Insights into the food and agriculture industries from industry leaders and innovators
MP Technical Solutions Ltd, based in the United Kingdom, offers consultancy and interim services to the global food industry. Here, Marcin tells us about his current role as a freelance consultant, shares his aspect of food inspection on how “This could be done differently”, and discusses global food safety challenges.
Can you tell us about your role within the food industry?
Food safety consultants are usually called upon where there is trouble brewing on the horizon or as fallout of incident or bad audit. We are required to hit the ground running by adapting quickly to the new reality. Typical contracts require the use of analytical skills to assess the organization, identify threats and opportunities and initiate change to allow the business to recover and improve. This might be everything from changing or implementing new procedures, scoping new projects for investment to validating existing processes to provide due diligence in case of the prosecution.
And how did you come to work within Technical Consulting?
To be honest, I wasn’t planning on it when I started my career in the food industry. I have fallen into consulting after becoming frustrated with the fact that none of my permanent employers was willing to allow me to undertake a postgraduate degree since this is not a formal requirement for the job. At the time my significant industry experience “ticked the skill set box” even for the group / divisional technical roles. Therefore since I was determined to attain the top-level qualifications available to technical food professionals in UK I quit my job and started providing consultancy services to the industry. This gave me the level of flexibility I needed as well as allowed me to direct funds into qualifications like a Masters degree from the University of Greenwich or British Retail Consortium auditor qualifications.
What does a typical day look like for you?
This is very much driven by the current contract brief. I like working on projects since objectives are very clear, deadlines are planned and there is a significant commitment from everyone involved. Those types of contract tend to be more office-based with various meetings between different stakeholders e.g. operations, engineering, hygiene etc.
Contracts where the organization’s turnaround is required, are more challenging. Since the stakes are usually high and deadlines are looming there is a significant level of prioritization involved. Those require good strategic planning at the beginning of the contract followed by rolling the sleeves up and getting involved with teams on the shop floor to deliver objectives. As food businesses in UK operate 24/7 this in many cases involves various hours or significant level of travelling, especially when working at the multisite level.
What is the most challenging part of inspecting food processing areas?
I think what many beginning professionals struggle with during auditing or inspection is objectivism. If there is one thing I have learnt through my career is that there is no one right way of doing things. Each business is unique with its own set of challenges and quirks. As professionals, we must be able to look beyond the fact that “This could be done differently”.
Similar objectives can be achieved in many ways. The fact that someone does something differently does not mean it's wrong. As long as all points of the standard we audit against are covered and food is safe then the process should be acceptable at least from the auditor perspective.
However, if we analyse the process from a consultant perspective we can afford suggestions for the potential improvements or alternative solutions if this is beneficial to the business.
What are today's most significant global food safety challenges?
There are so many ways of looking at this question. I believe that over the last 2 decades global food industries became much better at managing microbiological aspects of food manufacturing.
I think the new developing risk is allergens. A number of research papers point to the fact that the number of cases of anaphylactic shocks is gradually increasing globally despite improvements in allergen controls. Our sensitivity to allergens is likely increasing. This in conjunction with a search for new food sources to address potential future food shortages results in the introduction of new potentially allergenic proteins into our diets (e.g. from insects) Tighter controls need to be implemented to understand the allergenic potential of those novel foods.
And which regulating bodies are the strictest?
I think many food professionals in UK will agree that the toughest technical standards are not regulatory. Competitive nature and relentless continuous improvement of technical standards driven by UK top supermarkets results in very tough, prescriptive technical standards consisting of multiple codes of practice which when all combined are far stricter then any other global regulatory bodies. As main objective of those standards is brand protection and their supply chains span the globe legal requirements are actually only a baseline on which much tougher requirements are constructed. Therefore what many foreign businesses find is that in principle exporting food to UK is difficult but doing it at high volumes and of quality and food safety sufficient to meet retail requirements is even more challenging.
What is the proudest moment in your career?
