Tag Archives: Women in Food safety

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

Find Your Passion and Confidence Will Come

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

Deborah Coviello, founder and CEO of Illumination Partners, LLC and host of The Drop in CEO Podcast, recently shared her journey with the Women in Food Safety Group. Deb believes in self-confidence and that everyone is a talented individual.

Two years ago, Deb decided to start her own business, which focuses on elevating people, after 10 years of working as a food safety professional for a top flavor company. When I spoke with Deb about her experiences, she admitted that at times she felt vulnerable, stressed and unsatisfied after working for corporations for more than 30 years. She was no longer happy with herself, and even her coworkers could see it. However, she got past it and has found the passion to share her experiences and stories to help anyone who is struggling in a similar situation.

When formulating the business plan for her new firm, Deb started testing her ideas with consulting professionals, discussing how to elevate their self-confidence. It wasn’t until her third client that she had built the confidence to say that she could provide a service that people needed. “I have to constantly tell myself that I can do this!” Deb said. “It is that food safety professional combined with elevating leadership—men and women—which is the purpose for my work, and I enjoy doing so much. ” Hearing Deb’s client feedback is what drives her mission and business forward. “I love helping people find their confidence, because that’s what I was once going through,” she explained.

Deb thinks it is more important to help food safety professionals sustain improvement after working with them, versus simply passing on pure technical knowledge. “I elevate people, while at the same time I elevate the business,” she said.

The topic of a glass ceiling is discussed in so many interviews, and Deb would like to challenge that idea. “Maybe in the past, there were challenges to female leadership and we claimed it as a glass ceiling that we had to break through.” Deb continued, “However, I would definitely challenge that! I do not think women need to own that narrative anymore! If you believe there’s a glass ceiling, then you will have a glass ceiling. If you do not believe it, it is not there.”

Deb Coviello
“I think women need to find the network for support and realize that the only glass ceiling may now be just themselves.” – Deborah Coviello, CEO of Illumination Partners, LLC and host of The Drop in CEO Podcast

Deb has one final piece of advice for women who are in an executive position or seeking a position at the table: “Advocate for yourself!” Females have not always been good at speaking up for themselves. However, there are many means to achieve your goals—seek advocates through your network and peers. “Do not ever think people can read your mind,” she added.

She ended the conversation with a personal story that still inspires her today. At one point in her career, she asked her boss at the time what could she change or do to move ahead. Her boss said, “Change nothing, just be yourself!” Deb started gaining the trust and confidence in herself from that point forward. She has become relaxed and more herself—and this is a disposition that gives her energy and helps sustain her passion.

Melody Ge: How did you get into the food safety industry and reach where you are today?

Deborah Coviello: I graduated from college as a biomedical engineer. I knew that I really loved manufacturing because I always loved the creation aspect, going from nothing to something. But along the way, I found out that I enjoyed the area of quality, so I pursued it for several years in multiple industries. One of the things I liked about quality assurance was taking a standard to meet customer expectations. I pursued the ASQ Six Sigma Black Belt to ensure continuous improvement, and I got to learn how to solve problems in business, become more effective and reduce customer complaints. After having my third child, my husband was also changing his business, so I had to return to work sooner than I had planned. I really enjoyed learning about the chemical industry and my skills in quality had evolved, so I landed in the flavors industry, where I started my food safety journey. This is where things started changing for me. I worked for an international flavors company that services the food industry. I became the head of quality for North America for Givaudan, which is the number one global flavors company. It was the dream job that I always wanted. However, it came with a price. Not only did I have to protect the brand by ensuring we delivered a consistent, quality product to our customers; I was also responsible for food safety. At Givaudan, I had a lot of “a-ha” moments realizing that I was in a high-profile, high-risk role. I started taking my job and my voice to the next level because it was such a serious position—I had consumers and professionals around me who depended on me. Food safety was a top priority of mine—not just the compliance aspect but also any area of quality. So that was what took up my time in my previous career before I started my own business in the area of quality, food safety and continuous improvement. Maintaining product safety and brand reputation is a mission that holds true today in my own business.

Ge: What’s your perspective on being a female CEO?

Coviello: Well, there still aren’t a lot of us, although there are more and more female business owners. From 2014–2019, female-owned businesses grew at a rate of about 21% versus all businesses, which grew at about 9%.

