Your ultimate guide to plan and sustain a fruitful Food Safety career.
Updated: Feb 15, 2020
A career plan is a practical strategy that allows you to determine your skills and interests, set career goals, and put actions in place that will help you reach them. So let’s start by defining what are the main job roles related to food safety management.
Among all the job titles which you may find everywhere and related to food safety, we can categorize them into one of the following categories:
1- A role within a food establishment (catering/manufacturing/services)
2- A consultancy and/or a training role (consultancy firm)
3- Auditor (inspection/certification bodies)
Considering that you are a fresh graduate, usually the first category will be the easiest one to enter specially without any experience. The following guide is mainly focusing on the first category with an extra add-on(s) which you can use along your career journey or to move from one category to the other.
You can reach your goal through either a short term plan or a long term one. The short term progress plan mainly depends on a set of short training courses (maximum 5 days per course) and the long term has the same training courses but supported by a postgraduate academic studies which adds more depth to your knowledge (PG. certificate, Diploma, MSc., and PhD degree). When my students or trainees ask for advise to select between both option, I usually tell them “if you have time and money don’t think twice, invest in yourself and keep studying, learning and one day you’ll be thankful to this decision”. But, general speaking, academic studies will support your career progress if you later decided to work as a consultant and I always say to new fresh consultants – and sometimes to consultants with a few years in their portfolios – that it’s not appropriate to go and consult your clients if your knowledge is almost equal to theirs as you won’t add any significant value and you may lose your reputation as well. For those who would like to work as consultants, your progress rate and learning curve should be faster than the market’s progress, keep your eyes on all emerging topics and make sure that you are doing your homework without any delay.
Short term plan should cover the following training courses:
PART 1: Mandatory courses for all food safety specialists
1- Good Manufacturing practices (GMP)
The aim of this training is to enable you to understand the basic requirements for food hygiene and the fundamentals of safe processing and manufacturing of food at any food establishment. Typically the duration of this course is 2-3 days and it’s available either face to face or online. You can gain most of the knowledge under this title by downloading and reading the basic text of food hygiene by Codex Alimentarius Commission here: http://www.fao.org/docrep/012/a1552e/a1552e00.pdf
2- Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP)
The heart and mind of any food safety management system available anywhere in the world. I’m sure that most of you already heard about it or even attended a training course covering its basic principles and the implementation steps, but PLEASE make sure that you “really” learned how to develop and implement a HACCP study effectively otherwise my advise will be to go and select a good tutor to attend this course again. You will not be a food safety professional by having a stamped piece of paper proving that you attended a HACCP course, you need the knowledge more than the certificate. Typically the duration of this course is 3-4 days and I strongly recommend to do it face-to-face. Master the HACCP and you'll be able to run any man made food safety management system on earth.
3- ISO22000:2018 International Standard Requirements (awareness training)
I included this training course not because I’m a fan of this standard specifically, but because it’s the most known standard worldwide and its requirements consists the main corner stone in other certification schemes as FSSC22000 which is increasingly being adopted among brand owners. To be able to go through the standard requirements’ clause by clause you’ll need at least 3-4 days and again I recommend to do it face to face or you can have it online only if you are sure of the tutor’s competency and if the online platform enables you to ask questions.
PART 2: Add-On(s) to increase your knowledge scope:
You opportunities will be a bit limited if your knowledge is only focused on food safety and adding the basics of Quality management and related standards to your scope.
1- Quality management – tools and techniques
I believe that it’s crucial to know the fundamentals of quality management in its purest form regardless how it’s covered in all international standards as ISO9001 series of standards. Basic tools for root cause analysis, problem solving and graphical representation of data will always be helpful during your day to day work tasks. The duration of this course is typically 3 days for the introduction level and online course is fine and you can check the American Society for Quality (ASQ) website for an awesome information. https://asq.org/quality-resources/
2- ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management System requirements
How many food manufacturers have a quality management system in place based on the ISO9001 requirements? The answer is: many of them because it’s usually part of their management system even if they don’t have any systems in place for food safety management. Definitely you will have more opportunities in your career progress if you know the fundamentals of quality assurance and what should your organization do in order to conform with the ISO requirements. Usually 3 days face-to-face training will cover most of the required knowledge.
PART 3: Add-ons if you need to be a qualified auditor:
The following course is your “Auditor driving license” and will grant you a smooth entrance to the auditing career
1- ISO22000:2018 Auditor/Lead Auditor Training course (IRCA certified)
Auditing require more than the food safety knowledge and require more focus on personal attributes, interpersonal skills and awareness with the certification and accreditation requirements which will be covered in this 5 days (40 hours) internationally accredited training course which ends with a 2 hours written exam. It could be an expensive training course for fresh graduates and some companies offer it to its staff members as part of their development plan. If you can afford the investment and keen to work as an auditor, definitely go for this training.
Note: similar lead auditor trainings are available for other food safety management systems standards and schemes as BRC Global standard for food safety or FSSC22000 – Food Safety System Certification scheme. Any of them will do the same function, just check the market needs in your region.
PART 4: Add-On(s) related to new emerging topics (BUZZ topics):
Food safety management is a very rich and broad topic and it’s almost impossible to know every thing about it, but at least try to know “something” about “everything” so you won’t feel isolated. Attending conferences and online webinars on a regular basis will help you a lot to take the right extra mile towards the progression of your career. I’ve selected the following topics as an example and it’s not an exhaustive list:
1- Food safety culture
2- Food fraud and food defense
4- Vulnerability assessment
5- Data science and food safety
Long term plan should cover the following:
As discussed earlier it may include – in addition to the training courses – any postgraduate studies which focuses on the academic knowledge. I only want to explore two options in this regard and you can follow any of them or just mix and match:
Option 1: Technical academic food safety related degree:
A postgraduate degree in a food safety related topic – technically – as food microbiology, chemistry , veterinary medical sciences, food technology, etc.
Option 2: Management related degree:
A postgraduate degree in quality management would be considered a huge step towards the right direction of your career advancement plan.
Final words, I personally experienced how every part of the above mentioned advise could support your career as a food safety specialist regardless how senior you are. There is no secret sauce for success but a good realistic plan supported by a consistent effort will take you further than what you think, just hold-on, do your best, learn everyday and help everyone around and please find a way to motivate yourself to be a better person everyday as no one will care for you more than what you will do for yourself.
Article by: Dr. Mohamed Mohamady - A food safety and quality enthusiast