FoodGrads Podcast Ep 38: From Manufacturing Engineer to Sr. Manager of Supply Chain Quality – a unique career path with Jill Kersten, Senior Corporate Manager of Supply Chain Quality at Morton Salt, Inc.

On episode 38 of the FoodGrads we interviewed Jill Kersten, Sr. Corporate Manager: Supply Chain Quality at Morton Salt Inc. The Morton Salt company produces pantry salts for the kitchen, water softening salt for the home, ice melt solutions for the winter, and various other solutions to make consumers lives better.

On this episode Jill and Veronica talked about quality in the supply system and how she helps to ensure that Morton salt continues to produce high quality salt. Jill told us about her unique pathway going starting with an engineering degree. Before diving into that though Jill talked to Veronica about how salt is manufactured and what they look for in a high quality salt. As well, the different aspects of the supply chain and how manufactures work with suppliers to ensure that consumers stay safe at all parts of the chain. If you are interested to learn more about continuous improvement in manufacturing or what Lean Six Sigma then you don’t want to miss this interview!

Show Notes

[00:2:46] Could you please tell us a little bit more about what you do as Sr. Corporate Manager: Supply Chain Quality at Morton Salt Inc?

  • Jill is the Sr. Corporate Manager of Supply Chain Quality at Morton salt but it is also known as Windsor Salt in Canada. Not only do they sell salt that you would by in the supermarket but also salt for about one thousand applications such as food, agricultural products, pharmaceutical grade products, water softening, ice melt product and stuff that goes into oil and gas.
  • Jill manages a team of quality professionals who oversee the quality assurance and food safety risk managed through out the food supply chain. Everything from raw material and packaging suppliers

[00:04:59] What is a good quality salt?

  • Helpful to start by talking about how salt is removed from the ground and the ocean. There are three primary ways that you get salt you are going to eat. The first and oldest method is mined salt which involves using heavy motor equipment that digs underground looking for salt deposits. However, the majority of your salt does not come from this method.
  • When using this method there are a lot of impurities that are naturally found which are not fit for human consumption. Typically, this industrial method is for industrial applications like what is going to get thrown on the roads or on the sidewalk.
  • There is also solar salt which is harvested naturally from salinated water from the oceans or seas and gets dried out. It gets collected in ponds and dried under the sun. Then again it is dug up and harvested into smaller crystals which you are going to eat.
  • The primary source for most or all table salt is performed using solution mining. Where the producer is able control the process better because they are essentially pumping down hot water into a well which is super salinated water than pumping it back up above the ground and vacuum then evaporation of that salt.
  • When looking for good quality salt you have to have the same food safety concerns any food company is going to have. This includes that there are no foreign materials getting introduced into the processes like micro and outside water sources. The type of quality you are looking for is going to depend on the application.
  •  Mostly they are focused on controlling the impurity levels of the  impurity levels. Things can become trapped in the crystal like magnesium or things like that. Additionally, making sure that the salt is free flowing and doesn’t clump together. Also, having the correct colour for the salt and particle sizes.

[00:07:56] Veronica and Jennifer start to talk about what the quality assurance department is like

  • Morton salts have a lot of people and there are chemist that work their company particularly in R&D who are experts in understanding salts. They have a wide range of products from normal table salt to other specific applications.

[00:11:21] Jill you were once in engineering. Would you be able to walk us through the steps of how you got to where you are today?

  • There is no right or wrong path to get to where you are. Jill’s degree is in mechanical engineering with a specification in manufacturing. Starting out of college Jill worked as a process engineer for 3M, the company that makes scotch tape and post-it notes. There she continued to get into continuous improvement.
  • Eventually, moving to Kraft foods and it evolved from there moving into the quality sides. At Kraft foods she worked within their corporate offices and helping to roll out continuous improvement concepts beyond the manufacturing walls. She got involved in the supplier side where they partnered with suppliers to make sure they are providing them with the highest quality, products and reducing costs within their suppliers.
  • Procurement are the people responsible for purchasing your raw materials, your equipment and anything that you are buying for the company. Their department was in charge of making sure that their suppliers were hitting specifications. This evolved to performing corrective and preventive action program management. About a decade ago their was big overhaul in the US on how the food industry regulates itself. One of the stricter requirements was to make sure that when something goes from in the facility it’s making sure that your are putting in the steps to control the risk.
  • our, five train with , our suppliers. And then it kept going further down the quality of that rabbit hole from there, we moved into our crowds so that, um, supplier quality role was within our procurement organization, which.
  • Jill than moved over to PepsiCo for a few years to assist with the Food Safety Modernization Act which Canada has just recently launched the Safe Food for Canadians Act. This new legislation is making sure that the documentation and due diligence is being performed on suppliers and at a higher calibre. PepsiCo has a lot of suppliers so they had to make sure all the documentation was proper.
  • Afterwards, Jill moved to Morton salts where she started developing what the supply program would look like for salt eventually leading to where she is today.

[00:15:57] Veronica and Jill start talking about careers in quality assurance

  • Most people think of  lab professionals or the quality manager at the manufacturing site itself when thinking about quality assurance. However, there are a lot of other places that hazards can occur out side the manufacturing facility. Issues can happen when transporting food and getting bad micro numbers for a supplier. Peanut risks are large. So overall, it is about creating a clear understanding who controls what during the supply chain.
  • Before production there is the supplier and after production. How a product is stored is also important. You can’t store a food item next to a hazardous material and there is pest control. Even if you hope everything goes correctly there will be hiccups along the way. It is up to Jill and her team to interact with the customers to ensure everything is going okay. Practically the sell to everyone because every used salt.  

