8 Careers in Food Safety and How They Help to Keep You Safe
Food safety professionals are the unsung hero of our society.
Unless you are growing your own food and cooking it yourself, you need to rely on others. Foods in the supermarket all go through quality and food safety checks. The fact that you can consume foods without worrying about if you will get sick is a testament to food safety systems in place.
There are so many people involved in helping to keep food safe. You can find them in:
- Government roles
- Food production facilities
- Consulting firms
- Third-body food safety auditing companies
All these people come together to create to help keep you and your family safe.
Whether you want to learn more about the food system or maybe you are considering a career in food safety FoodGrads has got you covered. Here are eight careers in food safety and what they do!
1. Third-party Food Safety Auditor
A third-party food safety auditor is a professional that conducts food safety audits for food safety certification bodies like Safe Quality Foods (SQF), British Retail Consortium Global Standard (BRCGS), National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) or even the government (Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture).
Food audits are systematic, independent and documented activities which look to assess if a food safety system is appropriate and effective. For a facility to be certified by an external audit body they need to have an auditor come in and audit their facility from top to bottom. This includes inspecting facilities, reviewing paperwork and even interviewing employees to make sure that these systems/processes match those outlined on paper
If external auditor finds any non-conformances they will work with the facility to resolve them providing suggestions and guidance. To stay certified organizations must have external audits every few years.
Alternatively, one can work as an internal auditor who is directly employed by the food production facility they are working for. Typically these roles exist for companies that have multiple facilities and want to ensure that quality standards are being maintained across a company.
Food safety auditors are like the food inspectors you know of that inspect restaurants in a city or town. If an auditor finds a facility to be producing food in an unsafe manner they can even shut a place down! Auditors are essential because they act as non-biased examiners who have the consumers best interests in mind.
Related: We need more food auditors! – A guide to becoming an auditor
2. Food Safety Consultant
For many small and medium sized food companies the food safety/quality departments can be quite small. This is why in small companies the Quality Assurance Technician may take on both quality control and assurance activities. Sometimes companies need external help for large short-term projects because they don’t have the man power to do so they might reach out to consultant firms.
A food safety consultant is a professional/firm that helps to develop and update food safety plans/systems for companies. They help to bring technical expertise and knowledge that companies may be lacking.
Things that consultants might be tasked to do to help companies include:
- Improving their overall food safety systems
- Preparing for audits
- Identifying potential safety risks
- Helping to manage the safety of their supply chain
These professionals typically start in the field working for food manufacturing companies but once they have extensive work experience they break out and do consulting. Consulting can be very useful to smaller companies who just don’t have the resources to hire individuals for long periods. Their multiple years of expertise are also assets for those who might not even know that something is a problem.
Related: 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
3. SQF Coordinator
Safe Quality Food Standard is a food safety certification program that manufacturing plants use to verify their safety programs. At many food production facilities, they will have designated SQF professionals who ensure that their facilities are following all the requirements set out by SQF code.
SQF makes sure that manufacturing facilities have systems and plans in place for example that cover:
- Internal auditing plans
- Allergen management
- Document control and records
- Employee training
- HACCP plans
Coordinators are required to have a full understanding of the SQF code and upkeep with any changes. Not only do they have to know about SQF they also have to have a working knowledge of HACCP methodologies, microbiological, physical and chemical hazards, risk assessment and control plan requirements.
Using this combined knowledge SQF coordinators help to manage their company’s document system. Teach and coach team members to appreciate and adhere to document control processes. Having this role in a company is a useful asset for improving their adherence to SQF certifications.
Because SQF is an extensive food safety certification body by facilities following these codes this will ultimately lead to safer food production facilities and safer food for consumers!
4. Program Quality Manager
Things get complicated when companies have more than one location. They need to coordinate their efforts and make sure everyone is on track.
It isn’t enough to have food safety managers managing their own facilities (although we are sure they are capable). Instead to bring everyone together Program Quality Managers come in and make sure that everyone is working in harmony together. It is their role to understand all quality and food safety management systems and controls and develop a road map for facilities to all come to work together.
Implementing food safety programs requires funding and these professionals manage the Quality and Food Safety Management per plan making sure that the company is well in budget. They make sure that company goals are aligned with the food safety program.
Implementing food safety programs costs money and they are the ones that stress its importance to other co-workers who might not understand that.