I am constantly in search of fellow female CEOs to network with, and share thoughts and challenges. You mentioned a glass ceiling and the need for more women at the table. I appreciate all the female professionals who preceded us, and those who faced adversity to gain the right, trust and respect for all the opportunities that we have now. To give an example of my mother, she was a microbiologist and probably did not have all the opportunities that she would have wanted to in her time. I now have infinite possibilities. I have never felt disadvantaged. I was always able to turn a situation that did not serve me well into a new opportunity. I could take the accountability and move to a different role. I never let people, or the environment, stand in my way. I never felt the fear of any challenges of being a female CEO. I do not feel like I have any extra advantages either. I am simply a person who has a belief in myself and I have established a service through which I can help others.

Ge: Looking back, would you make any decisions differently?

Coviello: Oh yeah, I am much smarter and more confident now. In the past I didn’t believe in my abilities as much as I do now. I used to ask someone’s opinion to validate who I was or how good my performance was. The time was not right for me to start my own business. But looking back, I should have believed more in my capabilities and myself. I probably could have started my business a long time ago. In a way, I was forced into doing it at the end of my last job, and now I realize I am doing the work I was meant to do. I had a great career, and I will continue to have a great career. However, I do feel like I am playing catch-up now. Don’t get me wrong—I have a beautiful life and a very supportive husband. But when I look at successful business people who have 15 years of business experience, I am trying to play catch up. I feel like I have to work a lot faster, which involves business development, marketing, the Podcast, and I am also getting ready to write a book. I am trying to accelerate everything, which maybe I should have been a little bit more methodical if I had enough time. So, I definitely would have started business sooner to achieve all that I want to have an impact on. I would also like to give one piece of advice: Never doubt what you have already accomplished. When you reflect back, you have achieved so much and you should celebrate those successes. There are no failures, [they are] simply steps towards achieving the success you were meant to achieve. When you project yourself forward, ask your self what “is” possible vs. “not” possible. Having a positive mindset and belief in yourself is your guiding light.

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

We Belong Here

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

It’s always a pleasure to speak with LeAnn Chuboff, vice president of technical affairs at SQFI. On a cozy sunny afternoon, I chatted with her for more than an hour, and a lot of memories from when we worked together came back. Once again, it was another inspiring conversation.

LeAnn considered her sister as the first mentor who inspired her to take the food industry as her career path. When they were kids, they always visited test kitchens such as Betty Crocker. LeAnn found it fascinating to see how foods were made and developed. So when she went to Iowa State University, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in food science. After graduation, LeAnn took her first job as a food microbiologist, where she found her career. She liked the science and the mission in the food safety industry. During her career, LeAnn has worked for multiple food manufacturers, foodservice operations, the National Restaurant Association, and now is with FMI.

“I find it so fascinating to see the progress we have made in food safety since I started in this industry. I find us all so passionate with our purpose.” she said, adding how she persevered through her career when there were difficulties and challenges. “There will always be difficult decisions, but if you stick with your vision, mission and purpose, then those decisions will be made for you.”

During the interview, we spent some time discussing communication, how to get your voice heard, and how to effectively communicate. LeAnn provided some of her insights, although she said she is still working and learning on it.

  1. Listen; not ‘pretend’ listening but actually hear from your audience to understand what they are saying and their needs.
  2. Understand the problem before coming up with the solution. We all have great ideas but it’s always important to identify the problem we are trying to solve.
  3. Prepare a recommendation on a path forward. When you speak up and address a problem, try and have a recommendation on how to proceed.

At the end of the interview, I asked LeAnn whether she would do anything differently if the clocks turned back to right after her graduation from Iowa State. LeAnn’s answer was a solid no. She likes her career path. When she looks back now with her 30+ years’ experience and how she got to where she is currently, she has enjoyed every step. All the ups and downs through all her experiences have made her who she is today. “I do not think I would change anything, but I would give one piece of advice to my younger self: Be more open minded.”

“I believe there are glass ceilings in some areas, but it is cracking—it’s progress. We are all talented individuals, and we belong at the executive table. ” – LeAnn Chuboff

Melody Ge: Why do you prefer the food safety industry?

LeAnn Chuboff: I like the people and the working environment. There are so many opportunities. Like for myself, first, I was a food microbiologist working in a plant, then I managed a QA department where I think training and lab management are needed. Then, I was exposed to auditing when I was managing suppliers. There are a lot of open doors and opportunities of what you can do in this industry.

