Meet Angela Saeger: Mom on a Mission + Food Safety Warrior at Mariani Packing Company
Angela Saeger has had a long, successful, and fulfilling career in food safety.
Along the way, a terribly frightening experience amped up this devoted mother’s huge passion for preventing foodborne illness: Her son, Luke, contracted a severe Campylobacter infection at just five years old.
There’s nothing quite like a mother’s love to fuel the tough battle against foodborne disease. And when you get to know our beloved friend, Angela, in our Q & A below, you’ll quickly see that her deep commitment to food safety and helping victims is a special part of her very soul.
Q: How did you start your career in food safety, Angela?
A: I began my career working in quality assurance almost 25 years ago. My first role in a food company was as a quality grader in the lab.
As I moved on to different companies and different titles, I was fortunate to have great mentors early on and many companies that invested in educating me.
One experience rocked me to my core and forever solidified my appreciation for food safety: It was when my son, Luke, fell seriously ill when he was five due to Campylobacter, and we never found out how he got it.
That’s when it really hit home that a person’s health and life are in the hands of people we trust to handle our food as it moves from farm to fork. It made the importance of my job rise to a new (and very high) level. And, later when my son was 10, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which put him at a higher risk for foodborne illness. Because of this, my entire family needed to take a deep dive into food safety and proper food handling practices, too. Thankfully I had a lot of knowledge from my career that I was able to easily translate to our home life.
From the beginning, one thing that really resonated with me as it relates to work in the quality field is my enthusiasm (you might even call it an obsession!) for RULES. I’ve always been attracted to work that entails establishing rules and FOLLOWING them to get good outcomes. I just think it’s absolutely critical to do everything possible to make sure people actually do what they know they need to do from a food safety standpoint. We have to hold people’s feet to fire and keep them accountable. My own child who I watched suffer, combined with the heartbreaking stories of victims I’ve heard—especially people who’ve lost loved ones—keeps my passion alive and kicking every day.
Q: In your current position as Quality Assurance Manager at Mariani Packing Company, what do you do and what do you consider to be most important in keeping food safe?
A: Employee awareness and training.
By far, this is THE most important activity in preventing foodborne illness. This is where it all starts: With the people whose job it is to know what to do—and why—and then do it properly.
As a Quality Assurance Manager, I do so many things. To make sure I’m doing my work accurately and effectively, I’ve got to stay current on customer, statutory, and regulatory regulations related to food safety; food recalls; and the latest industry news through publications, webinars, seminars and trainings. Our company policies and procedures are then put into place to meet those requirements, which I’m an integral part of.
Having the correct policies and procedures in place is a start, but it doesn’t end there. This information must then make it to the employees—the ones who are actually making our products. That’s where training comes in. I help deliver training in a manner that effectively gives employees knowledge about our rules/regulations and why they exist. Finally, a big chunk of what I do involves testing employees’ knowledge post-training and monitoring their actions.
Q: In 2017, you invited one of our constituents to speak at Mariani Packing Company. How did you first learn about Stop Foodborne Illness and how has your partnership with us helped people at your workplace?
A: Eight years ago I was searching the internet for real-life examples of people who’ve been affected by foodborne disease. I wanted to give my employees a deeper understanding of the importance of food safety and how serious we need to take our obligation to keep people safe from deadly foodborne pathogens.
I came across Nancy Donley’s story and, instantly, I knew this was one I had to share. So I did. And our employees were very moved. Years later, I saw Nancy tell her story at a supplier summit with unforgettable sadness that brought tears to my eyes.
More recently in 2017, I met Stanley Rutledge, Community Coordinator, at the Stop Foodborne Illness booth at the Food Safety Summit conference. I shared with Stanley how much Nancy’s story impacted me and that I would love to have his help finding someone who could come to our facility to tell their story.
That’s when Stanley connected me with Jillian Castro.
I invited Jillian to be a featured speaker at one of our training sessions, and thankfully she said “yes.” On August 17, 2017, as 127 of us watched her speak with such heartfelt emotion, we all had something new to think about that helped connect our work and its critical importance. Every single one of us appreciated so much more the “WHY” behind the food safety training and implementation we do day in and day out.
Read Jillian’s story, and catch up with what she’s doing now.
Jillian went through a horrific foodborne illness experience—one that caused her tremendous physical and emotional pain. I’m so grateful to Jillian for her poignant words that touched our hearts. Our employees gave me more positive feedback about Jillian and that particular training she spoke at than any other I’ve conducted. Her story, her face, her voice—Jillian made everything we get trained on so much more real for us. A big goal of mine with trainings is make sure people understand that lives can be shattered if an employee slacks on the job and doesn’t do their work properly. There’s no doubt that Jillian helped drive that point home.
Q: When it comes to preventing foodborne illness, what’s one thing you’d like our readers to do right now?
A: Educating yourself is vital, and one thing I find people don’t pay enough attention to is FOOD RECALLS.
It’s a simple thing, but it could be the one thing that saves you or a loved one from the devastating impact of a foodborne illness.
So, if you haven’t done so yet, I urge you to sign up to receive alerts on food product recalls. You can do that on the Stop Foodborne Illness website and on various other sites including:
For consumers in the United States, sign up at USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service.
For consumers in Canada, sign up at Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
For pet food recalls, sign up at U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
And, when those recalls come through, be sure to read them and take action to REMOVE the item from your fridge/pantry ASAP.
Angela Saeger is a Quality Assurance Manager at Mariani Packing Company. Since graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, she’s been working in the quality assurance field for 25 years. Angela is happily engaged and has two grown sons, Luke and Jaeden. As a family, they all enjoy spending time with their beloved pets, four dogs and two cats, and relaxing at their Northern Wisconsin waterfront cottage.
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