[00:18:38] Can you clarify what your goal is in preventative action?

  • The goal is to make sure that everyone knows what they are accountable for along the product chain. Where did your ownership start and stop between those party handoffs. Jill is pretty involved in new business partnerships and she will review the contracts to make sure that their quality terms are all outlined and everybody’s on board.
  • Jill also oversees a quality auditing teams so they audit internal sites to make sure they are following their own policies and procedures but also their contract manufacturers, suppliers and  third party warehouses, that they are also putting in their following their own quality programs.

[00:20:22] How do you organize or how do you keep track of so many different sites?

  • There are many options for a supplier quality manager and there are a couple of options on how you keep track the number of suppliers. It depends on the size of the company. Smaller company’s may be able to get away with home grown programs like spreadsheets and Microsoft team. Larger companies have more commercially available supplier quality management tools where they can take the raw material that their producing and follow it to the product end point. You can make sure everything is connected to each other and what know what it exactly was being used for.

[00:22:13] What do you enjoy about your job as a senior manager of quality assurance?

  •  Working with suppliers and getting exposed to so many different parts of the organization. She might get pulled into production helping them or helping the marketing and branding team with the launch of a new product. She juggles a lot of different balls at one time which makes the job challenging but fun.
  • Having her engineering and manufacturing background has been useful because they have a problem solving mindset. It is fun picking up a toolset along the way and figuring out how Jill can apply it to a new situation.

[00:25:26] Is there any skills you are learning about right now?

  • Recently Morton salt went through a restructuring of the team and she picked up her internal audit which is something she has never done before. Jill is not a trained auditor She is learning more about what makes an audit effective and essentially how to become a good auditor. Jill was already exposed to some things prior but needed to know more like the GFSI
    (Global Food Safety Initiative). Learning more about it and what is the best fit for the organization.
  • With the company merger this has also brought the two organizations together so learning how they did things before and what it the best way to move forward

[00:27:19] Veronica and Jill start talking about what it is like being an auditor

  • If someone wants to be an auditor they have to have an eye for detail and good at honing into things. It is not a career for everyone. A person who is an auditor has to really like looking into processes, digging into paper and being like a detective. It isn’t about being a gotcha person but just want the best safety for everyone.
  • As an auditor at Morton salt they get to go to a lot of different geographical locations. So you have to be a person who likes to travel a lot. It has taken Jill to a lot of different places around the world.  I know that it’s taken me to some very interesting places around the globe that I know that I would never have gone on my own as just independent traveler as well. Jill currently has long-term auditors teaching and helping to coach her.

[00:30:14] Can you explain what Lean Six Sigma black belt is and what it has to do with continuous improvement?

  •  Lean Six Sigma is a set of tools used in a way to assess problems and making sure manufacturing are delivering consistent products in the most efficient way possible. You want to minimize the number of steps that something takes to be completed. This describes the lean. When talking about the Six Sigma portion it is more about looking at the product specifically and how can you make it as consistent as possible. You are going to drive out the variation and your processes so that you’re reducing the amount of inconsistencies trying to reduce the statistical deviation. Six sigma in its purest form is just statistics and if you think of the bell-shaped curved a sigma is one standard deviation and you are trying to reduce it.
  • There are other terms out there as well in the continuous improvement space like total productivity management. They are all just different spins on how to approach problems. The main takeaway is to make things consistently and efficiently as possible.

 [00:34:35] How did you become aware of Lean Six Sigma and how important would it be for someone who wants to go into continuous improvement that they get it?

  • Different companies have these different programs that they put in place. Lean Six Sigma is one of the predominant, most popular version of this. From an entry level standpoint as long as you can demonstrate your interest that is good. In Jill’s case she didn’t have the certification but got taught about the skill during the time.
  • If you have the opportunity to learn about it during your internship than you should go for it.  This is a great time to go after that because you could take your learning of how you are applying the classroom setting of learning, how you can apply those tools and then demonstrating it through leading April through a project and showing that you know how to apply those tools and you can apply your project management skillset as well. Ask your employer if they would support that kind of training for you.
  • There is also the ASQ – American Society for Quality Control offer a lot of training modules. As well, check out your university for help

[00:37:00] What advice would give to students looking to go into a career that is similar to yours?  

  • As a student Jill was always one of those people who when asked, “what do you want to do five years from now? “ Typically, she didn’t have an answer for them. She just kept going through positions and decide then if she liked it or not. Jill’s advice is when you’re deciding on your career path of what, the types of things that excite you, the types of things that you like to work on, , as well as the stuff that you know is going to be a mental drag and energy drag that just doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning to get you excited to come into work and, you know, Be open to where those interests may take you in your career.
  • Jill believes that you should be open to saying yes to things that take you outside of your comfort zone. As long as they’re checking the boxes of where you’re passionate about, the culture that you want to work in, and that you’re learning something new and it’s challenging and you might be surprised where it might take you to, to write that you wouldn’t have considered prior to that.
  • As well if you are looking to get into the food industry, don’t get discouraged if your first job isn’t in the food industry as well. There is a lot of complimentary industries where you can acquire those skillsets and hold them so that you are marketable to when you’re ready to make the next step in your career to enter into the food industry. So, it’s varied , there’s lots of different career paths and there, because essentially the food industry has a manufacturing facility, so skills that you can learn at a company that’s manufacturing.  Other things are going to be applicable once you can transition into food, as well.

[00:40:42] Where can people find you?

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