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FoodGrads Podcast Episode 44: Obtaining career fulfillment by building food safety/quality systems with Aaron Aboud, Quality Assurance Manager at Trophy Foods Inc.

On episode 44 of the FoodGrads Podcast we interviewed Aaron Aboud, Quality Assurance Manager at Trophy Foods Inc. and a member of the Board of Directors for Ontario Food Protection Association (OFPA). Trophy Foods Canada’s leading supplier of high-quality edible nuts, dried fruit and confectionery products

In this episode Aaron talked to us about his role at Trophy Foods and how ended up in a career of food safety despite first going to school for Illustration from Sheridan college. We also talked about food safety programs and how organizations deal with risk.  

Aaron also talked to us all about the OFPA and their mission to represent industry, government and academia by bringing professionals together in a forum to promote, educate and communicate innovation in food safety.

As well, Aaron talked to me a little more about the tone of the food safety community and the real goal no matter who you are working for is ensuring consumer safety. But more importantly how the OFPA is supporting students looking to go into food safety through their student membership program which offers networking events, student competitions and volunteer opportunities. Finally, we talked about the food safety community and what it is like to be apart of.

Show Notes

[00:02:05] Can you tell me more about Trophy Foods?

  • Aaron is the Quality Assurance Manager at Trophy Foods and has been there since 2019. The company can be described as a medium sized company although he has worked in both small and large companies.
  • Trophy Foods does a lot of different nut products such as roasted and raw. They also have their own line of  products but the majority is private label which have their major grocers in Canada and the US. Trophy Foods also do lot of confection and chocolate type products.

[00:03:24] Veronica and Aaron start to talk about Trophy Food’s retail store transformation

  • The company decided to close down the shop so they could utilize it for COVID social distancing practices. However, the plan in the future is to turn it into the Centre of Continued Excellence which will be a new place of collaboration and education for their customers. With nuts and dried fruit commodities there are different grades and varieties which customers might not be familiar with. This centre will serve as an information centre and a place where they can run some pilot plant batches and things like that.

[00:05:22] Can you tell us more about your role as a Quality Assurance Manager?

  • Aaron’s role is to make sure that all of their products continue to be safe and just maintain the highest quality possible. One of the things that they strive for is putting programs in place that those processes will take care of the product itself. There goal is to be proactive when it comes to providing an environment of continuous food safety training. However, their first and foremost goal is to make sure that the food is safe.
  • Trophy Foods quality assurance team has a fantastic group of people working for him which include food safety specialist, regulatory specialist and quality assurance technician who are on the floor making sure that processes that are in place are being followed. This includes things like spot checks and some line testing that the product is meeting standards.  

[00:07:51] Can you tell us the career steps that you took to get into Trophy Foods?

  • Growing up from a very young age Aaron always had an interest in art, drawing and painting. He had though that he wanted to be an animator so through out high school all his classes were oriented around visual arts. When he graduated high school he didn’t get into the animation program he wanted to at Sheridan college because his skills weren’t where they needed to be. So he took time off to build up his portfolio and worked for a number of different food manufacturing facilities as a general labourer.
  • After improving his portfolio he managed to get into Sheridan college for their college and illustration and graphic design program. After a couple of years of being in that program he realized he didn’t have what it takes to become a “starving artist.” He continued and finished his diploma but knew it wasn’t what he was going to do in the future.
  • He was really into fitness and sports all his life so he became a personal trainer for a year and considered going into something nutrition related. One of his clients happened to be a professor at the University of Guelph in a nutrition program and told him unless you want to work as a dietician he suggested he didn’t go into nutrition. Furthermore, if Aaron wanted to go and start developing an understanding of food and how it works then then he suggested going into a food science program.

[00:12:21] Veronica and Aaron start talking about the University of Guelph Food Science Program

  • The University of Guelph is a world-class program and has many successful graduates coming out of that program. The community of the program is very tight knit and at the time of Aaron’s graduation only had about 40 or 45 people for the first year. There are many opportunities for food science graduates especially in the GTA.

[00:14:07] Aaron continues to talk about his career journey

  • Aaron believes that everyone likes to do product development as that is where all the excitement is. That’s why his first job coming of the university so that was his job as well working of E.D Smith  which did a lot of jams and other hot fill products and sauces. Though in this role he was also making sure that their lab was running efficiently.
  • After working there for a year he went to work at another sauce company Giraffe foods who is in Mississauga as well. At the time they were a small company where product development was also doing QA testing. As the company continued to grow Aaron geared himself towards QA and looking to build out that program.  He left the company after 12 years with about 12 people working in the QA department.

