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FoodGrads Podcast Episode 45: A first-hand perspective of what it’s like working in food safety in the meat industry with Vasudha Sabharwal, Food Safety Professional

On episode 45 of the FoodGrads Podcast we interviewed Vasudha Sabharwal, a food safety professional working in the meat industry. Vasudha is an individual with a rich career in working the meat industry and other sectors of the industry. She also has a Master’s Degree in Bioresource Engineering for Integrated Food and Bioprocessing at McGill University.

In this episode Vasudha really spent the time walking Veronica through her career journey talking about each role along the way and what it entails. She talked about what she did in the role and what it felt like working as part of a team. Veronica picked her brain about the different skills are needed in the industry and how she was able to specifically develop them. She also broke down what working in a meat industrial plant is really like and cleared up so misconceptions someone might have.

Through out the episode Vaushuda shared a lot of wisdom that students should really take. You can tell that it is coming comes from experiences, career growth and even mistakes Vasuhdha herself has made.

Show Notes

[00:01:24] Can you tell more about your career journey and how you got to where you are today?

  • Vassudha came into Canada in 2015 from India because she wanted to do her master’s at a reputable university. This resulted her going into McGill and getting a master’s degree in Bio Resource Engineering Integrated Food and Bioprocessing. She has a bachelor’s degree in biotech but always felt more inclined towards the food science courses.
  • After 2017 she began working for a small company in Quebec but to work there you have to be bilingual. However, Vasudha is not bilingual and is shy to talk in French. There she worked as a QA supervisor and they were trying to make a name for themselves in the industry but unfortunately they closed down shortly after. There she worked a lot of roles and even helped with general labour.
  • After that she decided to move out of Quebec and intro Ontario but wanted to start from the bottom and learn the entire industry. So she started working as a QA technician checking out the production line and CCPs (Critical Control Points). Though the role included a lot of other things like inspecting all incoming raw material, supporting the research and development team and helping with production. After working there for eight months she decided to work at a larger organization where there were there more opportunities to learn more.
  • Vasuhda began working as a food safety and quality coordinator which led her to the Brampton facility which deals with poultry. For three months this was a bit of an office role which included looking into records, certificates of analysis, sending samples to the lab, receiving the results back and talking with CFIA officials. If there were any non-compliances then she was also dealing with customer or supplier complaints. This has led her to now working at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

[00:09:33] Veronica and Vasudha start to talk about what it is like working the afternoon shift

  • Afternoon shifts are much more relaxed compared to the day shift. The afternoon shift wants to keep going and don’t want people to be on the top of their heads. The afternoon shifts have less management and it is a whole different ballgame together. “Once you are there and you are all by yourself. If you work for a smaller plant, if you, like you said and you have to take decisions on your own, the good, I feel like the only good part that I’ve seen. In some plants. If you work in the afternoons, there is a pay raise, pay you a little more”
  • Vasudha recommends that recent graduates or anyone that is new to the industry looking for a job should work in the afternoon. It will give you a lot more experience in decision-making as you will be all by yourself and it will give you a better opportunity to apply the knowledge you have learned about the industry. You start to make decisions by yourself but don’t worry you can always call a supervisor if need be. Afternoon also pays more.
  • Mornings have more structured chaos and thing to do such as signing in orders into the building. The afternoon allows you to build relationships with others. One thing that Vasuhda wants to point out is that many QA technician feel that they can’t approach production supervisors in terms of quality issues but you definitely can. A production supervisor is trained for any quality issues that might arise. Everybody is trained to look for food safety and quality problems. So be confident and get in touch with them. Additionally, the production supervisor knows about machinery and you can talk to them in case something is happening.
  • Example gives an example of a time when they were having an issue grease falling onto the chickens. They didn’t know where it was coming from but after Vasuhda talked to the production supervisor was able to identify that it was coming from the air line. hat’s going on? Where is it coming from? And we looked and looked, and then he told me. Coming from the airshow line. Like how would I know I hardly went to that part of the facility, so he knew about it. And that’s when we were able to ward off a collective action report that CFI was possibly going to give us.

[00:15:58] The meat industry can be considered a different beast when compared to other industries. Why are you passionate about working in the meat industry and why have you continued to do so?

  • Vasuhda decided to change sectors because she never developed a mind set where she would not work in a particular sector. She has always been keen to work in any sector and after getting a plant tour of a meat facility she learned it was so clean. When working on the packaging side there was no odour and it was very neat.
  • Management in the meat facility was also really nice, fair and transparent. They were clear about her job responsibilities and did not participate in the live receiving side. The meat industry in Canada is huge and there are a lot of opportunities for growth. The average salary of a person working in the meat industry is higher than that of the processing. Meat packaged from a production facility might even be cleaner than that of a butcher.
  • QA technicians visually inspect products rather then touching them. They meat industry is a very evolving industry and if you work in the meat industry Vasuhda suggests that individuals also apply for government jobs as well. You will get a chance to possibly work at the port of entries where you can work with important explore.

