The following are highlights for Thursday’s session:
A Diverse Panel for Women and Young Professionals in Food Safety, moderated by Darin Detwiler, Northeastern University; and panelists: Martin Wiedmann, Cornell University; Bob Pudlock, Gulf Stream Search; Mitzi Baum and Jaime Ragos, Stop Foodborne Illness; Jennifer Van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute; and Peter Begg, Glanbia Nutritionals
Paths to Leadership, with Sara Mortimore, Walmart
We Asked, You Answered—The Voice from Women in Food Safety, with Allison Jennings, Amazon; Melanie Neumann, Matrix Sciences International; Lisa Robinson, Ecolab; and Cindy Jiang, McDonald’s Corp.
TechTalks from ImEpik and Glanbia Nutritionals
The event begins at 12 pm ET on Thursday, November 5. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to 14 episodes of critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts! We look forward to your joining us virtually.
I recently sat down with Peter Begg, vice president of quality and food safety at Glanbia Nutritionals where he shared his personal experiences and advice for how to build a career path and grow into a leader. There are a lot of opportunities, and it’s important to remember that a food safety career is not short term—you are in it for the long haul—so don’t be in a hurry, find your own balance, and enjoy life! Have fun! Life is too short to work 24/7.
Differing from many food safety professionals, Peter started his career within the food industry as a chemical engineer at Kraft after graduating from Penn State University; now 26 years in the industry, Peter leads a global food safety and quality team at Glanbia Nutritionals. He had a couple of major pivots in his career that led him to where he is today. At the beginning of his career, he joined the R&D department at Kraft Foods, and made the decision to move to Switzerland to take on the company’s European quality team. After three years abroad, he returned to the United States, where he participated in the split of Kraft into Kraft Foods and Mondelez International. Today, in addition to his current role at Glanbia, he also leads the company’s COVID response team. When taking a look back, he affirmed that he made all the right decisions and was glad he didn’t say no to any opportunities that arose.
During the interview, Peter advised young female professionals to be patient and to avoid being in a hurry. Also, find a career path you are passionate about: “When you are passionate, a lot of the challenges or difficulties will pass,” he said. “However, don’t be opposed to trying different roles, especially early in your career. Be open to those other experiences, because they will help you later on.” Additionally, don’t assume that the first experience is going to be the only career path that you will have. Even if you move from R&D to marketing or procurement, that experience will help you. It offers a different way of looking at things. “Nothing you do will be wasted.” I can’t agree more on this point.
When we talked about food science career options for students, Peter had a unique point of explaining the two common options: R&D and Food Safety and Quality. Peter distinguished them by the sense of urgency and challenges of those roles. A project within R&D is normally six months to a year, with timelines to complete the project; whereas within safety and quality, a project could be one day or one week, and is often hard to predict, as every day brings something new. “If you are a person who loves challenges and changes then you might find more achievements in food safety and quality,” he said. “I enjoy the diversity of challenges every day, and this is the reason I didn’t go back to R&D.”
One thing that resonated with me long after the conversation was a tip that Peter would have given to his younger self: “Don’t sweat the small stuff. As you gain more experience, you learn to focus on the things that make the real difference. I know that sounds trite, but you have to get better at triaging and understanding what is important,” he explained.
At the end, Peter pointed out that we still need more diversity in the C-suite and at the SVP level. He learned a lot from his first boss who was a successful female leader. Female leaders are more empathetic and tend to lead without feeling the need to fill airtime. “I have known so many women leaders. They are comfortable in who they are as a leader, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for that,” Peter said.
At the same time, Peter continues to encourage female leaders to be more self-confident. He told us, “Don’t doubt yourself! If you keep getting told ‘no’, it affects your self-confidence, however, it has to be overcome; it takes all of us to remember that we all bring different things to the table.”
Peter shared a couple of personal stories that he found impactful as well. As a leader, Peter cannot emphasize enough about the beauty of diverse thoughts on a team. He learned one can never know everything. As a leader, it’s our responsibility to lead and encourage team members to speak up and grow together; also, always remain calm and solve problems based on facts.
