Director of Corporate Food Safety and Quality for Golden State Foods Wendy White sits down for an interview with SmartBrief. She puts her years of experience to work behind the scenes, helping to ensure pathogens don't reach the consumer end of the food chains.
Wendy White had long been interested in the public health sector when she decided to pursue a career in food safety and quality. A microbiology class White was taking as an undergraduate piqued her interest in food.
“I thought, here is a way that I can make an impact in the public health sector, where it can be preventative, and I can help people before they get sick,” she said. “The idea of that is really very intriguing to me.”
Golden State Foods is a global food manufacturing and distribution company that supplies a wide range of products for foodservice. It has four main divisions focusing on proteins, liquid products (such as condiments and salad dressings), aseptic dairy products, and produce. It has 22 distribution facilities in the United States and one in Egypt. Its manufacturing operations include four plants in the U.S. and nine overseas.
The company has been using TraceGains since 2012 to help manage documents related to food safety and quality, primarily in its liquids and aseptic dairy divisions. It uses the Supplier Compliance, Supplier Management, and Specification Management products.
SmartBrief spoke with White about her critical behind-the-scenes position protecting public health.
SB: What are the challenges of dealing with such a wide variety of products?
White: One of the challenges is that there are different pathogens in each of the different categories. You are concerned about [one set of pathogens] for beef and a whole different set of pathogens for produce. And shelf-stable liquids are very complicated, as is aseptic dairy.
You also have different levels of inspection. You have the USDA for beef, the FDA for others, and overseas they have local inspections. That adds complexity.
On the other hand, there are advantages, and that has to do with sharing best practices. Somebody is always doing something better than you are, and we have done a lot of cross-pollination to learn from the different categories, so we are building strength across the enterprise.
SB: What are some of the necessary people skills for your job?
White: Our field is obsessed with automation, and I think it’s a wonderful thing, but you can never take the people piece of it for granted.
The two things you need to have on your people side are vigilance and engagement. You will never be able to replace the people who are on the floor. They are the eyes in the trenches, and they see everything that goes on. They see where we could be exposed to problems, or even more importantly, potential problems.
These two skills, vigilance, and engagement, are not necessarily intuitive. Develop them through training, empowerment, and encouragement. People need to know that they have the authority to raise their hand and throw up a red flag.
SB: How have the functions of food safety and quality assurance evolved during your career?
White: I have seen large changes in our arena of quality assurance and food safety. I think the role of quality practitioners has evolved and expanded. It seems like we must expand that focus into areas such as food fraud.
And now, we are looking at areas such as social responsibility and sustainability, and I think that’s a reflection of how consumers’ expectations have changed. Their definition of quality has changed.
With all the clean labeling initiatives, there’s a big move to go to things like natural preservatives. As quality practitioners, we have to be cognizant of these things. Removing the chemical preservatives from a product is not necessarily a good thing because it might compromise the safety of the product.
SB: What are some business lessons you’ve learned from operating internationally?
White: We have found great benefit in having frequent communication with all of our international sites because we have found that a lot of emerging issues first surface in another part of the world. So if you’re in contact with your international colleagues, you have a heads-up and can start formulating your strategies before it becomes an issue in the U.S.
Understanding what the public is concerned about before you get a call from your customer about it is invaluable.
It will better prepare you for emerging hazards too. In Europe, for example, they were looking at E. coli long before we were.
SB: What advice would you have for someone just starting in food safety and quality assurance?
White: I would advise that learning does not stop at graduation. I am a big proponent of continuing education, and one of the best ways to do that is through our associations and organizations.
My two favorite organizations are the Consumer Brands Association and, of course, the International Association for Food Protection. They have an invaluable exposure to emerging issues. I can’t stress enough to network with other quality professionals, not only in academia but also in government and industry.
Shop around, and once you found an organization, get involved in it. Not only attend the meetings, but also get involved by presenting at the meetings, joining the committees, and trying to get involved in some leadership opportunities.
Often these national organizations have regional or state affiliates, and that’s a great place to start. originally published this post.
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