Supply Chain traceability is one of the biggest challenges faced by the food industry, all the way from production or manufacturing of food till it reaches the end customer.

Richa Sharma, our next pathbreaker, Quality and R&D Manager at Shaw’s Ice Cream, works on food safety issues to ensure that ice creams are safe to consume.

Richa talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the significance of food safety and quality regulations across the entire value chain that can help food companies bring more food to the table in a safer way.

For students, there is vast potential for bringing about innovative solutions in the food and agricultural supply chain through transparent and sustainable sourcing !

Richa, Your background?

I grew up in Delhi, the capital city of India, with every imaginable resource, opportunity that I could access. But I wanted to explore the world and hence started my journey in the US to study Agricultural Engineering. I started gaining interest in the processing activities that occur at farms and how the food supply chain works. Eventually that led to successfully completing my PhD. My parents come from a very humble background, my father is a government officer and my mother is a science teacher. They always motivated me to follow my dreams.

Apart from studying, I was interested in exploring places, reading books, and learning about people and cultures. Along the way I got introduced to new cultures and ways of living. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my BTech in Agricultural Engineering and Masters in Food Technology.

I decided to do a PhD because I took a small workshop in supply chain traceability. Not a lot of people work or talk about traceability/transparency in the supply chain, but I was quite fascinated with it. As soon as I found a professor who did some work on traceability, I applied to work with him and got accepted. 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

After I completed my master’s in food technology, I was working as an R&D Scientist and I felt the need to expand my knowledge and follow my interests, therefore I decided to work in a niche research field. 

In the position of a Research Scientist, I worked on creating new products for an Indian Brand. Many of my reworked products are in the Indian market. I worked on products such as juices, “ready to eat” packages. Additionally, I was given the responsibility of establishing “Good Laboratory Practices” in the lab and ensuring we follow proper protocols while working. I updated the Standard Operating Procedures for all equipment. For any new equipment that was added to the lab, I was given the responsibility to train people. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

My approach was to gain a fellowship opportunity at a university of interest. As I was interested in supply chain traceability, I researched for professors working in the same field. I was able to find a professor of interest at Iowa State University. I started to look for fellowship opportunities and fortunately the University had a project funded by NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) for which they needed a PhD student. This made my move to the US easier. I did not have any contacts at the University, though I was excited and motivated to move to a different country to explore education and chances of exceling, and indeed, it happened. It started as a dream and turned into reality.

Since my PhD was in a niche area, I had to develop the project proposal from a problem that the grain industry faced in the United States. NIST (Funding agency) presented me with some of their surveys and the feedback they got from grain industry suppliers. I had to build objectives that solved their problems, such as creating a common terminology; modelling their supply chain operations so that they could identify shortcomings and gaps in their process.

Though my career is not directly related to my PhD, the skills I acquired during my research were helpful in finding a job in the food industry. My research demanded that I have a deep understanding of food safety and quality culture in a food manufacturing setting and that helped me acquire necessary skills that are helping me today as a Food Safety and Quality Manager.

How did you get your first break?

My first job after my PhD was because an organization’s Vice President really liked my research poster, which I presented in a conference. She offered me work to implement the same model for her department and I did exactly the same. My research work gave me my first break. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenges are in every aspect of life. I had to adjust to a completely new culture, new way of living and working. I had to not only adjust to this new way of life but also had the burden of succeeding. The only thing I would say is, challenges come and go, it’s just how you tackle them. One other challenge I remember was there was a time where I was not getting a job at all, but I never thought of quitting, I reassessed myself and started working on new skills I could develop to find a job.  

Where do you work now? Tell us about your current role

I work as Quality and R&D Manager at an ice cream manufacturing company. It sounds fun and indeed it is. But it comes with its own set of responsibilities. We want to manufacture ice cream that is safe for all consumers to eat. 

What problems do you solve?

On a daily basis, I am solving issues where we take care that no ice cream is contaminated; we conduct 10 tests a day to make sure the ice cream is safe to consume. The thing I love about my job is the satisfaction that we are able to deliver safe smiles in the form of ice creams to our consumers. 

How does your work benefit society? 

My work provides food products to customers and is a part of the food value chain. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

One memorable work I did was implementing food safety and quality regulations across our entire facility so that we could be called the safest facility producing Ice Cream.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Follow your dreams and work for them. Actions will take you ahead in life. You may face some hurdles in the beginning but remember who doesn’t and keep working on them. 

Future Plans?

In the future I plan to start my own food consulting company, where I can help more food companies achieve their targets in a safe way.