Peter concluded our conversation by emphasizing that we all need to find our own balance to enjoy life. The work/life balance: We work to live, not the other way around. There will be ups and downs. There will be long days, but we can find other days to balance them, and it is important to have an outlet. Life is too short; it needs to be fun—not just work 24/7!
“The real leaders were the ones who spoke to the facts and remained calm and focused on what we needed to do to solve the issues.” – Peter Begg, Glanbia Nutritionals
Melody Ge: What have you learned by working with and mentoring female leaders?
Begg: From a leadership standpoint, my first boss at Kraft was a female and we still keep in touch. She was a great teacher and mentor. There’s an empathy that female leaders have that not all male leaders have. Also, when I made the move to Mondelez and I worked for the head of research & development and quality who is another phenomenal female leader, she had a style about her that kept everyone at ease. She would ask very poignant questions, but she didn’t overuse airtime. I’ve seen men hog all the airtime, because they want everyone to know they are the smartest one in the room. I haven’t seen that with some of the female leaders; they are comfortable in who they are as a leader, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for that.
Right now, I have six directors and four of them are female. To be fair, I think in our function of Quality and Food Safety you do see at least 50% [balance]. For me, it’s the diversity of thought brought to the team. There are different ways of looking at things from men versus women. I think that ability to communicate and be empathetic is something I see out of female leaders. I’ve learned 26 years in that I don’t know everything. Having that diversity of thought and background is absolutely critical to having a strong leadership team and also to make decisions that are well thought through.
To be honest, I think what we are lacking is the diversity at the VP and SVP level and above where it is still pretty male dominated, and that needs to change. I see a lot of strong up-and-coming females; there’s talent out there that I hope continues to grow in the future.
Ge: Why do you think there is a lack of females at the VP and SVP level? Is there any insight you can share?
Begg: One of the reasons is because that, with many leaders, they want people who they can trust. A lot of people look to those who act like themselves. It takes a lot of good thought to take yourself out of that and really look at who is the best leader for your team. I think part of the reason is that many of the CEOs and SVPs are male. We still need more diversity in the C-suite.
Ge: Can you share an unforgettable story that had an impact on you?
Begg: There are two that come to mind.
I was a very new leader within R&D at the time and leading a cross functional team. One of my team members came up with what I thought was a pretty good idea. I shared it at a meeting, and everyone liked it. But what I failed to do was not recognize the team member whose idea that it was. The team member was really upset and felt like I presented it as my idea. That, of course, wasn’t my intent, but I learned that my job as a leader is to set my team up for success and not get in the way. You also have to give proper credit and acknowledgement. That is something to this day that I keep in the back of my mind—to make sure that I always recognize my team publicly, especially when they are the ones driving the effort. I am not on the frontlines, my team is. I have to make sure that I remember that you need to take the time to acknowledge people.
When I was in Europe in the quality and food safety role, we had a situation where we were very close to a 27-country recall. It’s something I will never forget because of the intensity of the conversations that were had all the way up to the CEO of Kraft at the time. It ended up that we were able to narrow it and my team did a phenomenal job on tracing the recall down to two countries. What I remember most in that setting, where you’re with all these senior executives, is that the real leaders were the ones who spoke to the facts and remained calm and focused on what we needed to do. The people who I didn’t want to be like were the ones who were emotional and flying off the handle about things that had nothing to do with what we were trying to resolve in the situation. As a leader, you have to project a presence and a sense of calm in a food safety crisis. If you’re in a food safety and quality role, something will happen along the way that is challenging. That is just the nature of what we deal with.
Ge: What would you hope to see in next three to five years for women in the industry?
Begg: Definitely more female outstanding professionals. At Glanbia, we hire 15–20 grads in the U.S. every year through campus recruiting, and it’s at least 50% female. The talent pool is there—but how are we nurturing them, and giving them the support and career guidance? Everyone across the industry needs to have these conversations and talk about the key experiences, key skills and capabilities that they should be building throughout their career. There are certain things that are translatable regardless of the type of job that you have, such as communication skills. Secondly, helping women build the confidence that they can be successful and that there will be opportunities. As a leader, I am part of creating those opportunities and will continue doing so.
The organizers of the Women in Food Safety column on Food Safety Tech have put together a survey to understand the journey of food safety professionals throughout their career, along with sharing relevant work experiences. The results of this survey will be released and discussed during an episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series on November 5 about Professional Development & Women in Food Safety.
