World Food Safety Day 2021 – Reflections of a Food Safety Professional

World Food Safety Day 2021 – Reflections of a Food Safety Professional

Happy World Food Safety Day fellow food safety ambassadors!

Here at Progress Excellence, we are celebrating World Food Safety Day for the entire month of June…

This week we take a look at the role of food safety professionals and how they can contribute to changing mindsets and garnering support in their capacity as food safety team leaders.  We thought we would “get real” and do this week’s blog in the form of an interview with Juanita Louw, Executive: Training & Development, Progress Excellence Training and Development.

Foodbites: How did you start your career in the food industry and why did you choose food safety systems as your direction?

Juanita: I did not choose it – it chose me!  I had a Chemistry qualification when I ended up in the food industry with no idea about microbiology.  It was hard and I had no choice but to study microbiology.  The only option to work and study was to study through UNISA.  This meant self-study through the year and laboratory practicals at Potchefstroom University for 2 weeks each year.  After 4 years of study through UNISA whilst working, I finally received a B.Sc. degree with Chemistry and Microbiology.  It taught me discipline and hard work.  Giving up was not an option.

Early in my career, I was given a choice between quality and food safety management.  This choice gave me an opportunity to develop and implement practical food safety management systems.  This is also where my interest in developing “enabling” training workshops was born.  When Debbie and I started Progress Excellence in 2005, the aim was to provide participants who came to our workshops with the tools to enable them to implement practical systems that can change behaviours.

The opportunity to perform certification audits also came our way and I am happy to make a difference through the certification process and auditing against GFSI-benchmarked Standards.  Auditing should always be a value-adding experience.

Foodbites: What mistakes did you make as a young food safety professional in industry?

Juanita: One of the biggest mistakes as a young professional is that you think, after being qualified, you “know it all” and that you can tell people with years of experience what should be done.  I did not realise at the time that different perspectives and experiences should be harnessed to enhance the business.  I also did not realise as a young professional that you cannot do everything yourself – and if you try – people will never buy into the system which is to the detriment of food safety.

Foodbites: If you could change anything, what would you have done differently?

Juanita: I wish I had the insight about situational leadership earlier in my career.  Where you have to deal with people in different ways, depending on their readiness, to ensure buy-in.

I also wish I had the insight to do self-reflection – that your own personality as a Quality Manager can be one of the main reasons that hamper buy-in.

Foodbites:  What advice would you give your “younger self”?

Juanita:  Actually, something one of my ex-colleagues told me made a big impact.  He said, “You can say NO in a nice way”.  It is often not what you say, but how you say it.  This approach requires a conscious decision to adopt a way of explaining the “why” behind a decision that makes even unpopular decisions or messages more acceptable to people.  This is important when you want to influence people to make the right decisions when it comes to food safety.

Learn from different disciplines, learn as much as you can.  Learn about technical issues, but also about teamwork and people-skills.  Learn and practice assertiveness, proper conflict handling, root cause analysis-skills and attention to detail.

 Foodbites:  How have your personal values influenced the career choices you have made?

Juanita: My personal values include integrity and respect.  In the food industry, both of these values are important.  I am happy to work for a company and have a career where these are shared values.  With food safety, there cannot be a compromise.  I realise further that I would not be able to work for a company where these values are not practiced.

Foodbites:  What advice do you have for other food professionals?

Juanita:  The learning never stops.  My work keeps me humble – keep learning.

There is nothing we do today that cannot be done better tomorrow – keep evaluating, re-directing, improving.

Live your values!

As we continue our World Food Safety Day celebrations, keep your eye on our social media pages and subscribe to our newsletters and stand a chance to win:

We will also be giving away exciting vouchers which you can use to spoil yourself as well as your nearest and dearest.

Stay true!

Food Bites Team