FDA Comments on Proposed Lab Accreditation Rule

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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food safety tech

Next month join Food Safety Tech and Cannabis Industry Journal for the virtual conference, Food Labs / Cannabis Labs. The event is complimentary for attendees and will be held Tuesday, June 2 through Friday, June 5 (each day the event begins at 11 am ET). The event was originally planned as an in-person event but was converted to a virtual conference as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event kicks off with FDA’s comments on the proposed FSMA laboratory accreditation rule, which will be presented by FDA’s Timothy McGrath and Donald Burr. Other session highlights include FSMA’s impact on labs; navigating the regulatory pitfalls of cannabis lab testing; the evolution of the lab testing market; documentary standards and reference materials; and vulnerability assessment frameworks and food fraud mitigation strategies. Many of the educational sessions will be followed by Tech Talks, which will be provided by sponsors in the laboratory technology or service provider fields, who will educate attendees about solutions that can assist in the food lab and/or cannabis lab environment.

More than 500 people have already registered to attend! Don’t miss this unique opportunity and register now. Please note that only registrants who attend the live event will have access to the recording.

For companies interested in Tech Talk opportunities, Contact RJ Palermo (203-667-2212). Tuesday and Wednesday are sold out.

Brian Sharp, SafetyChain Software
FST Soapbox

How Are Companies Impacted by Labor Shortages?

By Brian Sharp
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Brian Sharp, SafetyChain Software

Food and beverage manufacturers are seeing the effects of the coronavirus when it spreads through their workforce. Recently, there have been multiple closures of facilities operated by meat processors, including Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods as COVID-19 has infected hundreds of workers.

The backdrop of stressful operations and work: Employees now face increased questions before entering plants and feelings of isolation as lunches and breaks are now solo activities due to social distancing. All of these stressors are compounded when you think about what we’re asking them to do: Go into work and keep food on the grocery store shelves. This is a completely new way to operate, and it has a very real emotional effect on our workers.

We’ve received reports from customers where management is getting out of the back office and putting on hairnets to work the production line. The shortage of workers is a very real problem, and our customers are rising to the challenge. Plus, managing this overall labor shortage while doing more safety and sanitation checks than ever before to make sure transmission risks are eliminated is putting stress on everyone working in plants. It’s never been harder to work in the food industry.

In response to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s actions related to the pandemic, we stand behind any effort that is taken to accommodate the needs of these vital, valuable workers, including the executive order to provide supplemental paid sick leave. Such actions, both locally here in California and at the federal level, are critical to elevating the safety of our food manufacturing and distribution workers. Some heroes wear hairnets.

Temp Workers and Lack of Training Protocols

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the availability of skilled workers in food facilities. Through all the layoffs stemming from the economic standstill, food manufacturers and grocery workers are reporting increases in hiring to help keep up with demand—and to mitigate the effects of sick employees going on quarantine for two weeks. For instance, Albertson’s, a large food grocery chain store, reported that it was hiring for 2,000 positions.

But hiring temporary workers is only half the battle. The task of training people who may have never worked in grocery or food manufacturing has become more critical in the face of new demands on sanitation and social distancing. With these measures in place, it’s no longer a case of a new employee showing up for work and shadowing another employee or supervisor. Technology can close the gap, especially in food production where the regulations and safety standards require strict adherence to processes. For example, software can facilitate shorter employee training in the areas of quality policies and good documentation practices.

Same Volume with Fewer Workers

We are working closely with customers and partners to cope with new guidelines for social distancing inside food facilities, providing the capability to do remote audits as visitor restrictions have increased. Our software is also being used to screen food manufacturing workers for symptoms of COVID-19 before shift work starts to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus to other essential workers.

In response to increased needs from customers, we have developed three solutions to address the impact of COVID-19. These solutions, which include a personnel screener, changeover manager and remote supplier auditor, can help food and beverage manufacturers efficiently manage physical distancing measures, symptom screening, and travel restrictions.

It can’t be stressed enough: The people who carry out food safety protocols are doing more checks and using more labor time to conform to regulations and guidelines for COVID-19. And, adhering to the systems, regulations and processes used to promote safe, high-quality products (in the same or even higher volumes) remains as crucial as ever. Simplifying these processes by leveraging software has been shown to cut 8 to12 hours of labor per day for a single facility. This is critical at a time when even one person being sick can cause lower throughput.

Plus, this isn’t like manufacturing a car where a line will be built to produce hundreds of thousands of cars over a two- to three-year period. Food manufacturers must often change a line over to produce a different flavor, package type or food type altogether, in as little time as possible to keep production going. Robots and automation can help, but in a crisis like this where immediate productivity gains are needed, software can make the much-needed difference.