This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Neshat Soofi, president of JIT Experts Hive, for the Women in Food Safety Column. She shared some of her inspirational experiences working with multicultural teams and companies, and how she eventually became an entrepreneur, launching her own business. “As food safety experts, our primary job is to minimize the risk of contamination in food and protect consumer health and safety. Of course, there are other aspects of our job such as contributing to the profitable growth of companies we work for. Sometimes we get caught in conflict situations with a lot of pressure on us. Most of the time it comes down to assessing risk in uncertain situations and with limited information. Even food safety situations are not black and white. To make the right decision we need to assess the risk-taking multiple factors into consideration. One thing that always helped me was to remember why I was hired and that my reason for being in a company was to minimize risk to the consumers,” says Soofi. “Being a food safety professional also helped me understand business holistically, since as a food safety lead you have to work with many functions in a company, from sourcing to customer service, marketing and sales. As part of my career path, I even worked in different functions that provided me with different perspectives of business. This knowledge helped me be a better product safety and quality leader, and later helped me set up my own business, which provides consultation and expert knowledge in many areas of business.”
Join Women in Food Safety for a special episode on November 5 about career development and mentorship during the 2020 Food Safety Virtual Conference SeriesSoofi was born and raised in Iran and has lived in Canada and the United States for the past 30 years. She has more than 25 years of experience in product safety, quality and development working for small to large companies like Target, Cargill and Multifoods (Pillsbury). After working with some of the largest corporations, she decided to join start-up company “Brandless” to build their product safety, quality and integrity programs from scratch. After three years working in a fast-paced, autonomous environment, she started her own business called JIT Experts Hive. She leveraged her broad and diverse background to fill a gap in the market, connecting like-minded and purpose-driven hands-on experts to companies in need of those expertise in a just in time fashion. Connecting knowledge to innovation. The mission of JIT Experts Hive is to help accelerate the growth of CPG companies in food, supplement, CBD, cosmetic/beauty and household industries by providing just-in-time expertise.
Working in consumer-packaged goods (CPG) industries including food for more than 25 years, Soofi felt fortunate with what she has learned over the years. “I learned that in order to grow and succeed, I needed to step outside my comfort zone. Every job I took was very different from the previous one. Even going so far as stepping completely out of food safety and working in other areas of business like leading data governance and business intelligence, or getting into new product categories such as personal care, cosmetics and even household cleaners. What I found was that these learnings and experiences made me a better product safety and quality expert and leader. Product safety jobs are quite unique; one is responsible for results of work of many functions with no direct control over them. The ability to understand other functions, their priorities and pressures and look at situations through different lenses helps one assess the risks better and come up with better solutions. One can also articulate the risks and benefits in a way that would be more compelling and effective,” Soofi explained.
With a unique multicultural background and experience working in large corporations leading teams in different countries, Soofi advises that when working with multicultural teams one should: Learn about each country’s work ethics, how to address someone (i.e., first name or with titles), what is the appropriate way of greeting and interacting during and after work hours, and the level and importance of hierarchy.
Tactical details are also important: Be cognizant of time zone differences and schedule meetings on a rotating time zone basis; in virtual meetings/calls and in the absence of getting the non-verbal cues and body language, pay more attention to pauses, silence and the importance of clear communication so things are not lost in translation or misinterpreted.
Last but not least, remember: Never assume, and never stereotype. Each person is unique and may be very different from the stereotype in their countries, so don’t go with assumptions. And if in doubt, ask, because it not only helps you understand their preference, but also helps break the ice.
As a female leader, Soofi has also learned a lot from her multicultural female team members. “As Cheryl Sandberg has mentioned in her book ‘Lean In’, women generally have a harder time taking a seat at the table! In some cultures this feeling is even stronger due to cultural factors. What I found for myself and many great talents in my teams was that gradually pushing ourselves out of comfort zones by taking challenging assignments, leading projects and teams and being the voice and face of the team was a great way to build confidence in yourself and take your rightful seat at the table. Don’t be afraid of failure and do not internalize it if it happens. Having a mentor to help you in this journey by providing advice but also constructive criticism and course correction when needed is key to success,” Soofi says.
