What do you do? Paula Piontek, executive VP product safety & recall, red24assist

By Jenni Spinner contact

- Last updated on GMT

Paula Piontek, right, works with red24assist colleagues like Brynn Horne to provide food clients with broad-based safety consulting.
Paula Piontek, right, works with red24assist colleagues like Brynn Horne to provide food clients with broad-based safety consulting.

Related tags: Food industry, Food, Management

As part of FoodProductionDaily’s series of 60-second interviews with the movers and shakers of the food and beverage industry, we caught up with Paula Piontek, an expert with more than a quarter of a century of manufacturing and safety experience, to learn about her commitment to protecting the global food supply chain.

What’s your background?

With more than 25 years in management, my career has spanned from farm to fork within the food industry to include manufacturing, distribution, supply chain management, and regulatory compliance. I have experienced working with family-owned businesses as well as large multi-national companies which are publicly traded.

How did you get into the food industry?

I have always enjoyed the challenges of working in the food industry, starting as an intern in college. With the opportunity to apply continuous improvement and best practices, I have found it to be a rewarding experience when these are shared within the industry. As technology advances, we are better equipped to determine cause and effect while implementing science-based preventative measures.

How did you decide to hone in on food safety?

I want to make a difference in the safety of our food supply. It can sometimes be like a detective when dealing with puzzles we face.

It is rewarding to unravel the pieces and resolve problems to improve the safety of our food supply chain. The network of experts I work with are great team players with common values and mission within the food industry.

What services does your company offer?

red24assist provides a range of expertise with professionals who can share their knowledge at a level that provides hands-on support to high-level applications as needed per the circumstance. Our 24/7/365 crisis support services puts our clients in contact with the right expert to assist them within an hour of their call to us.

We have food safety experts, microbiologists, food and beverage engineers, legal, and public relations ready to divide and conquer the crisis or special circumstance. Additionally, we have the opportunity to work with our clients in assessing food safety and crisis preparedness plans.

Together we develop plans that are pre-emptive and practical and provide training that enables them to be prepared for unforeseen events.

Do you have any interesting or high-profile cases?

We were requested to support a client who had gone through several recalls within a few months. They requested that we work with the senior quality director to perform root cause analysis at 10 of their facilities that may have contributed to foreign material contamination of their food product.

Over the course of three months, we traveled to these locations across the US and worked closely with the teams at each location. We were able to identify and share best practices through a new set of eyes.

Sometimes we can be complacent when seeing the same things each day and don't recognize people for their great contributions. Along with this, we found common elements of behavior, equipment design, and maintenance challenges that were contributors to foreign material prevention.

The senior management supported our proposal and committed to prioritize implementing the action plan. 

In another case, we had a plant shut down due to a Listeria concern as reported by a regulatory agency. We were immediately able to provide communication and public relations support while at the same time sending one of our expert microbiologist to their plant to begin the investigation of the cause.

We worked with our laboratory to expedite and modify tests so we could quickly identify the source of Listeria. Within a short time, with our lab results we identified the cause and implemented a plan for corrective action.

We had another specialist support revision of the HACCP plan while the microbiologist acted as the client regulatory liaison to gain authorization for production to resume. 

What's the most important thing for a food professional to keep in mind about plant safety and safety management?

Don't accept the status quo, continue to raise the bar in best practice for the food industry. Share what you learn as we all benefit from key learning that prevents others from making the same mistakes. Challenge yourself to continue to learn and ask a lot of questions. You'll be surprised what you learn if you push the envelope.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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