[00:15:18] Aaron talking about why he loved working at Giraffe Foods Food Quality Department and building their program

  • Aaron loved getting to build the quality program from the ground up. He learned everything from doing daily audits, daily inspections of products to developing an internal auditing program. At the time they were SQF certified under the GFS size certification and were continuously improving their food quality system. Aaron would have loved to stay but felt it was time to grow and take on a new adventure.
  • At Trophy Foods they are continuing to move in an upwards trajectory of continuous improvement and are getting better in terms of food manufacturing. They are always looking for opportunities to get better and figure out ways to give their staff to succeed and make sure that the food is safe and the product quality is number one.

[00:18:15] Aaron and Veronica talking about how cool food safety programs

  • It is easier to see in a lot companies when a big customer is landed and you meet a certain target goal. However, when it comes to QA it can be just as exciting. QA is like the goalie protection the product. In manufacturing though you don’t want to be doing saves. Your safety programs are like the defense men where it never gets to the point of the goalie as a serious situation.
  • Aaron considers the other departments like their internal clients because that is who they work with internally. One of things that they do is work with staff and management to understand more about food safety and how they are responsible for that.

[00:21:06] How do you get the foresight to figure out what you need to prepare for in terms of food safety?

  • Aaron has been around for a while for many years now in the food industry so his experience has allowed him to become a lot more familiar with things that could happen.
  • Food is all about safety risk and risk management. They want to continue to try to engage with Trophy’s employees so they too understand risk management and how often something can happen and the severity of it.  They develop a lot of programs in a way so that if something happens they take those experiences and use it in the future to allow for safeguards to be put around them.
  • Aaron looks at food safety a lot in terms of common sense like common knowledge.  Think about why you do certain things and how it relates to food safety. Think about what types of things you need to put in place to prevent something from happening. Is it something that employees need to follow or maybe it is the inclusion of a new piece of equipment.
  • A lot of that has to do with food safety culture and where employees have gaps of knowledge which can be filled with knowledge from things like certifications. During certain periods of time they will bring in temporary works which will work in line with the seasonal staff. What they have seen is that normal staff will be training them in real time about the risks. Trophy Foods really empowers their staff. If you put people in charge they will want to make sure that it is good and make the best possible product moving forward.

[00:32:26] Aaron’s advice to new graduates coming into a food safety role and identity’s a problem in the plan

  • Their first priority should be to state that they found a problem and put it on hold. Then they can question what to do with it. They then can identify the risk and see if the process should keep going.
  • As you get more experience you will gain about the confidence. There is also a matter of identifying if something is a food safety or a food quality issue. You want to prevent these issues from happening rather than performing risk management.
  • You have to question why something happened and keep going until you get to the point where you identified the root cause. Once you do that you can put a program in place that helps to take of the product when it is being followed. You also have to verify and monitor processes.

[00:35:57] Can you tell us more about the OFPA, what you do there and why the organization is needed?

  • The Ontario Food Protection Agency is a not-for-profit educational association where they have a series of educational events where members can share information and exchange ideas, make connections and build contacts with other like-minded individuals.
  • OFPA provides kind of an area where you have all these like-minded people in food safety and food manufacturing, regulatory, and they even have CFIA member regularly speaking and providing updates at their events.  It also serves as a hub for almost like a “trade-show” where you can look for items/services related to food safety.  
  • It is also a place to engage students and connect them with various companies and have mentorship to become a great food safety professional. OFPA has connections to many schools in Ontario and even offer scholarships. OFPA is offering free student membership where they have the opportunity to receive their newsletters, monthly e-blast and webinars.
  • They also host two major events every year, a spring and fall event where a number of speakers and sponsors come. They kind of advertise their different products and services and things like that. On top of that they have networking with food and they connect with other peers. It is a different setting than sales because “when it comes to food safety, while I agree that, you know, we’re going to put things in place and we’re going to get equipment here that. That’s responsible and takes care of food, safety aspects. You know, that might be something that we want to keep, private with respect to the optimization of our plant, but we should be engaged in sharing ideas with respect to food safety.We all have a responsibility to make sure that all of the food that is being put out by any company is safe like that.”
  • The OFPA actually has a student who is on their board right now who is a recent graduate. He is on the board because they want to engage more youth and there are a lot of opportunities for students to volunteer with the program and make decision on how they operate.

[00:46:09] Aaron and Veronica talking about food safety in universities

  • Food science is very much an applied science and there is so much opportunity and demand out there for individuals coming out. Chemistry and biology you might not know what to do with that. OFPA wants to bring those individuals in and help them to make connections.

[00:48:30] Aaron talk’s about OFPA’s spring event

  • Student’s have the opportunity to present a poster where they can present the research of your thesis. They also had tried during the three minute thesis where they five you three minutes and one slide to talk about whatever research you have done and talk about it in layman’s terms.
  • The poster’s were shown at the April 14th event which was in person as there was a high demand
  • OFPA’s Youtube page

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