Angelica Grindle, DEKRA

Four Steps for Utilizing Behavioral Science to Control Exposure to COVID-19

By Angelica Grindle, Ph.D.
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Angelica Grindle, DEKRA

Safety is defined as controlling exposure for self and others. Going into 2020, the food industry battled safety concerns such as slips and falls, knife cuts, soft-tissue injuries, etc. As an “essential industry”, food-related organizations now face a unique challenge in controlling exposure to COVID-19. Not only must they keep their facilities clean and employees safe, they must also ensure they do not create additional exposures for their suppliers or customers.

These challenges increase at a time when employees may be distracted by stress, financial uncertainties, job insecurity, and worry for themselves and their families. Additionally, facilities may be understaffed, employees may be doing tasks they do not normally do, and we have swelling populations working from home.

While there is much we cannot control with COVID-19, there are specific behaviors that will reduce the risk of viral exposure for ourselves, our co-workers, and our communities. Decades of research show the power of behavioral science in increasing the consistency of safe behaviors. The spread of COVID-19 serves as an important reminder of what food-related organizations can gain by incorporating a behavioral component into a comprehensive exposure-reduction process.

Whether you have an existing behavior based safety process or not, follow these four steps.

Step 1: Pinpoint Critical COVID-19 Exposure Reduction Behaviors

It is critical to clearly pinpoint the behaviors you want to see occurring at a high rate. In the food industry, an organization must control exposure both within their facilities as well as during interactions with suppliers and customers. Controlling exposure within facilities will typically include those behaviors recommended by the CDC such as:

  1. Maintain six feet of separation at all times possible.
  2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  3. Minimize personal interactions to reduce exposure to transmit or receive pathogens.
  4. Frequent 20-second hand washing with soap and warm water.
  5. Make hand disinfectant available.
  6. Use alternatives to shaking hands.
  7. Frequently clean and disinfect common areas, such as meeting rooms, bathrooms, doorknobs, countertops, railings, and light switches.
  8. Sneeze and/or cough into elbow or use a tissue and immediately discard.
  9. Conduct meetings via conferencing rather than in person.
  10.  If you are sick, stay home.
  11. If exposed to COVID-19, self-quarantine for precaution and protection of others.

Supplier/Customer exposure-reduction behaviors will vary depending upon your specific industry and may include pinpointing the critical behaviors for food preparation, loading dock delivery, customer home delivery, and customer pick up. When creating checklists to meet your unique exposures, be sure the behaviors you pinpoint are:

  • Measurable: The behavior can be counted or quantified.
  • Observable: The behavior can be seen or heard by an observer.
  • Reliable: Two or more people agree that they observed the same thing.
  • Active: If a dead man can do it, it is not behavior.
  • Influenceable: Under the control of the performer.

Once you have drafted your checklists, ask yourself, “If everyone in my facility did all of these behaviors all the time, would we be certain that we were controlling exposure for each other, our suppliers, and our customers?” If yes, test your checklists for ease of use and clarity.

Step 2: Develop Your Observation Process

To do this, you will want to ask yourself:

  • Who? Who will do observations? Can we leverage observer expertise from an existing process and have them focus on COVID-19 exposure reduction behaviors or should we create a new observer team?
  • Where? Which specific locations, job types, and/or tasks should be monitored?
  • When? When will observers conduct observations?
  • Data: How will you manage the data obtained during the observations so that it can be used to identify obstacles to safe performance? Can the checklist items be entered into an existing database or will we need to create something new?
  • Communication: What information needs to be communicated before we begin our COVID-19 Exposure Reduction process and over time? How will we communicate it?

Step 3: Conduct Your Observations and Provide Feedback

Starting the Observation
Your observers should explain that they are there to help reduce exposure to COVID-19 by providing feedback on performance.

Recording the Observation
Observers should note on the checklist which behaviors are occurring in a safe manner (protected) and which are increasing exposure to COVID-19 (exposed).

Provide Feedback
Feedback is given in the spirit of reducing exposure. It should be given as soon as possible after the observation to reinforce protected behaviors and give the person to opportunity to modify exposed behaviors.

Success Feedback
Success feedback helps reinforce the behaviors you want occurring consistently. Effective success feedback includes:

  • Context: The situation in which the behavior occurred.
  • Action: The specific behaviors observed which reduce exposure to COVID-19.
  • Result: The impact of those behaviors on themselves or others—in this case, reduced COVID-19 exposure for themselves, their families and community.

“I care about your safety and do not want to see you exposed to COVID-19. I saw you use hand sanitizer prior to putting on eye protection. By doing that, you reduced the likelihood of transferring anything that might have been on your hands to your face which keeps you safe from contracting COVID-19.”

Guidance Feedback

Guidance feedback is given for exposed behaviors to transform that behavior into a protected one. Effective guidance feedback includes Context, Action, Result, but also:

  • Alternative Action: The behavior that would have reduced their exposure to COVID-19.
  • Alternative Result: The impact of that alternative behavior, such as reduced COVID-19 exposure for themselves, their families, and community.

