FoodGrads Podcast Ep 42: Leadership in food safety and using curiosity to guide your career journey with Tina Gettis, IIT/IFSH Manager, Business Development & Communication at the Institute for Food Safety and Health

On episode 42 of the FoodGrads Podcast we interviewed Tina Gettis, Business Development & Communication Manger for the Institute of Food Safety and Health. IFSH is a one-of-a-kind applied food science research consortium comprised of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the food industry. In collaboration with the FDA, they provide stakeholders with the opportunity to develop and exchange knowledge, experience, and expertise in the areas of food safety, food defense, food processing, and nutrition.

In this episode Tina talked to Veronica about her role at IFSH and the career steps she has taken in order to get there. As we walked through Tina’s career journey she gave us the low down on an array of food safety related jobs like auditing, quality assurance and supply chain QC. Tina also talked to Veronica about why she decided to go back to school and get her master’s degree and why it actually benefited her with the timing after already working in the industry.

Two of the major themes that were brought up in this episode was curiosity and leadership. Tina talked to Veronica about how curiosity has helped drive her career progression and what exactly is “leadership.” People like to throw that word around but Tina really explained what qualities a leader exemplifies and that looks likes in the context of food safety.  Finally, Tina gave her advice on what students should be doing if they want to get into food safety.

Show Notes

[00:02:38] Can you tell us more about what you do as a IIT/IFSH Manager, Business Development & Communication at the Institute of Illinois Tech?

  • Tina’s role entails her to work with different industry folks about the areas of research in food safety and quality this includes the government (which is the FDA). They have a lot of discussions and research projects that go on between the industry and the government. Her main purpose is to network and bring together new members with existing members of the IFSH.

[00:04:05] Could you speak to more about Illinois Tech and looks like in terms of food safety and where they fit into the industry as a whole?

  • To begin it would be good to give background when it comes to food safety in the scope of the entire food industry. Even teaching of food safety is regulated through the government where the FDA comes up with regulations of what food safety is suppose to look like. That trickles into the food industry and what universities are suppose to teach. Individuals might not realize is that there is a disconnect between the food industry and what is actually going on in the industry.
  • Illinois tech doesn’t have a specific department for food safety. However, they do work with different industry folks to understand what happening the industry so that they can help them as company or communicate with their FDA counterparts. What are the next steps in food safety and how can they help. They don’t necessarily have a department at Illinois tech but they do have a food safety and technology master’s program which dives into chemistry and things like that but not the details of what food safety is like in the industry.

[00:07:54] Can you walk us through your career journey and how you got into this role?

  • Tina started her career in food manufacturing in 1998 with Boca Burger however Kraft Foods bought out the company allowing Tina to transition from a small to a larger company. Afterwards, she moved to an area of procurement where all the ingredients come in. Her role was understanding how they choose the companies that supply other ingredients to make the product. This led he to R&D and learning about how everything works in regards to research and regulatory. Tina than went onto import and export regulatory so understanding how that works and how products get sent out. So she was able to go into auditing and truly understand how products were being made and because of the auditing experience, that, that means she was looking at all things food safety and quality issues.
  • Then after that role Tina moves to a role of handling all their co-manufacturers which made ingredients for their internal sites make and produce products for craft. After Kraft Foods she took on a quality manager role at a small supplier and as a quality manager she was seeing a product being made from start to finish. She would train staff on food safety on why it was important.  She than came to Pepsi and spent 5 years there during the period when FISMA was happening. They went internationally to teach people to help them get their programs together because at that time, FDA.
  • After that role at Kraft foods she left and brought her back to Illinois tech because she already worked with some of the people there. She wanted to do something different and connect with different industry folks and see how her industry experience could help them. IFSH can help to find solutions to problems and help to work collaboratively with the FDA.

[00:12:24] What is FISMA?

  • Federal Information Security Management Act
  • Any manufacturing facility needs to know where the materials they get for products comes from. This involves performing risk assessments, creating a robust preventive control plan, and that involves biological, chemical, and physical attributes of each ingredient in each product that’s being produced. In Tina’s role into a supplier quality role she had to audit each company and look at the risks associated with each of those ingredients.

[00:16:49] Tina starts to talk about her current role at ISFA

  • One thing that they are currently during is working with a subgroup of students in Toxicology and leading the group in talent development. This program is meant to prepare you to work in the industry or with the government or even if you want a role at school. They are coming up with ways to either lead in a webinar or a mini course to teach students in leadership, communication, collaboration, networking, and things like that. Eventually they want to expand this project to any type of student in order to prepare them for what the industry is looking for- knowing regulations and it will be a good thing to tie everything together.

[00:18:11] You mentioned about leadership. Can you talk about what that looks like and how do you actually teach the skills for it?

