For Francine L. Shaw, being in the food industry is a family thing.

Her grandparents owned a small general store, and she’d sit in her grandmother’s lap — the candy section just out of reach — as people would come in to chat as much as to shop.

“The funniest thing that I can remember now is she had the best cheese in the world,” recalled Shaw, whose parents also owned a small grocery store a few years later. “And what I remember specifically, is that cheese was never refrigerated!”

By the time she was 15, she was working as a fry girl at a restaurant, working her way up through the ranks. She was a general manager at 25, and, ultimately, an operating partner before leaving after more than 20 years.

Shaw transitioned to the training side of the industry before founding consulting firm Savvy Food Safety in 2008 after realizing not everyone focused on food safety and quality assurance the way she had during her foodservice career.

“I started going into these other facilities and doing inspections and audits, some of the things that I was seeing, I couldn’t believe were happening,” she said.

At Savvy, Shaw and her team focuses on training, advising and coaching around food safety in foodservice and more.

On the verge of launching some new initiatives, including one that will track certifications, and another that will connect farm-to-fork restaurateurs with trusted suppliers, Shaw shared some of what she’s learned along the way.

 

Three-thousand people in this country die every year from foodborne illnesses. It’s 100% preventable. It doesn’t have to happen.

It happens because, to be very blunt, somebody screwed up.

I get very passionate about what I believe. There’s a purpose to what I do, and there’s a reason why I do it.

I do think passion is important. I believe that when you go into a chef’s kitchen, or to someone in manufacturing and processing, the people that are very passionate about their jobs want to make sure they do things the right way.

It makes you happy to find something that you care about.

I’ve always worked in a male-dominated industry. So, when you think back to when I was 25 years old, it was even more so. There were times [at the restaurant] that people would come in and say, “I want to speak to the manager.” And I would say, “I am the manager.” And they’d be like, “No, I mean the real manager.”

I developed a very strong personality because I had no other choice.

I see more women in the industry now than I ever have. It’s slow, but I believe it has changed and it is still changing.

We’ve moved into the digital era, but both foodservice and manufacturing are very resistant to change.

I’m not afraid of change.

You need to stay on top of whatever [technology] is out there. Especially when you’re in training and education.

You have to allow your team to make decisions. They can’t live in fear of making mistakes. That’s how they grow, and it’s how your company grows.

I’d much rather they make a mistake, and we fix it together. That is what a leader is supposed to do.

I can’t tell you how often I’d be in a facility observing, and somebody — from whatever position — will walk in and not put on a hat, not put on an apron, and walk into the kitchen without washing their hands. Well, what does that tell you about the food safety culture?

As a consumer, food safety means being able to purchase a meal or groceries with the assumption that it is safe to eat or feed your family and friends without killing them.

As an industry expert, it means that everybody in the supply chain follows the policies and procedures to ensure the product is safe, from the farmer to the last person who handled the item before its sale.