Editor's Blog: 'People are eating on my watch'

by Lawrence Aylward
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – What makes Melissa Raybon a good plant manager? Many things, but the biggest is that she cares.

She takes pride in working for Fieldale Farms, a poultry processor in Baldwin, Ga., and the quality of the product that leaves the company’s building. She cares about managing people so everyone is in sync. But Raybon cares most about food safety. She takes it personally.

“People are eating on my watch, if you will, and I take that very seriously,” said Raybon, who is in her fifth year at Fieldale, which offers a variety of chicken, including fully cooked ready-to-eat products. “There’s a lot of pressure. It’s my responsibility to do everything in my power to prevent any product getting out of this plant that could possibly harm the consumer.”

Earlier in her career, Raybon experienced a product recall at another company’s poultry plant due to a Listeria monocytogenes breakout. It wasn’t a good time — never is — but Raybon learned from it.

Talking to her, you get a sense of her passion for running a tidy plant. And you appreciate when she says her best effort at doing so is never good enough.

Raybon is afraid of Listeria … but she’s not afraid of Listeria. It’s frightening for her to think what an outbreak could cause— “Heaven forbid, a fatality,” she said — and she hopes in her heart that it never occurs. “It would be the worst nightmare ever,” she said.

But Raybon knows she must remain diligent and always on guard.

“You are chasing something you can’t see,” Raybon said. “You are chasing a ghost.”

She said plants that are reactionary to a Listeria (or any pathogen) breakout may be asking for trouble. You must be proactive and look for it. If you find it, consider it a victory. And then eradicate it and move on.

The hunt never ends. Lives are always on the line.

“This is so important to me,” Raybon said.
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