20 Apr For the Love of Food Safety
What started as a deep concern for allergens turned into a passion for food safety, when a personal connection prompted Georgina Jaramillo Robles to look into the field as a career path. As a young girl growing up in Mexico, Georgina recalls that her mother nearly died after ingesting a chocolate hazelnut spread that contained peanut oil. However, peanuts were not listed on the label. Thankfully her mother made a full recovery, but the memory of that moment was etched deeply in her being, setting Georgina out on a quest to make sure nothing like that happened again, to her mother or anyone else’s loved one.
Today, Georgina is West Pak Avocado’s Food Safety and Quality Assurance Manager, where her primary responsibility is to ensure that the company’s products are kept safe for human consumption. That includes risk assessment to eliminate or reduce biological, chemical, and physical hazards.
The Day to Day of Food Safety
Armed with a degree in biology, Georgina works to ensure that the whole is in compliance with food safety regulations daily. She makes sure that the West Pak facilities comply with FDA, USDA, FSMA, FSVP, and other federal regulations. She’s also in charge of developing and maintaining HACCP, Food Safety, and Food Defense Plans, as well as all SOPs, policies, and documentation.
On the quality assurance side, Georgina is charged with maintaining the company’s high-quality standards. She works with operations to ensure that all products are meeting customer expectations so that West Pak can deliver the highest quality products to them.
There are also times that this quality assurance and food safety expert is called upon to review customer requests or supplier documentation. She’ll consult with other departments on new product launches, such as when a customer wants to have a new configuration of products. In addition, there are days she’s working on continuous improvement projects, including upgrades to the West Pak facilities.
“I’m in constant contact with operations regarding current upgrades as they do require Food Safety Assessments. We make sure that these projects are completed with the highest hygienic designs and following proper food safety protocols,” Georgina said.
“West Pak has invested a lot in food safety in all the facilities. We added more sanitation personnel to maintain our facilities and keep them clean, we have significantly increased our environmental testing programs, and we have invested in highly effective chemicals. We’re also redesigning some equipment to improve the hygienic designs and some other things. West Pak truly cares about safety, so they are committed – that’s why they brought me in here for food safety.”
Since COVID-19, the company has made accommodations in their facilities to keep their West Pak family healthy and safe.
“We intensified our sanitation programs by disinfecting all human contact surfaces around the facility, outside in the warehouse, and in our offices. The entire West Pak facility is constantly cleaned during the day, in between shifts, and every night. We installed various hand dispensers and hand-washing stations throughout the warehouse so employees can easily wash their hands without having to walk too far. Our packing stations are divided with protective plexiglass to separate employees. To make sure that we keep our employees healthy and safe, at the start of the shifts everybody is screened for signs of flu-like symptoms. The measures that have been taken are pretty efficient, and we have not slowed down. We’re still working at capacity and have a lot of work. We are trying to make operations as normal as possible to keep everyone safe, happy, and healthy, of course.”
Challenges & Rewards
When asked about the most challenging part of her job, Georgina replied, “It would have to be interpreting all of the regulations. They provide guidelines, but not everything is in black and white. So, for the food safety individual, it is important to review and interpret the regulations and then assess specific products, facilities, and processes to manage risks and comply with regulations properly. It’s not difficult, but it might be challenging at times.”
Georgina points out that sometimes others don’t understand why she makes certain decisions or specific requests. It’s crucial that others comprehend and appreciate that her main objective is to keep the consumer safe.
“It is my responsibility to review all of the risks associated with the product from beginning to end, which means from the field to the supplier and how produce is running through production, what chemicals are being used to clean equipment, how product is stored and shipped, and everything that might happen in between to be sure that it’s safe for human consumption,” she added.
Georgina works hard to instill in employees that they are saving lives by following proper food safety protocol. She also takes pride in knowing that West Pak has the resources in place to make sure their products are safe for consumers.
“I never actually thought that I would end up working In the food industry. I think it always happens to everyone in the science field; we all think that we are going to end up in a lab doing research. So, when I first got a quality assurance job right after college, I did learn really fast the importance of food safety. At first, I fell in love with it, but I also have this sentimental attachment to it because of my mom’s peanut allergies. Today, I’m proud to know that our customers are buying safe food and that I had something to do with that.”
On the Personal Side
In her spare time, this busy manager and self-professed heavy metal lover somehow manages to work towards her advanced degree.
“Right now, I’m finishing my Masters in Food Safety. But when I’m not studying, doing homework or at school, I do like to go out and eat. I love comedy shows, hockey games, concerts, cooking, board games with my family, but eating is my favorite part. And, yes, I do love avocados. I grew up in Mexico, where we put avocados on everything and in every dish. They are in my salads, my tacos and my ceviche, even the cakes that you can make — the fruit is very versatile, so it literally goes with everything. I can’t imagine a meal without them!”