“I care about your safety and do not want to see you exposed to COVID-19. I saw that you touched your face while putting on eye protection. By doing that, you increased the likelihood of transferring anything on your hand to your face which increases your risk of exposure to COVID-19. What could you have done to reduce that exposure?”

When giving guidance feedback, it is important to have a meaningful conversation about what prevented them from doing the safe alternative. Note these obstacles on the checklist.

Step 4: Use Your Data to Remove Obstacles to Safe Practices.

Create a COVID-19 exposure reduction team to analyze observation data. This team will identify systemic or organizational obstacles to safe behavior and develop plans to remove those obstacles. This is critical! When an organization knows that many people are doing the same exposed behavior, it is imperative that they not blame the employees but instead analyze what is going on in the organization that may inadvertently be encouraging these at-risk behaviors.

For example, we know handwashing and/or sanitizing is an important COVID-19 exposure reduction behavior. However, if your employees do not have access to sinks or hand sanitizer, it is not possible for them to reduce their exposure.
Similarly, the CDC recommends that people who are sick not come to work. However, if your organization does not have an adequate sick leave policy, people will come to work sick and expose their co-workers, customers and suppliers to their illness.

Your COVID-19 exposure reduction team should develop plans to remove obstacles to safe behavior using the hierarchy of controls.

Conclusion

Consistently executing critical behaviors is key to reducing exposure to COVID-19 as flattening the curve is imperative in the worldwide fight against this pandemic. Regardless of the type of behavior or the outcome that the behavior impacts, Behavior based safety systems work by providing feedback during the observations and then using the information obtained during the feedback conversation to remove obstacles to safe practices.

By using these tips, you can add a proven and powerful tool to your arsenal in the fight against COVID-19 and help keep your employees, their families, and your community safe.

Jorge Hernandez, The Wendy's Company
Women in Food Safety

Be Proud, Be Patient: Thoughts from Jorge Hernandez

By Melody Ge
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Jorge Hernandez, The Wendy's Company

It was a great pleasure for me to speak with Jorge Hernandez, VP of quality assurance at The Wendy’s Company, on behalf of the “Women in Food Safety” group and hear his perspective and tips for young female professionals in the industry. Jorge came to the United States for his college degree (majoring in microbiology), and he stayed ever since. He started his career in the food service industry and found himself passionate about food safety. It was this passion that allowed him to go so far in his career. I totally agree with him: You can do things well when you have passion. “That’s absolutely right. I don’t look at the time I put into it. Food safety is not an easy career, but it has been worth it, and I am very proud of that,” he said. Jorge emphasized how important it is to work hard in every position throughout the career path, as nothing will be wasted. “Every success encourages me, and every non-success taught me a lesson,” he added. One piece of advice Jorge offers to our young female generation: “If you want to build a career, learn from lessons at every stage and in every opportunity. You will use them later to build something very exciting and meaningful to you that you might not realize at the moment. Be patient. [The younger generation] seems to fall in and out of love with their careers very fast. I don’t think long-term careers are built that way. With my own experience, it has built one brick at a time. There’s a win and a lesson from every step throughout the path.”

Jorge encourages all young female professionals to walk through the doors that have been opened for them, work/study hard and push themselves. Study your trade: Maybe the ceiling is not shattered just yet, but you (young female professionals) are the generation that is going to shatter it, so go for it and be proud of yourselves!

Having food safety as a career has not only brought achievements to Jorge’s professional life, but it has also impacted his personal life. He has learned so much from working in the field. One thing has kept him going is that he is never satisfied, and he is always focused on finding better solutions and seeking continuous improvement. Jorge also uses this mindset to guide his kids—and although they sometimes may find it annoying, Jorge laughed and added that it’s true that it’s hard to maintain, but it’s so important.

I asked Jorge if he would choose another path or do anything differently if he could turn the clock back to 10 years ago (e.g., being a doctor was one of his initial plans). The answer is a confident and solid “no”. Jorge found the journey, and truly believed in it. If he could go back to 10 years ago, he would still tell himself: Trust yourself, trust your path, and don’t fret over the challenges. What Jorge would say about himself now is that he is in a wonderful stage where he is able to seperate work and life emotions and brings the joy from work home. “That is something I have learned, and it has enhanced my personal life,” he said.

Jorge Hernandez, The Wendy's Company
Jorge Hernandez of The Wendy’s Company during panel discussion at the 2019 Food Safety Consortium.

Melody Ge: Tell us how you started your career and the journey to where you are today.

Jorge Hernandez: My school education and training was in microbiology and in the medical field. My goal was to become a doctor at some point. Finances fell through and I found myself in a situation where I needed to find a job. I found myself in the area of environmental health. We did all kinds of environmental health work: Water, air safety, noise pollution and food safety. The more I worked in food safety, the more I liked it, and it became more interesting to me. Eventually this turned into my career. In a way, it was one of those things that ended up being the best thing that happened to me. I discovered the passion of my life. You always have to keep your mind open to the possibilities.