Another aspect is that as a woman, building strong negotiation skills is a must. “Whether negotiating for a new position, salary, etc., do your homework, know where the bottom line and the absolute non-negotiable variable are for you, but also understand where you can compromise. At the same time, do not be afraid of hearing “no” and do not take things personally.”
Laura Gutierrez Becerra: What would be your number one piece of advice to young women professionals who are planning to be leaders in food safety?
Neshat Soofi: Don’t be shy! Reach out to experienced professionals in the industry; there are plenty of higher-level peers who will be willing to help you. A good mentor is priceless. I have a personal story to share: About four years ago, I got a message through LinkedIn from someone who has just moved to the US. I had not met her before, and she asked me if we could meet and talk about the food industry and jobs in the US. We met and I happily shared my experience and advice in seeking jobs, helped her with a mock interview and resume, and anything else I could. Four years later, she is a quality assurance manager in one of the largest food companies here in the United States. We have stayed great friends, and I am so proud of her resilience and success.
Gutierrez Becerra: Is there an unforgettable story during your career journey that still has an impact?
Soofi: When I was working in Canada in food manufacturing, I was called to the processing line one day regarding a potential foreign object issue. I stopped the line to find out the root cause. At the same time there was a lot of pressure to resume production since this was an order for a major account. Under pressure, I agreed to start the line with adding inspection and controls that I knew in my guts were not sufficient. The products were shipped, and we started to get a series of complaints about foreign objects in the product. Thank god there was no injury, but as you can imagine, that major account was not happy with the situation and we lost the business with them. It was a major loss and my boss from the head office came for a visit to our plant. I tried to explain why I had allowed the production to resume and release the product because we couldn’t have a late shipment. In response he asked me one question, “What’s your job title?” I responded, “I am the food safety and quality assurance manager.” His comment was, “I am glad you remember. Your first priority is minimizing risk to consumers and company reputation. I am sure you took that into consideration when you okayed the release, [but] if not, please remember in future”. I expected him to be angry and was even prepared to be fired, but his quiet answer was more impactful. This is a lesson I remember to this day—there are rarely black and white situations in life, even in food safety. The key is to assess the risk and not let outside pressures impact your assessment and decisions.
Gutierrez Becerra: What do you hope to see in the next three to five years in terms of development and mentoring women in the industry?
Soofi: I see a need for networks like yours to connect new industry professionals regardless of gender to the more veteran experts on an as-needed basis—almost like a hotline, where food safety professionals can ask for advice and mentoring in a confidential and safe environment. This is becoming easier in a post-COVID era where virtual connections are becoming more of a norm than exception, and people from all over the world are learning to connect in ways that were not easy and personally comfortable in the past.
I also want to see a better appreciation of the importance of food safety programs in organizations, especially at leadership levels. We need to better articulate what additional values (efficiencies, better cultures, productivity, etc.) a great food safety program brings to the organization. I want food safety functions to be at the leadership tables and part of developing company strategies and directions. We can’t be only remembered when bad things happen and in the middle of a crisis. Food safety and quality leaders should be at the forefront of organizational leadership, all the way to the C-suite.
The event will begin every Thursday at 12 pm ET, beginning on September 3 and continue through December 17. Each week will feature three educational presentations, two Tech Talks, and a panel discussion. Weekly episodes include food defense, food labs, pest management, sanitation, food fraud, listeria detection, mitigation & control, professional development, women in food safety, supply chain management, COVID-19’s impact and food safety culture.
Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response, will serve as the keynote speaker on Thursday, October 1 at 12 pm ET.
“Human connection is so important for events, and we know we’re not the only game in town. That’s why we’ve invested in a Conference Virtual Platform that can facilitate discussions, discovery, and connection that can continue whether our event is offline or online—and not end with the live streaming,” says Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing and director of the Food Safety Consortium. “Simply, the experience other food safety conferences are offering is not conducive to learning, staying engaged or take into consideration that you have a job to do during that week. This is why we have designed the Consortium’s program with short, manageable episodes that are highly educational.”
Companies that are interested in sponsoring a 10-minute technical presentation during the series can also submit their abstract through the portal. For pricing information, contact IPC Sales Director RJ Palermo.
