Gene Bartholomew

Senior Director Corporate Food Safety , Smithfield Foods

1. Why did you choose a career in food safety?

I chose to follow a career in science first, particularly science that could be applied directly to solve problems. As with many individuals, the position in food safety found me - it was a particularly relevant way to put my training and interests to work in a very meaningful career.

2. What are the main responsibilities in your role?

A technical advisor and trainer to our manufacturing facilities on food safety and processing issues. They typically cannot maintain scientific talent on board or provide enough time for plant personnel to pursue topics in depth. A responder to regulatory, auditing body and customer questions or roadblocks. Finally, providing leadership at the corporate level as well as developing direct reports.

3. What are your three biggest challenges on a daily basis?

Trying to find a balance between my personal life and position responsibilities. Trying to implement scientific principles and evidence-based decision making in a world where they are largely ignored. Simplifying all practices and procedures to deal with insufficient resources.

4. How do envisage the role of QA developing in the next 5years?

The role of automation and artificial intelligence, as well as on floor documentation, will shift the duties somewhat. Regulatory and legal challenges to product quality and safety will also increase. As a result, the technical challenges to QA staff will be even more complex than they are now. As processing equipment becomes more complex, QA will have to have a better understanding of equipment as well.

5. In your opinion what are the three most crucial factors of designing a hazard analysis?

Understanding the science behind hazard identification and likelihood, and separating that from the latest public opinion, is fundamental to conducting a hazard analysis. Knowing the entire process. With all its possible permutations, is necessary. And separating hazard control using either a prerequisite program or a true control point in a food safety plan.

6. From your experience, where do most hazard analysis studies fail and how can this be fixed?

To do an accurate hazard analysis, you need some training in chemistry, microbiology, and product and process characteristics, and these things are often lacking at the plant level. To conduct an accurate hazard analysis, you truly need to understand all of the process steps of the production process. While everyone may argue that each production process is unique, and therefore global hazard analyses are not appropriate, there should be freer access to published analyses of all food types and their production processes so people without strong technical skills can find help. There should also be better discussion and data presentation on historical hazards associated with foods. Both government, academia and industry trade groups can do a better job of helping with realistic documentation of food borne illness and incident data and realistic hazard analyses of many of the common production practices. And HACCP training really needs to be more in depth and longer, particularly in regards to resources to be used for a hazard analysis and the validation and verification steps.