Michele Pfannenstiel, CEO of a boutique food safety consulting company, has channelled her veterinary background into a successful auditing career. Here, Pfannenstiel shares her auditing tips and why she thinks veterinarians make superb auditors.
What does a typical day look like for you?
As the CEO of a boutique publishing company, I wear all the hats. I try and get to work around 8:30. I have 30 minutes blocked off to do what I call the “core self-promotion strategies.” I write to three people every day who I need to keep in touch with. They are either former clients, potential clients, or other people who serve the same target market I do. Then, I write one email a day to someone I am interested in getting to know more because they do cool stuff. It doesn’t matter what they do, they just seem like interesting people. Once that is done I take a look at my current client list and see who has what due and when! I write up reports, I talk to clients, I take emergency phone calls because the USDA or the FDA has just shown up. Many afternoons can find me on the floor of a plant I am working with. I tend to do a lot of internal auditing with companies to try to give them a new perspective on the validation and verification of their system. If I am not doing that, I am writing blog posts or other content for marketing or developing training materials for clients.
How did you get into auditing?
I was trained by the U.S. Army Veterinary Command in how to audit. It is a little known fact that the Department of Defense Executive Agency for Food Safety is the Veterinary Command. Veterinarians are superb auditors for the most part because we think in systems. Whether it is a cardiovascular system, an endocrine system, or a preventive maintenance system, they all have parts and processes that have to work together. The Army trained me at the “schoolhouse” at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Then, I had an amazing sergeant who held my hand through my first year of audits at Ft. Monmouth in New York state.
What is your history in the profession?
I have been doing this work since I graduated from vet school. I was originally going to go into lab animal medicine, but in the 2009 economic downturn, there wasn’t really any more room for lab animal vets in the economy. I had learned how to do institutional animal care and use committee inspections while I was in vet school, and so I brought all those skills normally deployed in drug development to food manufacturing.
Why did you want to become an auditor?
I love helping small businesses succeed and I get more clients when they pass an audit. It opens up so many more avenues of revenue.
What are some highlights of your career?
I work with a lot of value-added meat plants and it is so gratifying when they get through a USDA audit with flying colors!
What do you like the most about being an auditor?
I love food manufacturing. I love the interplay of all the parts and pieces, and I love being on a factory floor and watching it all work together!
What is the most challenging part of being an auditor?
I hate failing people. I do HACCP and GMP audits—generally to get people ready for taking the next step to GFSI audits. But, unfortunately, not everyone does the prep work needed, or they have rusty equipment or sanitation programs that don’t quite meet the standards. Then I have to take a deep breath and explain to people that I am failing them, that they have to fix things, and I have to come back and then, they have to pay me again.
Do you have any tips for auditors to improve the standard of their auditing?
You miss more by not looking than by not knowing. Pick your head up out of your checklist and look around. Make sure companies are doing the big things right before you dive into the little things. And think to yourself if your actions will pass the CNN test. Are you in a company that is going to be the next 2 Sisters? Don’t be that auditor. Look around, remember what you see, and write it down.
What will auditors be focusing on in 10 years?
Culture and training to excellence, not just competence. Integration of blockchain trustless contracts and augmented reality as fewer and fewer people and more machines make food.
Do you have any other comments?
The best auditors are partners with their business clients. They are an independent voice to help you improve. Be bold. Say the hard things. There are people in the world you were meant to serve, others not so much, and it is your job to go out and serve them. Let others serve the ones you aren’t meant to serve. It’ll be OK. And if your client doesn’t like what you said or otherwise treats you less than well, don’t serve them, someone else will come along. Most auditors know when something isn’t right. Say something.
For more information or to contact Michele, visit www.dirigofoodsafety.com.