Russell White, REHS, CC-FS, CP-FS is the Corporate Director of Food Sanitation & Hygiene at Newly Weds Foods and has been a member of NEHA for the past 10 years. In his member spotlight interview, Russ discusses the changing landscape of the food safety industry, the importance of high-quality education and training, and how NEHA membership has helped him advance in his career.
NEHA: How did you get started in your environmental health career?
Russ: After graduating from Michigan State University I pursued a career in the food industry where I worked in both USDA and FDA food processing facilities. Getting started in environmental health was an essential part of continuing my career as a food safety and quality assurance professional. For me, it’s worked out well since food safety has really come to the forefront of the food industry, especially with the introduction of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA).
NEHA: What do you love most about working in this field?
Russ: For food safety professionals, it’s important we do everything we can to protect the public from foodborne illnesses by monitoring food safety and quality. It’s a challenge to ensure global food safety when much of today’s food can be sourced, processed, packed, and ultimately distributed from different locations around the world. I spend a great deal of time conducting food safety audits within the U.S. and abroad. International travel has given me an opportunity to explore different cultures and customs and to learn about food regulations in various countries. No matter where people live, it’s important that everyone has access to safe food and water. When I’m not auditing, I’m involved in a broad range of activities which can include anything from food safety training to investigating a sanitation failure to conducting a microbiological risk assessment. Typically, there’s a lot of hands-on involvement which I enjoy. At the end of the day, working with people to identify potential risks and improving the level of food safety provides a real sense of accomplishment.
NEHA: Why do you think being a member of NEHA is valuable?
Russ: The food industry has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. This is due to changes in the global economy and because of recent events such as food recalls. Keeping up with industry trends and changing food regulations/audit standards to improve the quality, safety, and origin of our global food supply can be demanding. As a food safety professional, we are often called upon to be a subject matter expert. That’s where an organization like NEHA plays an important role. The educational and professional development opportunities provided by NEHA are exceptional. NEHA’s certifications and credentials are recognized throughout the industry and have definitely made a difference in my career. In the past, I have attended the Annual Educational Conference and participated in various workshops. Networking and getting to know others in your profession is another real asset of becoming a member of NEHA.
NEHA: What are the most crucial issues facing food safety professionals, and what can NEHA do to help?
Russ: Training and education are critically important to food safety professionals who work within a diverse and fast-paced farm-to-table food supply system. Advances in science and technology such as whole genome sequencing have increased our capabilities for pathogen detection and identification of foodborne illness. It’s of utmost importance that we are knowledgeable and understand today’s food safety risks and increasing regulatory demands. NEHA has done a great job of fulfilling that need. The food safety online training resources and the recent addition of two new food safety auditor credentials demonstrate NEHA’s commitment to supporting our profession.
NEHA: What advice would you give to students or young professionals who are just starting out in their career?
Russ: Stay the course and take advantage of each opportunity to further your knowledge and understanding of your field. FSMA has created an increased demand for qualified food safety professionals as thousands of domestic and international facilities are required to conduct additional safety and quality audits. Whether you work in the private sector or public sector, there are great career opportunities out there and I would encourage you to be part of this exciting, challenging, and rewarding profession.
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