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 (The live event)
Food companies are concerned about protecting their customers, their brands and their own company’s financial bottom line. The term “Food Protection” requires a company-wide culture that incorporates food safety, food integrity and food defense into the company’s Food Protection strategy.
The Food Safety Consortium is an educational and networking event for Food Protection that has food safety, food integrity and food defense as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology and compliance, the “Consortium” enables attendees to engage in conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Delegates visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting-edge solutions, explore three high-level educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the evolving food industry.
Women in food safety are increasingly playing more critical roles in their organizations because of our objective decision-making, compassion, communication prowess and ability to collaborate. During this year’s Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series, we are pleased to join Food Safety Tech with a Women in Food Safety Day. It’s our day: We will discuss the challenges and opportunities that we encounter as a gender, especially during this uncertain era in the world. We will also address issues surrounding students who are devoting their research to improving food safety and quality. We welcome your contribution, support and ideas.
The 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series will take place every Thursday during the fall, beginning on September 10. If you are interested in presenting during the Women in Food Safety Day, we invite you to submit an abstract. Please note that the day in which the Women in Food Safety session will be held will be announced after we receive the abstracts.
When the Women in Food Safety group was first founded, the mission was to provide a community and networking platform for women in the industry to share their experiences and to seek advice from peers; more importantly, to help young female professionals and students to grow into future outstanding women leaders in the food safety industry.
To carry this mission, the group founder and committee are pleased to announce a mentorship program with below five focused areas:
Diversity/culture: For women with a diverse background, focusing on their needs in different work culture
Adventure Starts: For women in school, focusing on bridging the gap of moving from academia to industry; focus on starting their career, and create a pipeline for future food safety professionals
The Future Leadership: For women at early career stage, focusing on step up to senior management, pipeline for future women leadership
Working in Manufacturing: For women working in manufacturing sites, focusing on their needs in this specific work environment
Work/Life balance: For women who are facing decision-makings, balancing work and life. The focus is on helping their needs when going through life’s exciting times and long leave from professional areas with minimal impact on work.
We welcome all industry professionals and fellows who are interested. We look forward to seeing you during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series, beginning on September 10. Together, we can make it. Join us to empower women and the food safety industry to leverage our unique leadership strength and skills.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Laura Gutierrez Becerra, Melanie J. Neumann, Melody Ge No Comments
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, 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: 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!
“For Women, By Women in Food Safety” is a professional group that was formed in January 2019. Comprised of outstanding female leadership, food safety professionals and students who are passionate about this field, the goal is to provide a community and networking platform for the industry to share their stories and experiences, help young professionals, and grow together. Hopefully, the lessons and challenges that are shared will prove useful throughout one’s career journey.
“I see this group as means of connecting young, female food safety professionals to other females in food safety roles so they can share insights from their own experiences in their careers,” says Jill Hoffman, group committee member, and director of global quality systems and food safety at McCormick & Company.
Meet the Group Founder
Melody Ge has 10+ years’ experience in food safety and is passionate about food safety on a global scale. She holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in food science and engineering, starting her career journey with Beyond Meat as the technical director for product development and food safety and quality control. Following this position Ge established the compliance and integrity program at SQFI, and then worked as the deputy QA director at Lidl US. Currently, Ge is the head of compliance at Corvium, Inc. where she continues to foster food safety culture using advanced technology within the industry. As a non-U.S. citizen, Ge is fortunate to work with different cultures and industries, including retailers and manufacturers, using her multi-language skills and expertise in food safety. Ge believes in women’s leadership and in using their strengths to be successful in their roles.
Meet Some of the Committee Members
Jacqueline Southee, North American Representative, FSSC 22000
Jacqueline Southee is an agricultural scientist with a Ph.D. in animal science.She has an academic foundation with what one might call “earthy roots”. “I worked in the animal welfare arena for years before taking a career break to relocate from Europe to the USA and raise two boys. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to return to work with FSSC 22000 in 2013 and have enjoyed building the profile of the organization’s certification program in North America,” says Southee. “I also have experience in (and have encountered challenges) developing and evaluating standard operating procedures. This is becoming more relevant today in the food industry as regulations demand worldwide consistency in the use of standard approaches to minimizing risk and controlling hazards,” she says.