Ge: Do you have any tips for females who are working towards an executive position?

Chuboff: Aren’t you feeling sad that we are still talking about this? We, as women, have provided our points, and we are all talented individuals. We belong in this place, the executive team. We also belong in the environment. I think we need to recognize our talents and embrace ourselves. We bring valuable input to business. Second, we have to surround ourselves with people who are going to challenge us, encourage us, and provide us with the criticism that will help us grow and develop. No matter where we are in our professional career, we have to keep moving and learning, and make sure we know we belong.

Ge: I completely agree. I always think female/male is a personality. Individuals shall be seen objectively, when we work, we all have two sides, sometimes the male personality is stronger, sometimes, the female personality is needed. Do you believe in a glass ceiling, by the way?

Chuboff: I do believe that there is a glass ceiling in some industries and regions, but it’s cracking, and that includes in the food safety industry. However, I am very fortunate to work at where there are many examples of strong women in executive positions. We’ve made progress, but it takes time. I do believe we are in a unique environment where men recognize the talents of women; women recognize the talents of men. Four or five years ago, there were more ceilings, with more discussions revealed—it’s definitely shattering now

“As a leader, always treat people, all people, as I would like to be treated or how I wish I was treated.” – Chuboff.

Ge: There are always discussions about work-life balance. What is your vision of achieving balance?

Chuboff: To be honest, I have to say I am not good at this one, but I am trying my best. My best advice is to commit time for your family and personal life. For professional women, it’s not easy as it sounds to flip that switch, but we need to have the switch so we can turn off work mode. Especially with working from home, it always feels like we’re working. My other piece of advice is, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I think a lot of times, we feel like we are showing our vulnerabilities when we ask for help. Actually, we’re not! Asking for help doesn’t mean you are weak; asking for help can actually help you or the employer to balance resources.

Ge: Besides what you have shared today, if you could give one last tip for young female professionals who are entering the career or during the transition of their career, what would that be?

Chuboff: One thing I believe is that as long as you always represent who you are, and remain genuine with the expertise you have, you will shine!

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

The Career Journey: Networking, Mentorship and the Balance

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

As part of a special offering, Episode 9 has been made available for viewing on demand for free. Register to view the on-demand recording.We were thrilled to have our first Women In Food Safety event with Food Safety Tech during the Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series on November 5. Industry leaders and professionals gathered to discuss women in this field, advocate for our strengths and provide advice to young female professionals as well as those who are at mid- or late-career stages. During the sessions in the episode, we explored self-development, networking, mentorship and leadership. The following are some of the issues we tackled.

When you first start your career or a job, don’t be afraid to take opportunities that have the potential for growth, and remember that all your experiences play a part in helping you achieve your final goal. While soft skills are crucial when looking for a job, technical skills shouldn’t be omitted, emphasized Martin Wiedmann, Ph.D., professor at Cornell University. You need to know how to do the basics; then you can be able to lead and teach others.

Mentorship

Mentorship and reversed mentorship were discussed throughout the episode. Different perspectives were brought up, however, everyone agreed that mentorship is very helpful throughout a career journey. Whether you are a mentor or a mentee, you can learn from each other. Self-learning and continuous development are crucial regardless of which stage you are at in your career. Mentorship happens organically and naturally, but one thing you need to think about prior to seeking a mentor is, what do you need one for? What do you want to learn and achieve? Lisa Robinson, VP of global food safety and public health at Ecolab, raised the question and continued: “For example, I have a mentor in business, because I know that is where I need help and advice.. Don’t be afraid to reach out to find your own mentor. “The mentor should have interests in your growth, and there has to be chemistry between mentors and mentees,” said Cindy Jiang, senior director of global food and packaging safety at McDonald’s Corp.

Women in Food Safety have five focused mentorship areas of focus:

  • Diversity/culture
    • For women with a diverse cultural background, focusing on helping their needs in work culture
  • Adventure starts
    • For women in school, focusing on bridging the gap between academic and industry, focusing on helping the start of their career, and providing a pipeline for future food safety professionals
  • Leadership
    • For women at an early career stage, focusing on helping them step up to senior management, and providing a pipeline for future leadership
  • Boots on the ground
    o For women working on-site, focusing on helping their needs in work culture
  • Work and life
    • For women who just came back from maternity leave or a long break, focusing on helping their needs when going through life-changing times with minimal impact on work

Mentors can be one or more, but it all depends on your goal and what you want.