Ge: Besides the passion, what makes you persevere through the obstacles in food safety industry?

Hernandez: One of the reasons that I fell in love with food safety was the fact that I could connect with people and make changes possible—whether it was in a person, process, or somewhere in the business. I’ve always been able to see the results of my effort. To me, that has been the biggest satisfaction—you can’t put a price on it, and that is what drives me.

Ge: What have you learned from working with women and bringing them through their career journey?

Hernandez: Diversity of thoughts—[whether it’s] women, men, different nationalities—they all bring a different perspective. I know I am generalizing here, but when they become leaders, they tend to be very caring for their projects and their people, and women are very good at problem solving. It makes the team stronger.

Food Safety Professionals: Earn Respect and Be True to Yourself | A panel discussion featuring Jorge Hernandez at the 2019 Food Safety ConsortiumGe: Could you please share an unforgettable story from your professional experience that had a big impact?

Hernandez: I was in a situation where I hired a young woman right out of college. She was smart, and she knew her role was going to be like. In the interview she told me that she wanted to have my job in X number of years. I brought her on board, was able to mentor her and saw her grow within her career. Like many do throughout their careers, she eventually moved on to an elevated position at a different organization. Fast forward to years later… I ran into her at a conference and she said, ‘thank you for what you did’. She is currently at a major organization as a vice president. The sparkle in her eyes and just saying ‘thank you’—it filled and rewarded me. That’s why I love what I am doing. This is a story of success. The point is: Go through the tough times—she worked through it. My job was to keep her motivated, provide guidance, and she got very far based on her skills and passion to always take her career to the next level. Being able to help people and see that growth is amazing, and it will carry with me forever.

Ge: If you could look into a crystal ball, what does the future hold for women in the food safety profession?

Hernandez: I think it’s a great time to be in food safety and quality assurance. I’d like to see more mentors stepping up—those women who have been in the industry and are being looked up to by women who are just entering the workforce. Each level takes their responsibility seriously—take that and show the way for the new folks, because we need them. We need those women and all young food safety and quality assurance professionals to be successful. They are the ones who are going to make foods safer for our families. That’s what I am excited to see. The barriers are not down, but I am very hopeful. And even with the challenges of the new generation, there are a lot of great people who will make a positive different in this industry. Those challenges will only be overcome if all of us, including the women, already in the industry, continue to mentor and grow the careers of young food safety professionals.

Steven Sklare, Food Safety Academy
Retail Food Safety Forum

Ring, Ring, Ring: COVID-19? Beware Your Filthy Cell Phone

By Steven Sklare
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Steven Sklare, Food Safety Academy

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the rest of the world has embraced one of the well-known mantras of the food safety profession: Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. It is equally urgent that we expand that call to arms (or hands) a bit to include: Sanitize your cell phone, sanitize your cell phone, sanitize your cell phone.

A typical cell phone has approximately 25,000 germs per square inch compared to a toilet seat, which has approximately 1200 germs per square inch, a pet bowl with approximately 2100 germs per square inch, a doorknob with 8600 germs per square inch and a check-out screen with approximately 4500 germs per square inch.

Back in the day, when restaurants were still open for a sit-down, dining room meal, during a visit to an upscale Chicago restaurant I had the need to use the restroom. As I left the restroom, an employee, in kitchen whites, walked into the restroom with his cell phone in his hand. It hit me like a bolt of gastrointestinal pain. Even if the employee properly washed his hands, that cell phone with its 25,000 germs per square (and some new fecal material added for good measure) would soon be back in the kitchen. Today, we can add COVID-19 to the long list of potentially dangerous microbes on that cell phone, if the owner of the phone is COVID-19 positive. We also know that the virus can be transferred through the air if someone is COVID-19 positive or has come in close proximity to the surface of a cell phone. As we know, many kitchens are still operating, if only to provide carryout or delivery service. Even though we are not treating COVID-19 as a foodborne illness, great concern remains regarding the transfer of pathogens to the face of the cell phone user, whether it is the owner of the cell phone or someone else who is using it. Just as there are individuals that are asymptomatic carriers of foodborne illness (i.e., Typhoid Mary), we know that there are COVID-19 positive individuals that are either asymptomatic or presenting as a cold or mild flu. These individuals are still highly contagious and the people that may pick-up the virus from them may have a more severe response to the illness.

A recent study from the UK found that 92% of mobile phones had bacterial contamination and one in six had fecal matter. This study was conducted, of course, before the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, consider that the primary form of transfer of the COVID-19 pathogen is from sneezing or coughing. This makes the placement of the virus on the cell phone easier to accomplish than the fecal-oral route because even if the individual recently washed their hands, if they sneeze or cough on their phone, their clean hands are irrelevant.

