FoodGrads Podcast Ep 36: Making corporate level food safety programs accessible to everyone with Jennifer Crandall, Owner/Founder/CEO of Safe Food En Route, LLC

On episode 36 of the FoodGrads Podcast we interviewed Jennifer Crandall, Owner/Founder/CEO of Safe Food En Route LLC providing a vast array of services which include Foreign Suppliers Verification Programs services and food safety consulting. Their team’s goal is making corporate level food safety programs accessible to everyone!

On this episode Jennifer talked to us about all things food safety Veronica learned about what exactly a food safety consultancy does and why they can be an integral part to many small and medium size businesses in their food safety plans. Jennifer talked about her career journey and particularly her time working in corporate food safety and the ways it is different than working in a food manufacturing facility. We also talked about the importance of planning in your careers and the daily habits that Jennifer takes to manage her consultancy and how she has dealt with push-back.

Show Notes

[00:01:52] Can you tell us more about Safe Food En Route LLC and what you do there?

  • Safe Food En Route is a food safety consultancy focused on three different categories of service.
  • The company was first launched when there was new regulations for the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act for Importers. Now it is known as the foreign supplier verification program (FSVP). Safe Food En Route was launched to help businesses to navigate the rule and help them do the food safety work that is required by importers to meet the law regulations.
  • The second bucket happened when the company escalated to consultancy for manufacturing companies meet FDA or USDA regulatory requirements.
  • The third bucket is like a home inspection for the purchase of a food company. They review food safety programs for buyers of food manufacturing in order to gain insights and perspectives that facility is currently in and how the investment could help them in the future or how the branding works with their current brand.
  • Currently the administrative team is about 10 people and they are supporting about 24 food safety consultants and experts. They do sub-contract work which adds up to about 30 to 35 people on a regular basis.

[00:06:47] How have you built the consultancy up to match the overall vision?

  • As CEO of the company Jennifer would build the team up organically through word of mouth. However, as they grew they have targeted people with the skills they are looking for. Qualities like bedside manner and are easy to work with their clients and have good relationships with them.
  • All the team members have a minimum of 10 years experience at minimum but many have over 20 or 30 years.
  • The mantra: Making corporate level programs accessible to all businesses
  • Safe Food En Route LLC. Is a team that helps to support it’s clients through a community of assistance and the connection of technical and leadership development within the company.

[00:09:47] Jennifer starts to talk about her early years in the food safety industry

  • Even if you are working hard in your early years it can be hard to know your blind spots. There were a lot of decisions made without support and it wasn’t necessarily the wrong decisions but they could have been more effective.
  • Being at larger corporates there a lot of people there that you can ask and rely on internally. However, with a lot of small and medium sized companies they don’t have that safety net. They don’t have the ability to hire someone with 10 to 20 years of experience. That is wear they aid of a consultant can come in. Safe Food En Route can help stand side by side with those individuals who might have less experience to be able to help them navigate questions or prompt questions that they wouldn’t have known to ask.

[00:12:00] Can you please walk us through the steps it took you to get to where you are today?

  • Jennifer graduated in ’98 from Purdue University and their food science department. During her first internship she worked at Universal Flavours  and was exposed to the beverage industry through there. The exposure led her to working in and out of manufacturing for eight years eventually leading up to a production supervisor. Eventually this led to a supervisor role in sanitation, overseeing sanitation and food safety.
  • Eventually Jennifer got into the quality assurance role where she was writing HACCP plans – Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points and SOPs – Standard Operating Procedures and other policies. She than shifted to product development in a juice company and then eventually dairy. Working there she was working a lot with the farming community and trying to help them get the best quality of milk, the best bacterial counts. You know, before pasteurization and just trying to help them isolate and identify where they had risks. So that was the first eight years I lived in several different places during that.
  • Jennifer than moved to Kroger corporate and started working in their corporate food technology department because of the constant movement in manufacturing and the lack of stability. She ended up in their corporate food technology department and thought she was going to end her career their and never thought she was going to start her own business.
  • Working at Kroger Jennifer had four or five different positions there which involved supporting private label products and doing quality assurance, sensory panels, setting up, you know, cuttings where we would just make sure that they were meeting standards, comparing them to competitors, et cetera.
  • During this period the GSI requirements started happening in 2008 and Jennifer cam to analyze the data for that which involved managing over 2000 manufactures and making sure they were meeting the requirements. When you go into a Kroger grocery store they don’t necessarily manufacture it but bring in the “ingredients” into the store like deli meats, cheeses, the items you find around the perimeter of the store. Branded Kroger products but not made by Kroger
  • By the end of her time a Kroger Jennifer was monitoring over 10000 facilities and it was all data management. It’s about learning about how to manage data more than food safety information because she didn’t have time to read every food safety report. She relied on her manufacturing experience and would look at trends and the accountability of GSI.
  • Three years after she worked in global sourcing and would take the information and that data management from Excel spreadsheets to access the databased and put it in the cloud. However, she felt that the role could be handed off to someone in a new position. She vetted companies for Kroger. Traveling internationally her main responsibilities were to look to see if they could direct import, products, and see if that was manageable. And cost-effective.
  • During this period Jennifer debated if she should go back to school and get an MBA because she only had a bachelor’s degree but decided not to and with FSVP coming into play things eventually led to her starting the business. All the pieces fell into place.
  • So I had a good three years of kind of like international business. You know, from an education perspective. And that whole time, I felt like, do I need an MBA?

