FoodGrads Podcast Ep 51: What does a HACCP Coordinator do and the skills needed to excel at it with Esther Ijiwade, HACCP Coordinator at SOFINA Foods Inc

On episode 51 of the FoodGrads Podcast Veronica interviewed Esther Ijiwade, HACCP Coordinator at Sofina Foods. Sofina Foods is a Canadian company dedicated to providing great-tasting, high-quality food products for consumers. Their offerings include pork, beef, fish, turkey and chicken products with the brand offerings like Cuddy, Lilydale, Janes, Mastro, Gletcher’s and Vienna.

In this episode Esther talked to Veronica about her role as a HACCP Coordinator at Sofina foods and what the role is really about. We got in the nitty gritty of the role as I asked Esther about her day-to-do duties, some of the habits that her to succeed at her role and she clarified to me that this is not a desk job. We also talked about her transition for her time at the University of Alberta as a master’s student in Animal Sciences and the skills which applied from her degree to now. We rounded the episode by Esther giving advice on what a student should do if they are looking to get into the meat industry.

Show Notes

[00:02:09] Can you tell us more about your role at Sofina foods and more about them?

  • Sofina foods is a privately owned Canadian company that produces poultry, pork, fish and beef products ranging from fresh and frozen to fully cooked products. Currently, Esther works for the Lilydale Brand at the Edmonton plant. She works as a HACCP coordinator and ensures that turkey products are produced in a way that is safe for human consumption. This involves being actively involved with all the production personnel  to ensure that they are implementing and complying with all food safety regulatory bodies whether it is CFIA regulations, food safety bodies like SQF or customer standards.

[00:04:47] Can you explain more about what HACCP is?

  • HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points and is a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical assets from. the beginning of raw material production to procurement of raw materials, to manufacturing, to distribution and consumption of the finished product. For example, one critical control point is the age of the animal and when it is processed.

[00:07:17] What are your daily duties as a HACCP Coordinator?

  • Every day and weekly is mostly documentation review of requisites and prerequisites reassessment. The CFIA uses what they call a MOP (manner of procedures) but now have changed it to the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations. As a HACCP Coordinator you have to check updates and stay on top of regulations. Looking up regulations and understanding them in-depth is what is taking most of her work currently. Additionally just going through document making sure that they match what is ongoing in a plant production. For example, she will go out on the production floor as an integral role of a HACCP Coordinator is that you verify things like food safety programs match your SOP.

[00:10:26] Can you talk more about your career journey and how you got to where you are today?

  • Esther got her bachelor’s degree in animal science from Nigeria but her first goal was to be a lecturer. When looking for opportunities she decided to get a Master’s degree and possibly start a PhD however she started to get clarity. Esther had a great supervisor and was exposed to the industry. This led her to become an intern at a Federal meat plant which was focused on exporting meats. After the internship she got her first full-time role as Quality Assurance Technician there. The facility offered the ability to get a certification course and she was promoted to HACCP coordinator.
  • In Canada they are mostly focused on exporting and she interned there for four months. Afterwards she moved to a full time role. Esther is a very detail oriented person.

[00:13:38] Was learning about meat science at the university your first exposure to meat? When was your first exposure to meat science?

  • Esther was first inspired to go into meat science from the her home country in Nigeria. Generally, meat is sold in open markets with little or no concern for safety/quality. People just go to the market and touch the meat while negotiating prices. Seeing this created a passion for her wanting to know more about meat, quality and safety to ensuring it’s safety for everyone.

[00:16:22] Can you talk more about your masters project in meat science?

  • Esther worked on improving beef toughness and trying to identify factors that effect the meat quality. She studied collagen and connective tissues and postmortem aging. They aged meats for 3-14 dats and then checked the toughness. This was a result of biological processes that took place for the breakdown of collagen to understand connective tissue.  The idea is that for processors that they don’t have a lot of space to age things.

[00:18:32] Can you explain better what toughness is?

  • In this case the amount of different connective tissues. So the amount of all the protein present in the post-mortem agents that break them down.

[00:19:53] Was there any skills that you picked up during your master’s degree that you applied to your job?

  • Meeting deadlines
  • Effective communication through presentations. During her master’s degree Esther performed a lot of presentations.  Being able to get your message across is important for talking with production and understanding what people are saying. For example, if a temperature is not being achieved by equipment then you need to communicate effectively that these products can’t be sent out.
  • Prior to her graduate program Esther felt she wasn’t a good speaker but through lots of presentation and courses she was able to communicate effectively. As well, receiving feedback through lab meetings. Esther found her lab meeting have helped he as well with workplace meetings.
  • Additionally, written communication because of writing reports because you have to perform write up if there is a deviation you have to write out a risk assessment. These are the types of reports you would have to do during school.

[00:25:17] Was it difficult transitioning in your full-time job from your master’s degree?

  • During her internship Esther forgot that she was still in school because she was still learning. As well having a wonderful manager allowed her to enjoy her work so the transition wasn’t that difficult.

[00:26:35] Do you ever miss the learning aspect that you got from your master’s degree?

  • Esther doesn’t currently miss school because she is so busy with her job as she does many things like collect samples, send sample to the lab, run in-house testing and interpreting results for biological hazards.
  • The only thing that Esther misses is performing statistical analysis. They use Excel at work but not the software R. Though Esther however still does little mini projects at work such as collecting temperatures, monitoring devices, taking all the data, putting it together and writing a report. Esther believes that when you do those things you don’t really miss school.

[00:29:28] Esther asks Veronica if she enjoyed working in QA

  • Veronica did enjoy doing QA but at first it was a bit overwhelming because she didn’t have a background in food science of food safety. Though once she got into the role she really enjoyed it. The only reason why she decided to back to school was because despite being in the role for a few months she couldn’t stop thinking about research. Being in QA exposed her to many new situations that you just aren’t accustomed to as a student.  You meet a huge range of people from all walks of life and you learn to communicate with different types of people. The whole world is not made up of 18 to 25 year olds. Overall, she really did enjoy the role

[00:31:38] Are there any habits, routines or things that you do that have helped you in your job?

  • Staying organized.
  • The food industry is fast paced and it can be challenging and physically/mentally taxing. Esther remembers her tasks by simply creating to-do list where she writes things down and crosses them out as she goes along. If a task doesn’t get finished then it is moved to the next day.
  • Prioritizing and not procrastinating. Esther has certain tasks every day like record verification, attending management meetings and working on reports. She groups the tasks into section and every time something new comes up she will immediately write them down.

[00:35:17] What advice would you give to students looking to get into a career in the meat industry?

  • First ensure that you are passionate about choosing a career in the meat industry. Passion is needed because the industry is actually really fast paced. It might not be quite like you expect and the thing that is going to get you through it passion. Over time you will build up the certifications and it will help you in your career.

[00:36:07] Are there any lessons or types of philosophies  or just something that is important to you that has been something you have taken throughout your life and your career?

  • Be focused with what you do. Being focused has helped Esther have a defined goal. Even though she has had the opportunity to switch careers she has decided to remain focused.

[00:37:27] Veronica and Esther talk about what people think of her working in the meat industry

  • Esther believes that meat is a critical aspect of food like the safety of meat. It is very hard to ensure it’s safety. If you make a simple mistake than it could affect a lot of people. Though Esther wants to ensure that people get good, safe and quality products. That is her focus and goal.

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