I also know there is no widely established protocol, for the foodservice industry, food manufacturing industry, sanitizing/cleaning industry, housekeeping, etc., for cleaning and sanitizing a cell phone while on the job. For example, if you examine a dozen foodservice industry standard lists of “when you should wash your hands” you will always see included in the list, “after using the phone”. However, that is usually referring to a wall mounted or desktop land line phone. What about the mobile phone that goes into the food handler’s pocket, loaded with potentially disease-causing germs? I have certainly witnessed a food handler set a cell phone down on a counter, then carefully wash his/her hands at a hand sink, dry their hands and then pick-up their filthy cell phone and either put it in their pocket, make a call or send a text message. What applies to the “food handler” also applies to those individuals on the job cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces, and other surfaces that many people will come in direct contact with such as handrails, doorknobs sink handles, and so on.

How can the pathogen count for a cell phone be so high compared to other items you would assume would be loaded with germs? The high number cited for a cell phone is accumulative. How often do you clean your cell phone (or for that matter your keyboard or touch screen)? I’ll bet not very often, if ever. In addition, a frequently used cell phone remains warm and with just a small amount of food debris (even if not visible to the naked eye) creates an ideal breeding environment for bacteria. Unlike bacteria, we know that viruses do not reproduce outside of a cell. The cell phone still presents an excellent staging area for the COVID-19 virus while it waits to be transferred to someone’s face or nose.

While there have been some studies conducted on mobile phone contamination and the food industry, most of the statistics we have come from studies conducted in the healthcare industry involving healthcare workers. If anything, we would hope the hygiene practices in the healthcare environment to be better (or at least as good) as the foodservice industry. It is not a pretty picture. In reviewing various studies, I consistently saw results of the following: 100% contamination of mobile phone surfaces; 94.5% of phones demonstrated evidence of bacterial contamination with different types of bacteria; 82% and so on.

Let’s state the obvious: A mobile phone, contaminated with 1000’s of potentially disease causing germs, acts as a reservoir of pathogens available to be transferred from the surface of the phone to a food contact surface or directly to food and must be considered a viable source of foodborne illness. As we stated earlier, we are not treating COVID-19 as a foodborne illness, but we cannot ignore the role that a cell phone could play in transferring and keeping in play this dangerous pathogen.

What do we do about it? Fortunately we can look to the healthcare industry for some guidance and adapt to the foodservice industry, some of the recommendations that have come from healthcare industry studies.

Some steps would include the following:

  1. Education and training to increase awareness about the potential risks associated with mobile phones contaminated with pathogens.
  2. Establish clear protocols that specifically apply to the use of and presence of mobile phones in the foodservice operation.
  3. Establish that items, inclusive of mobile phones, that cannot be properly cleaned and sanitized should not be used or present where the contamination of food can occur or …
  4. If an item, inclusive of a mobile phone, cannot be properly cleaned and sanitized, it must be encased in a “cover” that can be cleaned and sanitized.
  5. The “user” of the mobile phone must be held accountable for the proper cleaning and sanitizing of the device (or its acceptable cover).

It’s safe to assume the mobile phone is not going to go away. We must make sure that it remains a tool to help us better manage our lives and communication, and does not become a vehicle for the transfer of foodborne illness causing pathogens or COVID-19.

Food Safety Consortium

COVID-19 Upends Events, Food Safety Consortium Announces New Dates, Food Labs Goes Virtual

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

Events across the globe have been postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus. COVID-19 is taking down many industries and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without jobs. At Innovative Publishing Company, our top priority is safety. In light of the recent travel restrictions and our concern over attendees’ safety, we are postponing the Food Safety Consortium until December 2–4, 2020. We selected this timeframe for several reasons: (1) We wanted to distance ourselves as much as possible from the coronavirus outbreak that has yet to peak in the United States; (2) the Presidential election will be decided; (3) The Food Safety Summit has rescheduled their annual event to occur during the same timeframe (October 19–22) as our originally scheduled event (October 21–23) and in Chicago; (4) FSPCA is holding its event during the same week in Chicago; and (5) SQF is scheduled to run their event the following week.

This December, the Food Safety Consortium is scheduled to take place at its usual location, the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center in Schaumburg, IL, but we are also prepared to convert the event to a virtual platform if COVID-19 continues to be a serious health concern throughout the fall season. This is very possible.

We are also converting our Food Labs/Cannabis Labs, scheduled to take place in Rockville, MD on June 2–5, to a virtual event. This will still be an interactive conference, and we are in the process of reorganizing the agenda to give our attendees the full benefit of sessions over a period of June 1–5. Recognizing the strain on the industry, this event will be free to attendees and underwritten by our sponsors. We look forward to seeing everyone virtually there.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.

