Linda Bellekom-Allen, customer applications specialist at Dow Wolff Cellulosics GmbH, tells FoodNavigator about the enthusiasm of foodies, E number paranoia, and Dow's big box of toys.
Name: Linda Bellekom-Allen
Company: Dow Wolff Cellulosics GmbH
Title: Customer Application Specialist
Provide technical assistance and training on how to use our highly functional cellulosics based solutions in food applications to customers, distributors and colleagues at Dow. Whilst the base line of our food ingredients is modified cellulose, like methyl cellulose, the actual applications cover everything imaginable within food manufacturing. I have to know a little about everything and a lot about cellulosics.
What do you actually do?
It varies greatly. I plan and oversee customer projects within our laboratories; assist customers with technical issues, often in person all around Europe and frequently in other parts of the world. I gather information and watch the market for trends which I then feed back to our R&D and Customers Application Specialists’ teams for development work before the trend 'breaks'. I’ve always enjoyed lecturing at universities, customers and distributors to teach future generations about cellulosics in food.
There is a great misconception that if the product has an E number it must be bad for people, and if it’s a 'chemical', it must be poisonous.
How did you get in?
I joined a competitor over thirty years ago and established my food knowledge there. Dow bought the competitor and 'made me an offer I couldn't refuse': They had a bigger box of toys and colleagues who could fill in the gaps. A broad portfolio of products, an innovation pipeline targeted at customer’s needs, profound technical expertise and an environment for development and growth have kept me with Dow ever since (14 years).
Best bits about your job?
The people. I love the enthusiasm that foodies have, both for their products and food in general - not just the eating of it. Foodies are as fascinated by the chemistry and manufacturing process as the actual final product. Demonstrations, you could even call them tricks, with our methyl cellulose, often let the eyes of our customers light up. When the capabilities of our products are taken out into the food manufacturing world to solve processing problems so that a good food product can be made, it's more than magical. I'm thinking, for example, of gluten free breads that are now so close to wheat based ones that you would not believe that they were dry sponges even five years ago. Or vegetarian burgers that today can be produced without any egg. Don't get me started, I could go on and on about this bit.
I call it E number paranoia. There is a great misconception that if the product has an E number it must be bad for people, and if it’s a 'chemical', it must be poisonous. There is abuse of additives no doubt. For example, taking nitrites out of organic sausages; personally I’d rather not die of botulism the day after tomorrow. But E numbers indicate that food ingredients have been thoroughly tested and are safe.
What skill do you use most?
A retentive memory for facts and the ability to make connections between them.
Career highlight so far?
So many; to have worked in the same industry for so long when I get bored quickly, says a lot about the job. I think some of the more memorable days have been when people attending presentations I have given, have asked if there are any more jobs like mine available in the company.
What's your advice for someone wanting to work in production or technical?
Get a variety of experience in the beginning of your career: work in all sides of production, QC R&D and then focus on something that really interests you. Don't forget to read about your subject matter; there is always more to learn and put aside some quiet time to think as well.
What's next in your career?
More of the same, I love it.