Seeing my food safety skills make a difference in Jordan was truly humbling

Julie Wagner
About the author : Julie Wagner

Sodexo’s Head of Food Safety in the UK & Ireland and Global Food Safety Director

Published on : 6/2/23
  • Julie Wagner is Sodexo’s Head of Food Safety in the UK & Ireland and Global Food Safety Director. In October 2022, she travelled to Jordan with the World Food Programme (WFP) to take part in a skills-based volunteering mission, specifically piloting the food safety checklists that they had been developing together over the previous 12 months.

    On World Food Safety Day (7 June) – and for National Volunteering Week (1-7 June) – Julie shares her experience in the hope that others will use their vital skills for good.

    Seeing my role in a whole new lightJulie and team in Jordan

    My opportunity to support the UN World Food Programme (UNWFP) came out of their partnership with Stop Hunger, the charitable organisation, established and supported by Sodexo as its unique philanthropic cause to combat hunger around the world.

    The year before I visited Jordan, I’d used my volunteering time, which every Sodexo employee is entitled to as part of our social impact pledge, to help WFP develop a food safety and quality strategy and toolkit, in operations dealing with fresh and perishable foods, and prepared meals.  As part of this toolkit, there was a checklist that would embed food safety throughout their operations in a more effective way. It covered  the basics such as cross-contamination, temperature control, potable water, pest control and cleaning standards. When I was offered the chance to refine it on the ground, I said jumped at the chance because I knew I could add value.

    The importance of food safety

    Great food must always be safe food.  At Sodexo, we embed food safety in every aspect of our food operations, from the selection of vendors to the delivery of food services. Getting it right prevents illness and injury, and it’s what makes every form, every temperature check, every audit and every HACCP assessment absolutely non-negotiable.

    As well as a robust food safety management system, we have a Zero Harm mindset, where we are all committed to ourselves and everyone around us having a healthy and safe day. 

    In January this year, the UK&I team reduced the number of documents that govern our processes. Not because the information they contained isn’t critical – it is – but because by condensing and reducing sensibly, we make compliance easier for colleagues and therefore more effective.

    Travelling out to JordanJulie and team

    Making compliance easier was exactly what was needed in Jordan too. WFP has been on the ground, working in refugee camps filled with people fleeing conflict in Syria as well as in deprived local communities. They wanted to have some simple tools for both their technical teams and field officers to provide better visibility for food safety on the ground.

    Together with a team from WFP, we visited two production units that prepare food for school children and bakeries / retailers in the refugee camps, so we could trial the checklist. We had the opportunity to visit one of the schools they provide food for, and it was so heartwarming to see the children receiving their nutritious lunch parcels of baked pastries, fruit and vegetables. 

    Making improvements 

    After we arrived, we took stock and saw what we could improve. We could further simplify and condense the checklist to make it something that would reinforce standards without slowing production or the operation. Thanks to my experience in the UK and Ireland, I was also able to provide specific expertise in allergen management.  The production units were aware of food allergens and were managing them well, but when the food arrived, not everyone at the school knew which children had allergies. Those processes have now been improved. 

    We also visited refugee camps, piloting the checklist in the retail outlets there and we spent our last day simplifying and refining it. The toolkit has now been rolled out in Jordan and across every other country in which WFP operates. 

    Personal and professional highlight

    Working with WPF and meeting the Jordanian people was an amazing and humbling experience. It reminded me of the importance of food safety as a profession, of course, but it also made me think even harder about waste. 

    Sodexo’s Appetite for Action campaign is about working with our partners, customers and government to actively reduce food waste. Not just as a moral imperative but as a critical part of reaching net zero. Food waste generates carbon emissions on a scale few people realise, and it’s never far from my mind because we talk about it so often. 

    I asked the school in Jordan what they did if a child wasn’t there to collect their food. They either got it to them in another way or gave an extra parcel to someone whose family was known to be struggling. Everything was redistributed, and nothing was wasted. 

    Encouraging others to get involved

    Since I visited Jordan, two Sodexo colleagues have also supported the WFP elsewhere: Bhagwat Kolte (Sodexo India) in Bangladesh and Sevrine Bethy (Sodexo France) in Lebanon. But food safety skills can also make a difference closer to home.

    One of Sodexo’s partners is the food charity The Bread and Butter Thing, and many of my colleagues have used their paid volunteering days there. I went to help them improve the flow in their warehouse, suggesting how they might improve the layout to speed things up while keeping food safety in mind.

    Knowing I’ve used my professional expertise in this way is such a fantastic feeling. I’d encourage anyone with a food safety background – or any expertise at all – to look around and see where you can help.

    Food safety saves lives, and volunteering has made me more committed than ever. 

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