About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo

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

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

Christine Charlotte Akselsen, Kezzler
FST Soapbox

Connecting the Dots for Food Safety at GFSI 2020

By Christine Charlotte Akselsen
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Christine Charlotte Akselsen, Kezzler

Representatives at this year’s GFSI conference hailed from 53 countries and spanned the food industry, academia, the public sector and beyond. They came together in Seattle, a city that has long stood at the cutting edge of technological innovation, and as such was a fitting host for this year’s theme: “One Connected World. One Safe Food Supply”.

Speakers at the forefront of their fields shared knowledge and showcased creative methods of delivering connectivity—interpersonal, technology-mediated and otherwise, all geared towards the ultimate goal of helping provide safer food for consumers everywhere.

Meanwhile, there were numerous opportunities to connect with representatives of industry giants such as Costa, Nestle, McDonald’s, Amazon and Starbucks, as well as regulatory agencies, certification & accreditation bodies, NGOs, academia and the media, at the various networking sessions.

Urgent Action Required

As the conference kicked off, it was Peter Freedman, the managing director of The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), who set out the importance of the task at hand. His message was one of urgency in delivering positive change.

Freedman pointed to recent global events, such as the wildfires in Brazil, as examples of how the world could be at a tipping point. “Action is more urgent than ever”, he told delegates, stating that it is no longer just a matter of responding, but responding urgently. Freedman also pointed to E. coli outbreaks in 2017, 2018 and late 2019 to drive home to industry leaders gathered at the conference that food safety cannot be taken for granted.

The spirit of the event was, as usual, geared towards a collaborative approach. Delegates were asked to leave their commercial interests at the door and work purely towards “a world where all food is safe” for the duration of the event.

“This week is not about us as individuals, it’s about how we come together as a collective of brilliant minds to provide solutions,” GFSI Director Erica Sheward stated. She then invited the audience to stand in recognition of this commitment, and sure enough everyone in the packed auditorium took to their feet demonstrating their commitment to the shared mission.

GFSI’s New Benchmarking Requirements

The GFSI used the conference as a platform to launch its new Benchmarking Requirements Version 2020, which establish a new foundation for food safety. To close the opening session, Sheward joined Mike Robach, Chairman of the GFSI Board, Vice-Chairs Anita Scholte op Reimer and Gillian Kelleher and GFSI Senior Technical Manager Marie-Claude Quentin around a red ‘action button’ to mark their publication.

The requirements are geared towards enabling a common understanding and mutual trust in the supply chain that facilitates trade, improves efficiency and lends nameplate authority to operations certified to a GFSI-recognized program. They incorporate stakeholder input from public consultations and are regularly revised to reflect best practices and evolving needs in the industry.

GFSI positioned the new version as more than just an update, but a complete rethink “representing the beginning of a new generation of recognition”. The two primary objectives of Version 2020, are to achieve transparency and objectivity, with new and strengthened elements that include two new scopes focused on hygienic design, elements of food safety culture and reinforced impartiality of the auditing process and the monitoring of certification bodies.

Shark Tank Sessions

This year’s GFSI program also included a new format to help showcase how the latest technology is being used to further food safety. Leaders in innovation took part in a number of Shark Tank-style breakout sessions to pitch their technology solutions to the sharks and the attendees.

A total of nine cutting-edge companies took to the stage to pitch their concepts to a panel of experts—‘sharks’—who are well-placed to judge their value for the industry. The nine competitors were selected from a large pool of applicants based on their innovative spirit, disruptive potential and feasibility.

Each presenter had 12-minutes to outline the context in which their solution is utilized, the technology supporting it and how it is implemented. Following the pitches, each presenter came under the scrutiny of the sharks who were able to ask clarifying questions.

Kezzler was among the companies to take to the stage with CEO Christine Akselsen sharing insights from work with FrieslandCampina’s infant formula brand, FRISO. Referencing the grass-to-glass case study, she demonstrated how Kezzler’s technology works in practice, tracking information from farms in The Netherlands to consumers in China. Following the sessions an audience vote determined the winner of the competition, which was announced during the final plenary of the conference. Kezzler was also crowned as the first-ever GFSI Shark Tank champion.

Laura Gutierrez Becerra
Women in Food Safety

Raising Up Women in Food Safety: Let’s Do This Together

By Laura Gutierrez Becerra, Melanie J. Neumann, Melody Ge
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Laura Gutierrez Becerra

This month we are truly honored to introduce two committee members who are devoted to helping women in the industry, especially young professionals. Melanie Neumann and Laura Gutierrez Becerra are outstanding professionals who believe in the importance of women in leadership roles.