One of Southee’s greatest attributes is her “internationalism”, her experience working professionally with different cultures and fields, and her ability to communicate with all levels of an organization. She believes that there are huge opportunities in food safety for women of all ages and a need for a range of experiences. It remains important to communicate, encourage and to share in order to cultivate the next generation of food safety professionals.
Jill Hoffman, Director of Global Quality Systems and Food Safety, McCormick & Company
Jill Hoffman started her journey in food safety in college with a major in food science, when her exposure and desire to pursue a career in food came to her while taking a human nutrition course. Since then, Hoffman has had many roles in food manufacturing, both in food safety and quality as well as in operations management. In 2019, she completed her master’s degree in food safety at Michigan State University, which resolved her dilemma of pursuing an advanced degree without having to go back to school full-time (not an option for her!). Hoffman found the online master’s program was perfect for her to pursue an advanced degree in an area that truly interested her and was relevant to her career.
Currently, Hoffman works at McCormick & Co., Inc. as the director of global quality systems and food safety. At McCormick, she has been able to grow as a food safety professional as well as gain valuable experience working internationally and understanding the dynamics of working across cultures. She enjoys working to develop programs and solutions to address the ever-changing food safety and quality challenges that present themselves.
As Hoffman’s career continues to grow, she has learned and values the importance of work/life balance. She actively works to ensure balance between the two, as it is so important to take care of all aspects of yourself, not just your professional self. “The things we do outside of our ‘work self’ can help to grow and shape us as people just as much as the formal coaching and learning that we do in our day-to-day jobs,” Jill says.
What prompted the launch of a group that focuses on female professional development in the food safety sector?
Read the interview with Melody Ge, Technology Helps Your Food Safety Employees Work Smarter, Not HarderMelody Ge: I started this group because I received many questions from students about building their careers in food safety. I would love to help more, and I know my own experience is limited, so I wanted to leverage the knowledge of so many outstanding women out there. Hence, I formed this group with the hopes that it could be a resource to those who are seeking solutions in the industry.
Jacqueline Southee: I believe the food safety sector is growing exponentially with increasingly diverse requirements for a wider skill set, which needs to be communicated to young food scientists still making academic choices and building their proficiencies and talents. In addition, new opportunities are being created by this global industry that the next generation of food scientists need to be made aware of.
Jill Hoffman: I see this group as an opportunity to bring women together to share stories and challenges that have arisen throughout their careers. The group gives women an ability to learn how others have navigated both challenging and rewarding moments in their careers so that they can incorporate this awareness into their own journey. Additionally, this group will help with sharing the diverse opportunities in food safety. Everyone has a different road they’ve traveled to get to where they are today, and it’s important to share these stories as a testament to knowing that everyone doesn’t have to have traveled the same pathway in education or career experience to get into a role of ensuring food safety.
How do you see this group positioned in the future?
Ge: I would like to see this group sustain itself in the food safety industry and become a safe harbor for women to talk about their passions, experiences, challenges and learn from each other so ultimately, we all can be stronger in the industry together.
Southee: As the industry becomes more global, its success will depend on tech-savvy technologists and food scientists who have a wide range of skills, including in information science, regulations, quality management systems, economics, politics and climatology. The list is endless. We need to make sure the lines of communication are open, the opportunities are open to all and that we can help shepherd young women through.
Hoffman: I think there’s a flexible vision for the group to grow into a recognized forum for women to engage in at all points in their careers. The group will grow into an active space for sharing, learning and networking among food safety professionals and female students pursuing an interest in the field of food safety.
We can do this together!
Are you interested in helping the group? Although, it’s a female-focused group, we are open to all feedback, support, and partnership opportunities to grow this group together. We hope to hear from you. You can join the group, For Women, By Women in Food Safety or direct message Melody Ge on LinkedIn.
Currently, this is a LinkedIn group, and all committee members have joined voluntarily. However, with support from Food Safety Tech, we are planning on writing monthly columns for the publication, scheduling in-person meet ups at some of the industry conferences, and engaging in mentoring programs, webinars and more activities in the near future. We hope our visions can be achieved throughout the team efforts together.
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