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#1 moldyapricot

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Posted 12 March 2021 - 07:38 PM

Hi everyone, I've been pursuing a career in food for a long time, and I'm feeling very stuck right now in regards to which direction I should take my career. I would greatly appreciate any recommendations and insight from all of you experts here. Below is a brief summary of my career history and what I'm hoping to get out of the rest of my career.

 

After a first career of 5+ years as a journalist for a food science magazine, I have spent the last 5 years pursuing a career in which I can work more closely with foods and plants. I completed a yearlong horticulture certificate at a local university's extension program and have since taken jobs as a hydroponic lettuce farmer and a buyer for a specialty produce company along with a lot of random volunteer positions for farms, beekeepers, etc. I feel like fresh produce is an industry in which I'm able to find meaning, purpose, and the potential for a profitable career. At the recommendation of a few people on this forum, I obtained PCQI certification several months ago.

 

I want to continue building a career in fresh produce (or minimally processed health food manufacture), but in a role that is highly engaging and in which I'm not spending all of my time in an office calling and emailing people and never even seeing or interacting with the food my company sells, grows, or manufactures. The idea of becoming a food safety manager for a farm, grocer, or health food company appeals to me. It sounds like I can spend some time on my feet, make decisions that immediately impact consumers, and continue learning about produce business and produce science in a very intimate way. But I'm not sure how to get there nor what the literal day-to-day reality actually entails.

 

In summary, can anyone explain (or suggest a resource on) what a food safety manager's day-to-day work is like, what the pay potential is, and how I can one day get there? Do I need to go back to school for a masters in food science/microbiology and then start back in a lower level position or can I work my way up without higher education, perhaps with the help of obtaining some independent certifications? I have more than 10 years of experience and knowledge in food procurement and food science, but it unfortunately is not streamlined in food safety specifically. I feel stuck in this endless cycle of not being qualified for the precise food jobs I want, and instead I'm getting placed in loosely related roles that lead me in different directions and don't prepare me for the jobs that really interest me, despite employer reassurances that crossing over is possible.

 

Thank you sincerely for any insight and/or resource recommendations. My apologies for how tangential this post is. Any thoughts are welcome about any of the points I mentioned above.



#2 zanorias

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Posted 12 March 2021 - 08:33 PM

Hi moldyapricot (excellent name)

 

I wouldn't necessarily look to get a masters degree to help with job prospects, unless there is a certain role you want that requires that higher/specialised education. Even with undergraduate, whilst it can help, I've known plenty of Technical or QA managers that have worked their way up (i.e. QC->QA->QA Manager->Tchnical Manager) through the years and taking Food Safety level 1-4 (UK), HACCP and relevant qualifications.

 

In terms of day-to-day, it will vary depending on the operatin of the company and the structure that company has. For example a FS manager for a distributor will be more office based than the same position at a manufacturer. For me, as a Technical Manager with a sandwich & food to go manufacturer, a typical day involves various KPI meetings with site management, dealing with customer requests, working on new specs/artwork with NPD, allocating tasks to QAs and technical admin staff, reviewing compliance data i.e. internals audits, non-conformances, people management of the technical, quality and hygiene teams. And between that spending as much time as I can on the factory floor, unfortunately it's not as much as I'd like though. Specifics of one day to the next are always changing though which keeps things interesting.

 

Pay - again will depend on the role and operation. A large GFSI scheme certified company manufacturing complex, high risk foods to retail customers should pay more than a smaller manufacturer selling a simple, low risk product.

 

In terms of getting there, I would suggest trying an entry level job i.e. QA for a manufacturer to get some experiance in the industry. Whilst academic qualifications are great, the right FS attitude and relevant experiance will be invaluable when aiming for FS manager roles.

 

I would highly recommend having a look at job vacancies online in your local area, i.e. search "food safety manager / technical manager / qa manager" as these will usually give you a list of responsibilities, salary indication and most importantly the requirements for the role. That will give you an idea of what you need to do to bridge that gap from where you are currently to where you want to end up.

 

Best of luck :smile:



#3 moldyapricot

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Posted 12 March 2021 - 10:00 PM

Zanahorias, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I've been performing the tasks you recommend in your last paragraph, and I'll continue to do so with more focus. I would like to avoid having to take another pay cut down to entry level - I've been stuck in entry level for so long - but perhaps it's unavoidable. My last employer told me that by taking a buying position I could easily crossover into the company's food safety/qc division once we built up the staff, but that opportunity never happened. I suppose I have no choice but to return to entry level on the path I want. Thanks again.



#4 Scampi

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 12:16 PM

moldyapricot

 

Depending on where in the world you actually are (it's really helpful to not pick earth for a location) there are lots of opportunities for someone with your background.

 

Some of the largest produce companies (particularly hothouses) need someone with plant understanding (nutrient uptake, spacing to maximize yield etc) and around my parts (southern ontario canada) those jobs pay quite well

 

If you're  made of the right stuff, taking a qa tech position in a company that is constantly growing probably means you won't be there long, as growing companies require more administrative support as well as hands on on the floor

 

A QA manager role, however, a lot of the time is just that, administrative.  If I could use one phrase to describe the role it would be problem solver.  YOu have to be able to think outside the box as the obvious answer isn't always the correct one

 

I started my career on the packing floor, took a job on a whim as a HACCP coordinator at a slaughter house (because i have an iron stomach) and learned so much in the first year it would make your head spin. That job didn't pay great, more than previous and closer to home

I've worked for 2 international companies, and worked on farm, (I get bored easily) and have now settled in a commodity that is bursting at the seams, has hours and people i really enjoy with just enough challenge to keep me happy.  The years of 70+ hour work weeks are behind me now

 

 

A lot of the QA manager job fulfillment on a personnel level is your personality type. If you aren't able to put your foot down when required and be the most unliked person in the room, it's probably not for you.  The role is part lawyer, part scientist and part plant superintendent. You have to know ALL the ins and outs of the facility to do the job well, you need to understand what things like backflow preventers and negative air spaces are. You also need to know the scientific affects of your process on the finished goods. 

 

Most importantly, you need to be able to get AND keep the executive team on your side, or every day will be a battle.

 

Oh, and be your own advocate..........very few people get a promotion they don't actively seek out and work towards


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#5 kfromNE

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Posted 15 March 2021 - 06:17 PM

If you want to be a QC Manager right away - try a very small company. You'll do everything but also learn a lot. You however may take a pay cut. That's how I got into the field. I'd also learn about GAP assessments.






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