FoodGrads Podcast Ep 17: How to problem solve with quality assurance with Fatema Bastawala QA/ HACCP Coordinator at Toppits

Welcome to episode 17 of the FoodGrads Podcast. The podcast where we explore careers in the food, beverage and hospitality industries. I’m your host Veronica Hislop, a molecular science graduate student and career partner with FoodGrads.

On this week’s podcast I interviewed Fatema Bastawala, a Quality Assurance and HACCP Specialist at Toppits Foods. Toppits Foods is an importer and supplier of frozen foods to the Canadian foodservice, retail and manufacturing industries, specializing in seafood.

In this episode, Fatema and I talked about her career journey in Canada starting with her time at Centennial College in their Biotechnology and FoodScience program. Through out her career through her her co-ops and full time jobs she has worked at the CFIA, Sofina Foods,WG-Promanufacturing and now Topits. Not to mention helping out with FoodGrads as a Campus Ambassador at the same time.

Over all, Fatema gives some great insights as to what it is like working in Quality Assurance and how she approaches problems when they arise in the plant. I got to learn about food safety and quality standards in a fish industry context. You can tell that Fatema has a great enthusiasm and drive to learn about the food industry and one of the message’s you’ll hear that’s resonates through out this episode is to a have problem’s solver mindset.

Show Notes

[2:40] Fatema talks about attending the Bakery Showcase and getting her first job through there

[4:58] Let’s talk about your career journey and how it has led you to Toppits today

  • She did her Undergraduate in India in Biotechnology and microbiology. When she went to Canada, she did a bridging degree between University of Toronto and Centennial. Afterwards, Fatema was a chemistry TA and tutor than she was a laboratory technician for Centennial.
  • She worked a media prep and microbiologist with the CFIA. At the CFIA you were able to take unlimited number of courses. Fatema did almost 80% of all of the courses available. For example, she learned how to calibrate a scale and thermometer. 
  • During the summer time she worked as a lab tech at a water park 
  • Her first job was at WG, small co-packing company. It was mostly on the floor where she was printing labels and making sure everything was properly was being made.

[11:25] Fatema talks about Sofina foods working as a QA tech 

  • She worked the afternoon shift and the managers worked the day shift. However, she was able to be an independent which accelerated her learning 
  • It was a complex facility because it had both raw and ready to eat products. 

[13:28] So you work at Toppits, you are a QA and HACCP coordinator

  • Toppits is a much smaller facility compared to Sofina Foods

[14:18] Fatema talks about learning from mistakes

  • QA is about thinking out of the box in order to solve problems

[14:55] How do approach problems when they are in the plant? Can you give example

  • Fatema gives the example about how the weighing scale was not tared during production. The product that goes through the end of the line is underweight.
  1. The plant staff will always let you know if there is a problem.
  2. Take accountability and said that you made a mistake
  3. Think about multiple solutions that could remedy the situation. 
  4. Go through the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) they should provide ideas on to find solutions 
  5. Bring the solutions to a manager or someone who can help you like someone with a lot of experiences 
  6. Solve the problem with your solution

The more problems you see the more solutions you can bring. Experience helps you with that

[20:40] One of things you mentioned you have worked on in the CFIA and Toppits. How do you learn about regulations? 

  • Every country has their own standards like CFIA in Canada and USDA in the United States 
  • Third party certifications BRC and SQF is known world-wide 
  • Check out the regulation manuals online for any of these certification bodies. Just search them up on line. 
  • Students don’t have to have a membership to view any of these things. So students should just look this up and get a better understanding. 
  • The food industry has a ton of regulations. Food has a lot more to watch out for when compared to pharmaceuticals

[25:27] What type of things do you look for in terms of quality and safety in the fish industry?

  • Physical attributes – texture, aroma, colour 
  • Metals you can somehow hear if something goes from. Metal detection checks help to avoid these problems 
  • Microbiology – Listeria and Salmonella. These can be caused by improperly cleaned things. 

[29:43] In the end why did you decide to go into the food industry?

  • At first Fatema had no idea what she was doing with her life. She wanted to just be in the lab.
  • Once Fatema started working at the CFIA she knew that she was going to be in the food industry.
  • Finding the right co-op position opened the right doors 

[33:22] Fatema and I talk about the feelings being in a food audits

[36:34] Why is the food industry a great place to work?

  • The joy of seeing your product on the supermarket flyers. 
  • Seeing people taking it, buying and seeing when it sells out, happy faces of people’s consuming these products 

[39:20] What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career similar to yours?

  • Just get into the industry. Don’t think about if something below you. Just give it a shot. Even working in production is a great way to learn. 
  • It gives you so much power and knowledge. You will continue to grow.
  • If you are not happy switch jobs, switch food types 
  • Be accountable no matter what you do in your life
  • QA is the field for you if you enjoy problem solving

[40:45] Where can people find you?

  • Facebook, Instagram 
  • LinkedIn
  • FoodGrads – just shoot us an email and we can connect you with Fatema 

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