As a food industry-focused recruiting firm, we have witnessed first-hand some drastic changes in the food manufacturing and retail worlds over the past eight months. After many conversations with food safety industry experts, we felt it would be informative and useful to share some insights from top food industry QA leaders.
Basic Human Needs Are The Most Important
We need food, shelter, and water to survive, but these essential life ingredients are often taken for granted. This point was summed up perfectly during an interview with Harry, a Technical Manager of a $2 billion private-label prepared food manufacturer.
“The value of basic human needs is still the highest in human life. When this pandemic was at its peak, people were not worried about their cars, vacations, or luxuries; they were focused on providing food, water, and shelter,” said Harry. “We can be so technologically advanced and can make groundbreaking innovations, but food, water, air, and shelter are still the most important needs we have.”
Hygiene Awareness and Improvement is Paying Off
Food quality assurance executives across the board have unanimously agreed that hygiene awareness has noticeably improved since COVID-19 began.
Harry also elaborated on the importance of hygiene when we asked him about this critical issue. “We always have struggled to communicate, train, and coach people on the importance of hygiene. Now, people are more aware of the importance of proper handwashing and hand sanitation to prevent cross-contamination.” He went on to say, “The consumer has and will continue to benefit tremendously from improved hygiene practices. If we look at data from March 2020 to now, we’ve nationally seen fewer recalls in the food industry. This pandemic taught us to cover our mouths while sneezing, wash our hands, sanitize our hands, sanitize our kitchens, and it even helped significantly fight the common flu. The number of people with common flu decreased significantly, which is a direct result of hygiene best practices.”
Pre-COVID, there was a perception that you were dedicated and selfless if you came to work sick. Now we see that staying home until you are well can help protect the workforce and the public.
According to Joan Menke-Schaenzer, Chief Quality Officer at Van Druen Farms, “The food safety and quality assurance protocols have always been strong, but now we are more focused on heightened cleaning of high touch areas,” said Joan. “I believe that the temperature and health screening of employees will continue forever. There is a new perception of personal health; we pay people not to come to work if they are sick. This has enhanced the safety of our employees.”
Empowering the Workforce Through Increased Trust
Trust has always been a critical ingredient for success in virtually every business. During the early stages of the pandemic, most businesses changed overnight. They relied on their workforce to band together to overcome the onslaught of new challenges, including remote work, flexible hours, and more.
“One of the most significant positive changes is that companies working remotely are getting into the culture of trusting the integrity of their employees and moving away from micromanagement,” said Harry.
This has continued to play out more and more as companies move away from the traditional 9-5 office culture and replace it with flexible hours. Employers are trusting their employees more than ever to get the job done on their schedules.
Technology Must Be Embraced
There are several long-standing norms around embracing change and innovation throughout the food safety industry, but since COVID, businesses have had no choice but to rapidly embrace technology and adapt to the new normal to survive today’s economic conditions.
We asked a trusted Senior Food Safety Consultant in our network about the positive changes they’ve seen due to COVID. “The positive changes I have seen include rapidly embracing technology and adaptable approaches to work,” she said. “I believe shattering these long-standing norms has opened the industry to embrace change and innovation in ways never imaginable. Specific to food safety, we are very fortunate COVID is an enveloped virus and food is not a primary vector. Overall, this issue has opened people’s eyes to monitoring for infectious disease and basic GMPs.”
Embracing technology benefits food safety leaders in many ways. The Senior Food Safety Consultant went on to say, “I hope to see emerging technologies like Ozone/UV combined with traditional technologies to address pathogens and heat/acid resistant non-enveloped viruses for a safer food supply. I see this disruption has caused all companies to look more closely at their supply chain and demand planning systems.”
Speed and Adaptability Are Critical For Growth
Speed and adaptability have always been critical to the food safety industry. With COVID, it’s imperative to evolve at light speed to successfully tackle the frequent changes in food safety measures.
“The rapid shifts in our understanding of COVID drove almost daily changes in procedures at the onset,” said the Senior Food Safety Consultant.
“Historically, an emerging trend might require a tweak or procedural change. The early onset of COVID required very rapid (and almost perpetual) risk assessment and implementation. The PDCA cycle time also shifted rapidly.”
Additionally, many food manufacturing businesses have adapted by establishing close partnerships with local public health officials.
“At Van Druen Farms, we had the local hospital come on-site to test all 500 employees at no cost to them, and we were given results quickly. I am in constant communication with public health and the local county infectious disease expert,” said Joan. She went on to say “My role is currently incorporating more communication with public health and the community. We can’t live with blinders on and know that employees are living their lives outside of their work at the plant. We educate and help make change.”
COVID-19 has presented new challenges and paradigm shifts to the food industry. Despite all of the new hurdles, the food industry remains resilient and adaptable, continuously evolving to deliver the highest standard of safety.
About Curtis Food Recruiters
As a full-service executive search firm, Curtis Food Recruiters has successfully matched skilled job seekers with prominent businesses throughout the food manufacturing and grocery retail industry for over a decade. If you’re searching for your next top performer or need help advancing your career, contact us today and we’ll leverage our vast industry experience to move your hiring needs forward.
* Some of the executives we talked to preferred to remain anonymous or use their first name only.