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May 2018

[Ask our Expert ] Hygiene in the food processing industry

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Food Safety and Food Processing, Cleanliness and Hygiene

In our fifth instalment of our blog series - Ask the Expert -  we interview Kuvershree Reddy; Food Technologist and QA turned Strategic Account Manager for Rentokil Initial.

  • Please tell us a little about your background and experience in the food industry, before you started working at Rentokil Initial?

    My passion is science and anything I can view under a microscope as a specimen, hence my choosing Food Technology as my qualification. I’ve worked as a quality controller (QC) in a plant that manufactures beverages, as well as in rice and spice packaging plants. I moved into a QA role at the beverage plant - the same one I started off at as a QC - and this is where I like to say I received my “police badge”.  Finally, the meat packaging industry was where I decided a change of scenery was in order.

  • What made you decide to move out of the food industry and come to work for Rentokil Initial?  

    Rentokil was the pest control company at both the beverage and the meat plant for which I was QC.  Although sometimes I felt frustrated by Rentokil, I knew Rentokil was a reputable company and the cherry on top was that I had a dedicated consultant at my beck and call, sharing tons of information on pests which got me very intrigued.

    I did some research on Rentokil Initial and viewed their global footprint as well as their experience in the industry as a reliable supplier, and new career path accepted! Although the perception is that I’ve changed career paths and am in a totally different field, my knowledge as a food technologist really comes in handy when sharing advice with my high dependency customers. 

  • What makes you excited about health and hygiene and everything in between?

    My passion for health and hygiene is closely related to my love of science and the microscope. I loved the study of bacteria and the controls and techniques used to eliminate bacteria. I also thoroughly enjoy training and advising my colleagues and customers on practices to prevent cross contamination, as well as the techniques used in the industry to control cross contamination.

    My paranoia around cross contamination and good hygiene habits sometimes leaves my colleagues wondering why I do the things I do. For example, I NEVER EVER leave my bag on the floor (at work or at home). There’s a chair next to my desk at the office specifically for my  laptop bag, and when I explain to my colleagues why I do this, I get very excited explaining the facts around hygiene and cross contamination. (Read more about how dirty your handbag could be

  • Based on your experience, what’s  the biggest hygiene challenge facing the food industry at the moment?

    The biggest hygiene challenge at this point in time is undoubtedly the Listeria and Biofilm presence in the food industry.

Recommended blog post: Listeria Hysteria: was the outbreak preventable?

However, if you understand these biological substances and their presence, they CAN be controlled and eliminated.  So my answer is actually that the biggest hygiene risk is about the the lack of control; people have allowed this outbreak to occur.

A food facility is designed specifically for control; allowing a food item to be tracked from the the time it enters the facility to the time it is consumed by user, however in my experience there is often an ongoing battle between the production department and quality department.  Businesses may sacrifice quality to produce more products, and this lack of control is the biggest challenge we currently face, in my opinion.

  • Please share a food industry related hygiene horror story with our readers 

My Food safety “police badge” coupled with the fact that I quite strict everywhere I worked meant that I didn’t ever really get to see a real horror story in terms of food hygiene practices.

I do still have friends that work in the food industry and I remember one of them telling me that where she used to work the company would place cardboard boxes on the floor below the conveyor belt to catch all the snacks that fell and they would then sweep up whatever else was on the floor and re-work it in the line! Definitely a horror story, and needless to say she didn’t stay there very long. 

However, when I worked in the meat plant I had to perform supplier audits  and had to visit an abattoir (the poor cows!) I found the whole process very upsetting, and it reaffirmed my vegetarian choices. But to put most of you at ease,  the abattoir food safety practices were very good.

  • If you had to suggest only one change that the food industry could make to improve hygiene levels overall, what would it be?

    I’d definitely encourage more training of all staff - including senior production staff -  on cross contamination and the effects thereof. Initial offers free training to all their customers and I’d really encourage food manufacturers to make use of this offer.  I’d also encourage sites to shut down for regular deep cleaning of equipment as there is definitely a consequence to not doing this on a regular basis. 

Do you have a question for Kuvershree?
Drop them down in the comments and we’ll try our best to answer them.

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

I joined Rentokil Initial South Africa in 2004 as the PA to the MD, and after 6 months maternity leave I re-joined the Company in 2009 as the Marketing Co-ordinator for Rentokil. I'm now the Marketing Communication Manager for Rentokil Initial. I'm still terrified of cockroaches (Americana's only!) but the rest of the creepy crawlies we deal with don't really bug me (see what I did there?), so I guess I'm in the right industry! I am passionate about what we do here at Rentokil Initial and also write for our Hygiene Blog, which can be found at blog.initial.co.za, and our Ambius blog - https://www.ambius.co.za/blog. Life outside of Rentokil Initial mostly revolves around my daughter, who has just turned twelve, and my husband (who is a bit older). I love living in Cape Town and wouldn't trade living here for anywhere else in the world.

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