‘Good hygiene practices for the food industry’

Dr Karen Middleton-Gell, technical director, Society of Food Hygiene and Technology (SOFHT).

Describe yourself in three words:

Loyal, thoughtful & a perfectionist (some might say on the verge of having OCD with my “everything has a place” mentality!)

How did you get to where you are today?

I originally wanted to be a dentist but my maths A level let me down so I undertook a Biological Sciences degree and discovered that I really enjoyed the subject of microbiology. I then applied for a PhD in collaboration with CCFRA (now Campden BRI) looking at the biocide susceptibility of E.coli O157:H7 following pre-exposure to acids and detergents used in cleaning chemicals, which was where my interest in cleaning and disinfection started.

From there I joined the Food Hygiene Department at Campden BRI and through my research and involvement with the chemical manufacturers I then moved into roles as microbiology and technical expert in hygiene. I think that having a real focus and passion for a subject, such as I do with hygiene, is the real key to progressing in your chosen profession.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I don’t really have a typical day but if I have been asked to do a hygiene finished standards audit for a customer it will involve visiting the factory between 3-4am to walk around the production environment to look at the efficacy of the cleaning and disinfection, followed by a close out meeting with the relevant Technical and Hygiene teams. I may then visit a customer, before heading home to write up my audit report.

What’s your biggest professional achievement?

It’s 50:50 between two achievements during my time at Campden BRI. Firstly writing CCFRA Guideline No.55 – Cleaning and disinfection of food factories: a practical approach, which was the first document to capture practical information on the chemistry of cleaning and disinfection and recommend good hygiene practices for the food industry, and to date is still one of the best-selling Campden BRI guidelines. Then creating the Cleaning and Disinfection Conference while at Campden BRI in 2008. This was the first event held in the UK to focus solely on hygiene and is still an annual event now. It felt incredibly worthwhile to give the hygiene experts a platform to discuss issues, ideas and innovation.

How has your side of the industry changed over the past few years and why?

Production has increased significantly and consequently the hygiene windows are constantly being reduced. This puts pressure on the cleaning chemical manufacturers to offer hygiene solutions that are effective chemically and microbiologically within a short time frame. The focus on allergensand species cross contamination have also become a major focus for the industry and bring with them very specific cleaning challenges.

Tell me something about your role that most people wouldn’t know.

I really enjoy organising seminar and training events so have been responsible for creating, designing and managing the Diversey Listeria Awareness and CIP Optimisation Seminars.

Give us a positive prediction for the industry from the viewpoint of SOFHT over the next 12 months?

With the support of institutes such as SOFHT, the food industry has the ability to readily access technical information, which provides the manufacturers with a better understanding of hygiene issues and the tools to help them to improve their current practices. And hopefully with this support, we will start to see a significant reduction in cases of Campylobacter and Listeria food poisoning in the UK.

Who do you most admire?

Any professional businesswoman who works in a male dominated environment. It takes a lot of confidence as it can be very intimidating and difficult to be acknowledged for your expertise.

What developments do you think will become popular in food hygiene and why?

With the current trend for RTE foods and the subsequent pressure on reduced cleaning times the development of rapid detection methods for pathogens such as Listeria will be essential for the processed food industry. Also with the constant changes in legislation around the use of chemical disinfectants the development of non-chemical disinfectants may be an area of focus for the industry.

Tell us something about yourself that few people know

I love going to watch horse racing. Any excuse to have a day out in the sunshine where I get all glamorous and don a hat with the possibility of winning a pound or two is my kind of fun.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a person who had a positive influence on improving the hygiene standards of the food industry.


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