Melanie Neumann, Neumann Risk Services
Melanie Neumann, Neumann Risk Services, LLC

Melanie Neumann, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Matrix Sciences

Melanie Neumann leverages both a juris doctorate law degree specializing in food laws and regulations and a Master’s degree in food science to assist the food and beverage industry with regulatory, business, brand and public health risk management solutions in today’s ever-changing risk landscape. Neumann launched her career as a food law attorney for Hormel Foods Corporation, and held similar roles at The Schwan Food Company, and the law firm of Fredrikson & Byron, all based in Minnesota where she was born and raised by her mother who was described by Melanie as “the reason I am as successful as I am today.” After her initial career launch, Neumann evolved into food safety and enterprise risk management consulting roles for Pricewaterhouse Coopers and boutique food safety consulting firms before launching her own business, Neumann Risk Services, which was subsequently assumed by Matrix Sciences International, Inc.— food safety and quality experts focusing on microbiological, chemistry, analytical, residue and pesticide laboratory testing, sensory testing, data analytics and food safety risk management advisory services. (Neumann is also a member of Food Safety Tech’s Advisory Board).

Laura Gutierrez Becerra, Food Safety & Quality Assurance Director, Calyxt

Born and raised in Mexico, Laura Gutierrez Becerra completed her undergraduate studies in biological and pharmaceutical chemistry and holds a Master’s degree in food science and technology. Her passion for embracing a safe global food supply chain started in college while participating in a student exchange program where she saw the need to help other countries improve their food safety systems and establish a global food safety culture. Gutierrez Becerra’s experience includes corporate restaurant, retail and manufacturing food sectors where she has established risk-based food safety programs and led management of quality through the product lifecycle while embracing strong partnerships with stakeholders in order achieve a shared preventative accountability.

What prompted the launch of a group that focuses on female professional development in the food safety sector?

Melanie Neumann: Melanie’s commitment to empowering women has a long history, starting with encouraging women to actively participate in local and state politics to volunteering for female running programs that empower girls to realize they can always do more than they think they can. In the food safety arena, Neumann was the first female to serve in nearly every professional role she has held, so she is well aware of the trials—and the joys—of paving the way not only for herself but for other women as well. In founding and running her own successful consulting firm, she understands the courage, commitment, fears and support required to successfully navigate professional advancement in food safety, while still preserving a balance to pursue her passion. She competes in the Ironman long-distance triathlons and is participating in her ninth Ironman triathlon in April 2020.

Laura Gutierrez Becerra
Laura Gutierrez Becerra, Calyxt

Laura Gutierrez Becerra: Raising a multi-cultural and multi-lingual family with her husband, Gutierrez Becerra embraces diversity of thought and inclusion of ideology for the establishment of a global food safety culture. Building the strengths of young women during their educational and career journeys will help build the foundation for a strong and diverse food safety community. Gutierrez Becerra also believes it is important to have male food safety leaders participate in this group to walk the audience through their experiences when bringing women along their own professional career, as well as sharing what they have learned while partnering with women in food safety roles at all leadership levels

How do you see this group positioned in the future?

Neumann: Neumann envisions a female-forward/female-centric group where women in food safety can gain mentoring, networking and volunteer opportunities, and share successes and challenges unique to women in the field. That said, she also sees a role for our male counterparts in food safety to provide insights into successful strategies and tactics for females to consider leveraging. Neumann views our field as one, but comprised of many perspectives, and is dedicated to helping ensure that each voice is heard.

Gutierrez Becerra: Based on the fact that the food industry is continually and rapidly evolving—where product launches are led by consumer trends and behaviors—Gutierrez Becerra sees and believes this social network will support women in connecting and guiding each other while learning from each others careers and challenging experiences regardless of the career level. She also believes this group can be a great venue through which to seek advice and embrace work/life balance while striving for a career path.

We invite you to join the group, For Women in Food Safety or direct message Melody Ge on LinkedIn. We welcome all the support and are constantly looking for mentors. If you are interested in mentoring the young food safety professionals, please reach out to Melody Ge, Jill Hoffman, Jacqueline Southee, Melanie Neumann and Laura Gutierrez Becerra through the group. We can do this together!

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Machine Vision Training Tips to Improve Food Inspections

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

As machines become more intelligent, every industry on earth will find abundant new applications and ways to benefit. For the food industry, which has an incredible number of moving parts and is especially risk-averse, machine vision and machine learning are especially valuable additions to the supply chain.

The following is a look at what machine vision is, how it can play a role in manufacturing and distributing foods and beverages, and how employers can train workers to get the most out of this exciting technology.

What Is Machine Vision?

Machine vision isn’t a brand-new concept. Cameras and barcode readers with machine vision have long been capable of reading barcodes and QR codes and verifying that products have correct labels. Modern machine vision takes the concept to new levels of usefulness.

Barcodes and product identifiers have a limited set of known configurations, which makes it relatively straightforward to program an automated inspection station to recognize, sort or reject products as necessary. Instead, true machine vision means handlers don’t have to account for every potential eventuality. Machine vision instead learns over time, based on known parameters, to differentiate between degrees of product damage.

