Micromanaging food safety

by Bernard Shire
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 Mike Robach
Cargill's Mike Robach applies a global approach to ensure compliance and continuous improvement.
 

If you get the feeling that Mike Robach shoulders a huge amount of responsibility at a mammoth company and that his responsibilities focus on the most important areas of operations, you’d be right. Robach is vice president for corporate food safety, product quality and regulatory affairs at Minneapolis-based Cargill, which employs more than 150,000 people in 67 countries.

His prime focus centers on food safety: following the government regulations that ensure the company’s meat and poultry products are safe for people to eat and developing programs to monitor and measure food safety. Fortunately, he has an army of professionals dedicated to achieving the company’s ambitious food-safety goals. Robach leads 4,500 employees who help him. Together, they make sure Cargill products are safe to eat, that government regulations are being followed and that the products coming out of the supply chain are of the highest quality.

“I make sure our employees have the tools to do this,” he says. But in the end, the buck stops with Robach.

Robach joined Cargill 13 years ago and has increased the company’s scope to include other critical areas, like animal health. He continues to focus virtually everything he does in line with Cargill’s vision of being the global leader in nourishing people.

He’s been in the meat and poultry industry for most of his adult life, starting his career with the Monsanto Co., but Robach’s exposure and connections to the industry are family ones.

“My father got his master’s degree and Ph.D. at Michigan State in meat science, then microbiology and public health and worked in the meat industry in Chicago. My degrees are in food science and microbiology,” he says of the similar paths he and his dad followed. “Going to graduate school at Virginia Tech, I was doing work there with country cured hams. I then went to work at Monsanto as a microbiologist. After Monsanto, I went to Continental Grain’s poultry division, Wayne Farms and Premium Standard Farms. I worked in China for a few years,” he says.

He identifies and navigates a number of challenges the meat and poultry industry contends with today.

“Our industry must manage the risks to make sure poultry and meat products are safe for our customers and consumers to eat,” Robach says. “Connected to that is making sure our customer’s expectations are met. We have to communicate effectively with our customers and consumers about the safety of their food, which they’re a lot more concerned about – I’ll even say worried about – than they used to be. Letting people know that our animals used for food are being treated humanely – and then making sure they are; and keeping ahead of the growing number and ever-changing list of pathogens that can pose food safety hazards in our products.”

Robach also participates in the trade associations that play an ever-increasing role in the meat and poultry industry today, including the North American Meat Institute, the National Turkey Federation, the International Association of Food Protection, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the American Society for Microbiology. Robach is past president of Safe Supply of Affordable Food Everywhere (SSAFE), a member of the Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Council Executive Committee for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and a member of the US Poultry and Egg Association’s Research Advisory Committee. Robach currently serves as the chairman of the board of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).

He also has developed close relationships with officials in the US Dept. of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration regarding food safety policy, HACCP and regulatory reform based on science. From 1995 through 2000, he was a member of the watchdog National Advisory Committee for Microbiological Criteria in Foods.

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