Climbing the Career Ladder

There are many barriers and challenges throughout a career, but what’s important to keep us going during this journey is ourselves—stay humble, keep learning, and keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. “If you don’t take care for yourself, the rest doesn’t matter,” said Lisa Robinson. She added, “If I am not well, I cannot do anything well.” In today’s environment, the competition is high. We are all looking to find balance, and we need to commit time to ourselves and our family. One way of doing so is to learn how to and be comfortable with saying “no”.

On the other hand, saying “yes” is just as important as saying “no”. Lisa shared a story: She learned that the company she was working at was interviewing for a VP position that she is interested in pursuing. She went to her boss and asked why she wasn’t considered. He responded, “I thought you were very happy with what you are doing.” By sharing this story, Lisa emphasized that speaking up to your boss and saying what you want is important. While you may be enjoying what you are doing, don’t forget to look ahead and make known what you ultimately want.

In addition, “sometimes barriers or rejection might not be a bad thing,” said Allison Jennings, global director of food safety, quality, compliance at Amazon. “Understand what your goal is and find what you love, [and] of course, finding out what you don’t love is also important. When one door closes, another one will be open.”

“Think about how you achieve your goal instead of what you have achieved. Don’t bring a problem without a potential solution; also, don’t bring a solution without understanding the problem thoroughly,” said Sara Mortimore, VP of global food safety and quality at Walmart. As a leader, we all need to develop our team and ourselves together, create a psychologically safe environment where team members can speak up and share their thoughts freely. As female leaders, we tend to be less confident when taking responsibilities or making decisions. “Yes, I can do it! Be confident with yourself when opportunities come to you, ” Sara said as she encouraged the group.

Conclusion

Last but not least, build your own network! All the speakers during this session mentioned the importance and benefits of networking. The food safety industry is a close-knit family. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help.

Let’s be honest, there are challenges for females in the industry, and as far as we have come, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. But what’s important is that we are all very clear of our goals and how to get there. We are working on this together.

Please check out our group on LinkedIn. Follow #womeninfoodsafety

This summary is written based on the opinions and presentations by the speakers.

Food Safety Consortium

2020 FSC Episode 9 Preview: Professional Development and Women in Food Safety

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

Episode 9 of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series focuses on mentorship, career development, leadership and the challenges that young professionals, and specifically women face, within the career of food safety.

The following are highlights for the 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

As part of a special offering, Episode 9 has been made available for viewing on demand for free. Register to view the on-demand recording.

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

Keep the Door Open to All Experiences

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

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.

Peter Begg
Peter Begg will participate in a panel discussion about Professional Development & Women in Food Safety during the November 5 episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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Women in Food Safety: Take the Survey Now

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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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.

Participate in the survey now.

Laura Gutierrez Becerra
Women in Food Safety

Always Seek Opportunities for Improvement

By Laura Gutierrez Becerra
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Laura Gutierrez Becerra

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.

Neshat Soofi, JIT Experts Hive
Neshat Soofi, president of JIT Experts Hive

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.

Food Safety Consortium

2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series Agenda Announced

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

The agenda for the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series has been released. The announcement about the annual Food Safety Consortium being converted to a virtual series due to the COVID-19 pandemic was made last month. Due to a demand to provide attendees with even more content, the event has been extended a full month and is running into December. Food Safety Tech is the media sponsor.

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.”

Registration for the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series is open. Keeping in mind that registrants may not be able to attend every week due to scheduling conflicts, there is an option to watch the each session on demand.

Tech Talk Sponsorship

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.

Innovative Publishing has also converted the Cannabis Quality Conference to a virtual event. More information is available at Cannabis Industry Journal.

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 (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.

Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech
Women in Food Safety

Help Us Shape Our Future Vision

By Maria Fontanazza, Melody Ge
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Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech

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:

  1. Diversity/culture: For women with a diverse background, focusing on their needs in different work culture
  2. 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
  3. The Future Leadership: For women at early career stage, focusing on step up to senior management, pipeline for future women leadership
  4. Working in Manufacturing: For women working in manufacturing sites, focusing on their needs in this specific work environment
  5. 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.