  • Leadership is more than just leading someone.  There are more skills that encompass it like active listening, working autonomously, communicating well and working with others. A lot of these skills that you find in a work setting or even in a school setting. A good example is parents and how they are leaders of a family. As leaders they listen and let you know what you can and can’t do. They explain things to you. They educate you on certain things. They collaborate with their other spouse. To make sure that everything is communicated. It’s there’s both of us, but this is what we need done. Thinking of it that way, there’s a lot of things that come with it.
  • Now think about this in working on a project. When leading a team you need to tell them what needs to get done and communicate through collaboration. You also need to stand strong in your belief and what needs to be done.

[00:21:56] Let’s think about if you were mentoring a student who’s going either into their first job out of university or college, or going into their internship, how should they be conducting themselves in a way that they’re leading per se, but they don’t have that experience to back it up?

  • This advice can apply to anyone who is coming into a role especially students who don’t have experience. Connect first with people that are in your group than outside your group. Networking is going to be beneficial starting off because you are going to learn so many different thing. Tina even did this in all her roles because if you don’t allow yourself to network you could become engrossed with your work making it difficult to talk with people.  The best thing you could do is talk all the members in your department than reach out. It is not valuable when you are a student but also when you go into the industry.
  • Amiela Laplant episode 10 podcast
  • Tina still continues to this networking in any new department or role that she goes in to. By connecting with others you can begin to learn how things work and outside of that understand how everything comes together and connecting the dots.
  • Students should come in with a plan out what their career will look like and what they want to  accomplish out of their career before they even leave school. So they can start mapping out how they need to network within that company, understand what that company does and the different areas. So they could start talking to people when they get.

[00:27:27] Was this something that you’ve always done throughout your career? Or was there a certain event that sparked this?

  • It’s just the way that Tina is she has already been curious. Students need to be more curious about other things than outside of what they’re doing. This should drive their learning. Tina was called an overachiever when she was younger but she wanted to just do this because she was curious.  

[00:29:46] Looking at your career path it becomes apparent that you started to move around between roles because your curiosity. Was this actually the case for you?

  • This is what worked for Tina. She was talking to one of her mentors which was VP of quality and food safety at the time. So what she said she would do is loan Tina to the department for three months and then while still doing your job you can do a project for them. Tina would get a sense of what they do there and work with one of the lead auditors there. There turned out to be an opening and Tina was able to slip right into the role. She still had to go through a little training and get a certification for being a lead auditor, but it so worth it.
  • Then at late forties Tina started her masters and she was working full-time and had a part-time job for some reason.  Tina opted for a business specialization because she wanted to tap into the business part of things. This all started because she was curious about things. It’s about being dedicated to what you want to do. That will get you to go further.

[00:34:45]  Why did you decide to go back to Illinois tech for their food science program?

  • Tina was introduced to Illinois tech when she was at Kraft food. One of her friends was going for her master’s but at that time Tina wasn’t ready for it yet. Kraft Foods was a member of IFSH so she was already familiar with the connection. In addition Tina’s husband also got his  BA there as an electrical engineer.

[00:36:18] Did your family have any bearing on you deciding to go for your master’s or going back to school?

  • Tina when back to school for herself. Going back to school felt right to Tina and she knew it was the right time that she could handle it. Another thing was that being in the food industry helped her understand anything that was gained during her undergraduate degree. Having that experience allowed her to fit in and apply what she learned in her master’s degree because she was already doing it.

[00:38:23] Was your master’s degree a course based one or a research based project.

  • Tina debated back and forth between the two but in the end decided upon a course-based one because she knew she could manage a course based one.

[00:40:03] What does an auditing based role look like and what was your experience with that?

  • In auditing you have to understand the regulations from the government and have different certification bodies in which you create a list of things that you should be looking for when you are on an audits. Then there are different schemes that coincide with what the government wants for their regulations which trickle down from the FDA. So a company than needs to decide if they as a company needs to adhere to these regulations and if they need to put them in place. It is about trying to identify the root cause of a problem if something is a miss. When it comes to auditing you have to understand a lot of things which isn’t just going in and getting a list of things that you have to check for.
  • There are actually companies out there that actually train you and certify you to become an auditor. Tina was fortunate enough to work at a company which she shadow people and not just be an auditor but a lead auditor. Tina recommends if anyone wants to become an auditor and if you’re not at a company that allows you to shadow them than take a course to become certified.
  • All companies big and small require internal auditing. Auditors also don’t just come in an say that you are doing things wrong. Auditors will recommend and based on regulations improvements that they can make. Internal audits allow you to stay on top of things because you don’t want to have any surprises at your company. You should be on top of things every single day and every single week there should be some form of audit. You don’t have any major food safety gaps to where if the government came in FDA came in and audit your plant.
  • It was important to Tina that when she was working she had a relationship with outside auditors because she wanted to work together. She wanted to be on the same page opposed to barking at you and telling you to do it.

[00:47:18] What advice would you give to students looking to enter in the food industry and specifically looking for a career in food safety?

  • If there are opportunities for you to do an internship than take it.
  • If you  know someone and the industry and you want to talk to them to mentor you
  • Have conversation with people in the industry and if you want a mentor than ask them. Though remember to be genuine and have a proper conversation.

Where can people find you?

  • LinkedInIf try to make a connection keep it brief and genuine

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