[00:23:12] Veronica and Jennifer start talking about quality assurance from a data

  • At such a high level view of the data one person could not possibly manage everything. You look for solutions that will assist you because the food industry is really lean. A lot of times a small group of people get a lot accomplished.

[00:24:49] Do you ever feel overwhelmed with things?

  • Jennifer says that almost every day she feels that way. Every step of her career she has felt that way a little bit though as she has gotten older she has started to fall into the clichés like:
  • How do you eat an Elephant? – One bite at a time. Small consistent steps and action lead to things getting done. From a personal development standpoint and human skills standpoint you cope by managing with a good routine, good exercise routine, a good mental state in order to maintain that you need to be consistent because life around you is going to be inconsistent.
  • It’s really important to just have that good foundation of routine. Everyone has this mentality that they have to do everything at once putting extreme stress on ourselves and to deal with it. You believe that it is an all or nothing mindset causing us to become frozen. Shift your thoughts into nothing all or something. That way doing something gets you to the next point. That way you are always moving forward.
  • Jennifer creates quiet time in the morning and does visualizations that she wants for the day. She goes for a walk with her dog to get a bit of exercise and it is a very peaceful way to start her day.

[00:30:22] Jennifer starts to talk about the benefits of having a syllabus for her life

  • One thing that clicked for her was having a syllabus for her life. In college we would get one but after that you have to become responsible for yourself.  So, yeah. And that’s so key. There’s some very simple principles, that, , you mentioned that that’s one is routine.
  • Like a business you should have a plan for the next five years. Your three, five and 10 years from now. It is not being rigid with the plan but more so seeing where you can take things and better identifying where you can go with. There is some science that if you don’t visualize where you are than you can’t get to where you want. Some people don’t like planning and just say I will figure it out when I get there. That’s your journey is your destination. But when you’re really saying, okay, I want to go to Florida for my vacation, how are you going to get to four? You have actions to take plans to do you have to think it through to make sure you’re prepared to go to Florida and you have to know your route.

[00:33:22] What are some of the most common challenges in small and medium sized businesses in to food safety?

  • Most companies right now are organically calling on them to help with their food safety management systems. They find a lot of calls come from companies looking to meet regulatory requirements. The biggest challenge that many companies are facing is that they don’t have especially small and medium ones because they’re growing, they’re still growing their budget and don’t have funds to allocate to it.
  • Safe Route is there to provide guidance, providing structure and helping to give a vision.

[00:36:02] Would you be able to provide an example of let’s say a project or something that has gone well for you and the process to get it done?

  • It was difficult to answer this question because various clients have various different places of their processes. Many clients come to them looking for help on the regulatory requirements. They will usually come in and do an assessment of what their facility, what their current state is and any holes they might have in their process. They can predict how long it’s going to take this amount of time for Safe Food will help them to create the documentation and help to guide them through the creation of them. After all the ultimate goal is help them obtain their certification or pass a regulatory inspection.
  • Another big goal is to create a positive experience that develops into a proactive culture. A lot of companies are reactive based on what a customer is saying they need to do or didn’t pass an audit.
  • those for you or in tandem, you’ll create them and we’ll guide you through the creation of them. So. Once we get them to that point, then ultimately their goal is to obtain that certification or pass a regulatory inspection. The FDA is more reactive with their laws shifting, and they’re more proactive now. The best clients that are the ones that really have that proactive mindset and want to do the right things.

[00:40:18] How do you deal with pushback that some people give with food safety?

  • If you back up Jennifer’s year up 10 years she handled it poorly. There was a lot of pushback internally to the companies she was working in. There is a lot of pressure when trying to get a product out. Your customer isn’t necessarily the consumers purchasing it in the store but more so the store or wholesalers. You don’t want to disappoint them.
  • Being in food safety you are naturally presenting problems to production. You may need to stop production. By being proactive and designing systems, those processes of getting the policies and procedures and plans limit the amount of times you stop production.
  • Some clients will write these programs but not work to sustain them. They want Safe Food En Route to do the work and continue to. It is more their goal to provide the tools to help and let them to be free. They don’t want to be considered and employee.
  • For Jennifer a good food safety culture is key. Making sure that everyone in the ladder of the organization, from sourcing products, buying it to planning out the production and then anyone that’s involved in production and shipping, they need to understand the food safety in all elements.
  • In a more direct manner if something goes wrong you need to first ask some questions like “Is this going to cause someone injury or illness or even potential death? If that answer is yes, the answer is always do not ship. If it’s not. Yes. Then the next question is something like, is this going to cause a quality issue that causes a complaint? If the answer is yes, then you’re kind of doing a risk assessment of how bad is it? Will it be damaging to the company, whether it be financial loss, is it going to risk the brand?
  • Having some strong questions built into the process for the team to rely on are really good to, to be able to help. Facilitate those conversations because the pushback comes from the knee jerk reaction of wanting to please somebody and pleasing somebody still is the goal. So reminding them that, , you’re not going to please them.
  • If you have an issue that causes. It’s going to be a different, they’re going to still be disappointed if you miss the shipping date, but they’d rather you miss the shipping date because you were stopping product from getting to the consumer that was going to cause a recall or, , even, a withdrawal, which might be more of a quality.

[00:44:33] What piece of advice would you give to a student thinking about going into a career for food safety?

  • The industry needs more people in food safety and food is always going to be there. There is a limitless amount of jobs
  • There is a lot of black and white in food safety. Like this you either hit a temperature or not to kill a pathogen. That is helpful when making decisions and will help you to justify a decision. A person who likes this to make decisions can find it helpful.

[00:46:20] Where can people find you?

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