Consider the problem of appraising an apple for its salability. Is it bruised or discolored? Machine vision recognizes that no two bruises look precisely alike. There’s also the matter of identifying different degrees of packaging damage. To tackle these problems, it’s not possible to program machine vision to recognize a fixed set of visual clues. Instead, its programming must interpret its surroundings and make a judgment about what it sees.

Apples, machine vision
On an apple, no two bruises are alike. Machine vision technology can help. Photo credit: Pexels.

The neural networks that power machine vision have a wide range of applications, including improving pathfinding abilities for robots. In this article, I’ll focus on how to leverage machine vision to improve the quality of edible products and the profitability of the food and beverage industry.

Applications for Machine Vision in the Food Industry

There are lots of ways to apply machine vision to a food processing environment, with new variations on the technology cropping up regularly. The following is a rundown on how different kinds of machine vision systems serve different functions in the food and beverage sector.

1. Frame Grabbing and 3-D Machine Vision
Machine vision systems require optimal lighting to carry out successful inspections. If part of the scanning environment lies in shadow, undesirable products might find their way onto shelves and into customers’ homes.

Food products sometimes have unique needs when it comes to carrying out visual inspections. It’s difficult or impossible for fallible human eyeballs to perform detailed scans of thousands of peas or nuts as they pass over a conveyor belt. 3-D machine vision offers a tool called “frame grabbing,” which takes stills of — potentially — tens of thousands of tiny, moving products at once to find flaws and perform sorting.

2. Automated Sorting for Large Product Batches
Machine vision inspection systems can easily become part of a much larger automation effort. Automation is a welcome addition to the food and beverage sector, translating into improved worker safety and efficiency and better quality control across the enterprise.

Inspection stations with machine vision cameras can scan single products or whole batches of products to detect flaws. But physically separating these products must be just as efficient a process as identifying them. For this reason, machine vision is an ideal companion to compressed air systems and others, which can carefully blow away and remove even a single grain of rice from a larger batch in preparation.

3. Near-Infrared Cameras
Machine vision takes many forms, including barcode and QR code readers. A newer technology, called near-infrared (NIR) cameras, is already substantially improving the usefulness and capabilities of machine vision.

Remember that bruised apple? Sometimes physical damage to fruits and vegetables doesn’t immediately appear on the outside. NIR technology expands the light spectrum cameras can observe, giving them the ability to detect interior damage before it shows up on the exterior. It represents a distinct advantage over previous-generation technology and human inspectors, both of which can leave flaws undiscovered.

Tips on Training Workers to Use Machine Vision

Implementing machine vision into a productive environment delivers major benefits, but it also comes with a potentially disruptive learning curve. The following are some ideas on how to navigate it.

1. Take Advantage of Third-Party Training Courses
Don’t expect employees to hit the ground running with machine vision if they’re not familiar with the fundamentals of how it works. Google has a crash course on machine learning, and Amazon offers a curriculum as well to help companies get their employees up to speed on the technology and how to use it.

2. Get the Lighting Right
Having the appropriate intensity of light shining on the food product is essential for the machine vision cameras to get a clear photo or video. The most common types of lighting for machine vision are quartz halogen, LEDs, metal halide and xenon lights. Metal halide and xenon are better for larger-scale operations because of their brightness.

Train employees to check the amount and positioning of the lighting before each inspection station starts up for the day, so that no shadows obscure products from view.

3. Single Out Promising Subject Matter Leaders
Companies today don’t seem to have much confidence in how well they’re preparing their workforce for tomorrow, including future innovations. According to Deloitte, just 47% of companies in the world believe they’re doing enough to train their employees on the technologies and opportunities of Industry 4.0.

Machine vision does not involve buying a camera or two, setting them up, then slapping the “autopilot” button. As products turn over, and manufacturing and distribution environments change and grow over time, machine vision algorithms require re-training, and you might need to redesign the lighting setup.

Employers should find individuals from their ranks who show interest and aptitude in this technology and then invest in them as subject matter experts and process owners. Even if an outside vendor is the one providing libraries of algorithms and ultimately coming up with machine vision designs, every company needs a knowledgeable liaison who can align company needs with the products on the market.

Machine Vision Is the Future of Food Inspections

The market for machine vision technology is likely to reach $30.8 in value by 2021, according to BCC Research.

It is important to remember that neither machine learning nor machine vision are about creating hardware that thinks and sees like humans do. With the right approach, these systems can roundly outperform human employees.

But first, companies need to recognize the opportunities. Then, they must match the available products to their unsolved problems and make sure their culture supports ongoing learning and the discovery of new aptitudes. Machine vision might be superior to human eyesight, but it uses decidedly human judgments as it goes about its work.