[00:22:56] Vasudha shares more about her experiences working in the food industry

  • Staring your career in the meat industry is not easy however once you learn to deal with that then fruits, vegetable and ready to becomes the same. It builds you up for your future.
  • For example, when Vasudha was working at Maple Leaf she was asked a lot don’t you care about animals. However, during COVID the demand for meat actually went up. The animals that were killed were humanely killed. If people want to consume animals then they need to be killed. If you don’t do it humanely then the CFIA will come in and then you might have to face some consequences at the federal level and it’s taken very, seriously.

[00:26:05] Vasudha talks about what she has learned in the industry

  • It is really important that you remember that when you graduate that it is not enough. Vasudha believes that you have to keep learning and growing. Things like get certifications in food safety is a good example of that.
  • First Vasuhda did her internal audit certification and then did SQF and HACCP. When you graduate you have to keep exploring things. The industry is rapidly evolving. She wishes that when she graduated she did the certifications earlier on as this would have helped her to stand out and get interviews.
  • Vasuhdha suggests that if you want to take initiative you should talk to your supervisors and managers. They will guide and teach you how to grow in the organization. You also shouldn’t be in a rush to leave after a few months or try to become a supervisor. If something goes wrong you will be responsible for that so unless you are thoroughly trained this isn’t a good path.
  • People are really nice in the industry. You can trust them.

[00:31:23] Did you get certified through your organization or did you get certified on the side by yourself?

  • Vasuhda has done both at the time her organization was offering certifications but there were no spots open. She took it upon on herself to get instead. Many larger organization they will do anything to train you so you can trust on them. However if you go online you will see a lot of certifications just make sure you research them. It will help you get farther in the interview process.

[00:33:28] Vasudha starts to share resume advice

  • Companies only look at your resume for five to six seconds. If you clearly mention in your resume that you have trainings and certifications then you are more likely to be called for an interview.

[00:34:02] Are there any skills that you are actively looking to work on for your job?

  • Vasudha can’t directly comment on what she is learning but when you go into the industry you are constantly learning.

[00:35:29] One of the things that you said on your LinkedIn profile is that you are an adept multi-tasker what does that even mean? How do you hone that skill?

  • As a QA technician you have to keep all of your sense. Vashuda always has sad that you have to have two sets of eyes. You have to keep looking forward and you have to look at what’s going on behind you and all of your senses of smell, taste and everything should be open. While working at Global Ag she was the only QA technician in the afternoon shift and they had five production lines. So in that time she would have to conduct her CCP checks, takes samples, send samples to the lab , check the weight of the product, check the temperature of the product and test the metal detector to see if all their controls were in place. Once you are doing all those things at the same time you will develop the multitasking skills yourself even you don’t want to.
  • Vashuda believes that even if everything doesn’t go smoothly and something in the plant is falling apart than it is the QA technicians roles to figure out what it is and resolve it.
  • For example, there was an instance for Vashudha where it was 12 o’clock in the morning and at that time the best before date would change to the next day. As she was sending out samples to the lab she was in the office printing off stuff to be sent to the lab. At 12:30am she realized that two skids were already produced and five production lines had the wrong dates on the them. Though at the same instances she to go perform a CCP check and that can’t be missed. At the same time shipping is asking her to come and sign for a driver waiting. At that point you have to prioritise and that involved calling the production supervisor telling them, “Hey, fix the issue about the boxes and that there is a printing error.” Then prioritizing the other tasks that are at the same time.
  • So you will develop, even if you’re not a multi-tasker once you are in the industry it is not hard. It will be a daunting experience initially but you will get a handle on it within two months.

[00:40:20] Veronica and Vasudha continue to talk about what is like working in the afternoon shift

  • People come to a job to do it nicely and correctly. If you feel like someone is not understanding what you are trying to do then explain it to them. It doesn’t take that much time.
  • Veronica mentions how if you don’t fix the problem at the the time it will come back to bite you in some capacity.
  • Vasuhda comments how if that happens then that is a loss for the company and production never want that to happen. The earlier you can catch a problem the better.

[00:42:22] What piece of advice would give a student looking to go into the food industry?

  • Check out https://www.canada.ca/en/services/jobs/opportunities/government.html and always look for any government positions. When Vasuhda started working in the industry she was under the impression that you cannot apply for government jobs until you have worked for a certain number of years in the industry. However that isn’t true so if you see some job right now and you are working as a lab technician or if your interested it doesn’t hurt to apply. If you have experience working as a microbial technician than there are position. Always keep looking for opportunities on Indeed.
  • If you are applying for jobs don’t apply on Saturdays. Always apply on Sunday nights and Monday mornings to when the plant is open. HR will see your application on the top.
  • Don’t make your CV or resume more than two pages because if it is three than nobody is going to look at it. If you’re mentioning about one job in five points than the other job descriptions also have to have five points.
  • How much effort you put into your resume counts. Make sure that you spelling is correct, the formatting, the spacing. If your resume is not correct even if you have tons of experience if you cannot create a proper resume how can a company trust you in fixing anything that goes wrong or for any job role.

[00:48:17] Where can people find you?

  • LinkedIn
  • Get in contact with Veronica to get her email (veronica.hislop@foodgrads.com)

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