Related: Hear from a Food Safety Program Manager at Sysco
5. HACCP Coordinator
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a systematic preventive approach to food safety from biological, chemical, and physical hazards in production processes that can cause the finished product to be unsafe. The program is designed to measure and reduce these risks to a safe level.
For every food production facility operating in Canada is required to have HACCP plans that address food safety risks. HACCP coordinators are the individuals who lead an organization’s effort to develop its HACCP plan and to develop, implement and maintain a HACCP Systems. They maintain and monitor this food safety system to drive continuous improvements in product, food safety and quality. These professionals ensure that documentation is maintained and updated based on new/improved processes.
This position could potentially act as an entry-level position for those looking to get their foot in the door of food safety. Any food safety education from college or university should have a course on the topic. However, to be a coordinator one is required to have a certification which can be obtained through a service like Food Processing Skill Canada.
Learn even more about this role in our 8 facts series: 8 Facts About HACCP Coordinators
6. Quality Assurance Technician
Depending on the size of the company the role of Quality Assurance (QA) may also be referred to as Quality Control (QC) technician or food safety specialist. For the purpose of this discussion let’s assume a larger company because it’s easier to know what we are talking about. Quality assurance technicians are responsible for upholding the quality and food safety of programs. Some of the duties that they complete in their role are:
- Conducting audits, a key role in verifying proper food safety practices in processing facilities.
- Providing advice related to regulatory compliance and quality management systems.
- Help with corporate risk management frameworks.
- Write, revise, update and maintain Quality Systems and food documentation
- Contribute to monitoring corrective action and preventative action
- Research and compose new technical documents and reports
Quality assurance technicians can be thought of as the professionals who help to prevent food safety issues by managing risk by creating systems and helping to maintain them.
Related: FoodGrads Podcast Ep 5: Creating opportunities through action with Sashana Chattoo-Edwards, Quality Assurance Technician at Waterloo Brewing
7. Food Safety Inspector
Food safety professionals aren’t just employed by production facilities and third-party auditing bodies. Food Safety Inspectors work for government agencies like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the United States Food and Drug Association. Even if a facility doesn’t follow SQF, BRC or GFSI they need to adhere to government food safety standards and keep up with regular inspections.
The Food Safety Inspection Delivery Branch monitors compliance with legislated requirements for meat and livestock products, milk and milk products, fish, fruits, vegetables, maple products and honey by providing inspection services at production and processing facilities and other points of marketing and distribution.
This role might look similar to that of an external auditor – because it is! Look at their responsibilities:
• Inspect agricultural and food products such as live animals and animal carcasses and other processed goods
• Assess recipes, formulations, production, processing, packaging, preservation and storage methods of food products
• Evaluate practices, programs and records for process control systems
• Identify unacceptable food safety hazards or noncompliance with applicable regulatory requirements
• Collect a variety of samples from agricultural or food products and processing environments to test regularly for biological, physical or chemical food safety hazards
• Prepare and maintain reports for compliance verification activities
• Provide technical assistance to premises operators and other related parties (e.g. industry organizations and associations, equipment suppliers)
• Conduct field sampling and related reporting activities during emergency response, and participate in regular emergency preparedness exercises and training
Their unbiased objective ways of looking at things are what makes these food professionals an essential part of the safety of foods across the nation.
8. Regulatory Affairs
Although not directly a food safety job this career is closely related to food safety professions. Regulations are always updating and different countries have different ways of going about how to label food products. Knowing what is in a product is essential for those with allergies and those with dietary restrictions.
There are a lot rules when it comes to making food labels so companies need individuals who are specialized in this knowledge.
Regulatory affairs specialists ensure that companies’ food products meet all applicable regulations, such as those established by the Canadian Food and Drug Act and Regulations. They stay on top of new applicable laws, provide updates to other teams (e.g. QA, Marketing, R&D and Sales) and affect new and existing products.
Regulatory affairs specialists provide label and packaging artwork reviews for a variety of food products entering into the food market. It is their job to guarantee that nutritional labels on packaging are current and adhere to the regulations. This involves going through ingredients and verifying that they are listed correctly on the label. Additionally, they are responsible for providing excellent customer service and maintaining positive business relationships with both internal and external customers and vendors.
Overall, regulatory affairs specialists are responsible for ensuring that food adheres to regulatory standards. For example, a regulatory affairs specialist working with peanut butter understands that that in Canada, according to Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations, peanut butter may only be sold in a container of 250, 375, 500 or 750 g, or 1, 1.5 or 2 kg.
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