Packaging & Food Science

The FBI of Food

An Interview with Mike Bolstridge, Tetra Pak Director of Product Safety and Quality

Mike Bolstridge Mike Bolstridge likes to compare his job to that of a detective. If a problem arises in food manufacturing, he and his team carefully analyze clues to discover the root cause of the problem and solve the mystery. As Tetra Pak U.S. Director of Product Safety and Quality, Mike is far from the FBI, but his expertise on quality assurance in food manufacturing is widely known and he is a frequent speaker on the lecture circuit, training food production engineers and scientists.

What is a food scientist?
“Food scientist” is a broad term, as we do lots of things. Different food scientists have different roles depending on their specialty. For instance, you have food microbiologists like me that develop food with organisms that are beneficial to health, or that look at food safety and spoilage. Then you have food,engineering, which deals with the food manufacturers and process including how the different pieces of equipment are used for different products. The role of a food scientist is essentially to feed the world’s inhabitants, which is becoming increasingly more important with the rising population.

As a food scientist at a packaging company, what is your day like?
Day to day, the job consists of assisting food manufacturers in quality assurance. We change operational routines, offer advice on maintenance and training to operational staff. Continuous improvement is the proactive side of my job. But there is also a reactive side. It comes when a facility has a problem with operations and it has resulted in spoilage and waste. We then become detectives solving a crime. We collect information around a problem, make a diagnosis and find a solution to rectify the cause. The results are amazing because if you improve quality, you improve safety and profitability, all the while minimizing waste and spoilage problems.

How does your role add value and contribute to the safety of food products globally?
There are two areas. One of them is hygiene, and the second one is cleaning. It is difficult to understand the difference, but in essence you have to have clean equipment before sanitizing it or else it won’t matter. Facilities around the world grow and install more equipment, and the cleaning part is often neglected. That’s where we come in.

You have worked all over the world. What are some of the differences you have noticed?
I was born and raised in South Africa, I lived in Sweden and I now work in the US. However, I don’t think that cultural differences impact manufacturing processes. What drives good practices is the attitude of management. If management is not engaged you find that controls become relaxed. We recently partnered with a customer in Europe driving good manufacturing practices and focusing on quality. They found that a competent worker could produce more than 15,000 liters of product more per shift than a worker that was of lower competence. It is important to train and retrain. Operations repeat things again and again so people get used to bad habits. Retraining is essential to refocus workers.

Where do you see the growth points for the food science industry?
The industry is becoming more complex. There are new products developed virtually on a daily basis. In Texas, we have a product development center where we help customers with their new innovations and we see more and more demand from the health industry with high protein drinks for instance. The equipment that makes one product can’t always be cleaned with the same products used to clean another. This is something we didn’t see 30 years ago.

What gets you up in the morning? What drives you to go to work?
I’m passionate! No two days at work are the same; there is no routine because all the clients and all the problems are different. Seeing quality improve is a reward, and it’s one you can realize just by walking into a supermarket.