It happened following the transition of BRC standard from version 6 to 7. I was working on a group technical project to cover the significant impact of new controls imposed on supply chains following a “Horsegate” scandal in Europe. Our flagship site was subjected to the new version of audit as one of the first ones in UK and we passed it without any nonconformances. The auditor commented that in his 20 years career it was 1st time when he finished the audit without awarding any non-conformances.
What could you personally offer to food producers in Asia?
Food industry in UK is one of the most advanced, fast paced food manufacturing environments in the world. The level of innovation in food manufacturing and controls deployed in UK exceeds many other countries around the globe especially around “clean” products manufactured without preservatives or chemicals to preserve product shelf life.
Furthermore demands for modern food chain management nowadays go beyond simple food safety requirements with additional requirements around ethical, welfare and environmental agendas intertwined with quality and technical standards.
With significant experience derived from this unique environment, I can offer invaluable insight into the operating practices of UK industry especially around added-value products. For companies looking to expand their exports into EU or UK adopting those procedures early in the strategic planning can result in reduced costs and lesser disruption to a business as opposed to trying to implement those after the growth phase providing a competitive advantage over other local manufacturers.
What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in your career? Focusing on quality and food safety.
When I have to advise the customer (food manufacturer) that the practices they deploy are not safe to their consumers. At times business when faced with such assessment goes through phases analogical to a patient who receives an unfavourable doctor’s diagnosis.It usually starts with patient asking for a 2nd opinion. Following by denial e.g. typical arguments can be as absurd as “We haven’t killed anyone yet”. Until final acceptance and taking action to address the issue.
For some business moving to that last phase can be very difficult as it might put them in an unfavourable commercial position or affect adversely their relationship with customers. In those cases, the challenge is in convincing the business that making those difficult decisions is crucial to the safety of their customers and the business survival in the long run.
Tell us something not many people know about you?
I love anime. It revolves back to my school days when the only available to us Manga were classic black and white books in Japanese. At the time my favourite book genre was fantasy and SF. So when I saw “Ghost in The Shell” as my first anime ever I was blown away.
However, the anime which had a really significant impact on my life was “Grave of the fireflies”. After watching it for the first time I was very distraught with knowing how much food goes to waste across the food industry. Back then I promised myself that in my professional work I will do everything in my power to ensure that food will not be unduly wasted.
Talking about food, knowing what you know about the industry, are there any foods you avoid?
I love food and try everything once of course as long as it is safe to eat and is sourced ethically. From the top of my head I would probably avoid unpasteurised milk and cheeses. I love steak tartare but I would only eat it in a restaurant with high hygiene standards who understands risks involved.
If you could change one thing in your industry, what would it be?
I think that the globalization of the food chain stripped some of the magic where we had certain foods only in certain times of the year or in certain places. E.g. it seems nowadays that the average consumer finds it perfectly normal to eat fresh strawberries in the middle of winter when 30 years ago that would be unthinkable.
The fact we can do that is fantastic as it exposed scores of people to new types of foods. But at the same time, I think that we rushed into this without consideration for sustainability and long term effect on our ecosystems.
If I could I would backpedal the food industry a decade or 2 back to ensure that while we are rushing to fulfil global food innovation trends we do it in responsible way.
How do you relax, Books, Movies or Music?
I always loved reading but nowadays it is more audiobooks since I can listen while driving or doing exercise.
Otherwise, I like sailing, I have a skipper license. Also recently I started riding a motorbike which I absolutely love doing.
What does the future hold for you?
When reflecting on where I am at this point of my career I feel that I am approaching a crossroads. On one hand, I am tempted to slowly move away from the ever-changing kaleidoscope of the fast-paced consultancy world and look for a senior role with the right food organization in UK to allow for a healthier work/life balance.
On the other hand, since both me and my partner are professionals who love travelling and we both want our kids to be exposed to multiple cultures we consider at some point packing up and relocating to the other side of the globe. This could happen if the right opportunity with the right organization presented itself.