Employee Spotlight: 10 Things to Know About Lisa Fuentes, Director of Food Safety & Quality Assurance

Lisa Fuentes started working at Ocean Mist Farms over 2 years ago as the Director of Food Safety & Quality Assurance! We caught up with Lisa to learn more about her role and the essential work her team does at Ocean Mist Farms.

Keep reading to learn more!

1. Tell us about your role as the Director of Food Safety & Quality Assurance?

Externally, I work with outside local government and agency officials when conducting audits at the field level and in our cooling and processing facilities. Internally, I oversee our own Food Safety and Quality Assurance teams to ensure our organized practices, procedures and ongoing training set the strictest quality and food safety standards that make Ocean Mist Farms the gold standard.

2. How is your department structured?

I work with our Quality Assurance & Food Safety Manager, Ismael Esquivel, our Food Safety Processing Supervisor, Kevin Delgado, and our amazing team of expert Quality Assurance Inspectors and Food Safety Specialists. Over the last few years, our team collaboration has been instrumental in streamlining our department-wide processes!

3. For our audience's context, can you give a general overview of what you and the Quality Assurance side of the team does?

Quality Assurance (QA) is involved in the supply chain starting at the time of harvest until our product is shipped. The primary objectives of our QA team are to evaluate the quality attributes of any particular commodity to ensure consistency and compliance with USDA grade standards, specific customer specifications, and ultimately Ocean Mist Farms' Gold Standard quality.

At the field level, our expert Quality Assurance Inspectors provide direct support to the harvest teams by evaluating product as it's being harvested. Before entering our cooler facilities, they also evaluate product by percentage cartons, meaning they check a certain percentage of the total packed cartons per harvest load to ensure product meets our standards. Before every truck is loaded, our inspectors also make sure the truck beds are clean. This is the "short" version of everything our QA team does! 

4. Can you give an overview of the Food Safety side of your department?

Food Safety's role begins in the field during preseason assessments when we select and cultivate the land. Preseason assessments are conducted to check ground conditions, the neighboring land, wells, water quality, the list goes on. We have routine assessments done throughout the growth cycle of each commodity in the field and at the time of harvest. This is where the process side of my role really comes into play when working with outside government agencies, customers, and overseeing our internal team. Harvest record-keeping and product traceability are particularly important for Food Safety. 

[A recent example of what our traceability initiative at Ocean Mist Farms looks like can be seen in our case study with GS1.]

5. What type of ongoing training do you provide your team?

Ongoing education is essential for improving procedures and to always be proactive. For example, on the QA side, a training session could be reviewing quality attributes or review consumer response inquiries for any particular vegetable. On the Food Safety side, this could be discussing a new procedure or reviewing the cleaning protocol for a specific sanitation agent.

6. How have you and your team adapted to the COVID-19 landscape we're in?

Pre-COVID, our Food Safety protocols were already extremely rigorous across the board. However, when the pandemic world set in, my team did an amazing job adapting to the pandemic landscape! Early on, I did a lot of research on COVID-19 fighting agents, sanitizers and the best PPE to be worn. Fortunately, with the FDA and CDC involved, I received information faster and our team could implement new Food Safety and Occupational Safety processes immediately. 

7. How did you get started in this industry?

For undergrad, I studied Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, which is the study of food processing heavily grounded in chemistry, mathematics, and other sciences. I was even in the food science debate team during undergrad (think Jeopardy for Food Safety). I began my career as a Food Safety Inspector for retail and produce, which is where I got more exposure to the ag industry. Eventually, I found my way into the ag industry in Food Safety and QA capacities.

8. Best piece of advice for someone coming into this line of work?

Always have a goal in mind, be consistent, work as a team, keep educating yourself, and professionalism.

9. Any quarantine hobbies you've picked up? 

This past year has kept me particularly busy but if given the opportunity, I'd love to spend more time horseback riding and just being around horses!

10. What's the #1 thing you can't wait to do post-pandemic?

I can't wait to travel again. Lately I find myself putting on YouTube virtual tours of places like the Amalfi Coast or Rome to relive amazing places I miss!

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Julie Criswell
Julie has been connected to Ocean Mist Farms for half of her life! When she was 9, she participated in the Artichoke Festival’s Agro-art competition for the first time, and every year until she went to college in Chicago. Now, two years after her summer internship with us, she’s officially aboard our marketing team full-time. Enjoy her perspective of life in the produce lane!
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