A Fond Farewell to our CEO and Friend, Deirdre Schlunegger
As a friend of Stop Foodborne Illness, you’ve likely seen in some of our communications that we’ve got some big news coming up: Deirdre Schlunegger, our CEO for the last nine years, is hanging up her hat.
During her time as CEO, Deirdre has passionately served our mission driving much progress in the food safety world while also showing heartfelt compassion for people suffering from the devastating consequences of foodborne illness. Long hours at the office, a plethora of media interviews, dozens of trips in the U.S. and internationally, and constant care and concern for all members of our Stop Foodborne Illness family—all of this and more is how Deirdre filled her days with us.
Deirdre’s done a lot to move the food safety ball forward and connect with thousands of people across the world with one rock solid aim: To help people like you stay safe from contaminated food.
On behalf of everyone she’s served, we extend our most heartfelt and hearty thanks to Deirdre and wish her all the very best in this new chapter of her life. Please read on and check out the Q & A interview Deirdre did with us as she sets sail into her retirement.
Q: Throughout your nine years with Stop Foodborne Illness, how have you seen it evolve and what positive changes are you most proud of?
A: Well, I’m proud to say the organization has significantly evolved and grown in many ways. Some of the big things that come to mind include creating a more stable, robust nonprofit by developing a new and improved infrastructure with professional systems and policies; increasing awareness of food safety, our programs, and all we do to help victims; and exhibiting/speaking regularly at a wide variety of conferences about foodborne illness and how to prevent it.
I’m most proud of the huge progress we’ve made working toward positive solutions with people working in the food industry. This is such an important focus, and we’ve made tremendous strides. It’s absolutely critical for us to work together with these folks to help solve the kind of problems in food manufacturing and production that lead to illness and death due to foodborne disease.
Q: You’ve spent time with so many people who’ve endured tragic consequences due to foodborne illness. What kind of impact do these stories have on you?
A: Each person and story has truly touched me in profound ways.
I am known to have heightened empathy and have a tendency to absorb others’ pain. And if I’m able help someone, I will. When I’ve talked with people who have suffered from foodborne illness over the years, they shared the life-long pain and loss associated with their struggle—and their conversations always stay with me. I’ll never forget the profound ways in which people who’ve endured terrible losses step up to be a part of our work to create a safer food supply for everybody. They are my heroes.
Q: When it comes to food safety, if you were to grade yourself A-E, what grade would you give? Tagging on to that, what are 1 or 2 areas you’re still working on getting better at?
A: This is a hard one! I’m afraid of boxing myself in with a grade as I am always my worst critic. I love learning and improving my knowledge and skills, so my food safety know-how has definitely evolved while working here. So, I’m not going to grade myself, I suppose it would be different for me and everyone that knows me, some better, some not. I will always strive to be better at email communication.
One thing that helps: Having grandkids! When it comes to myself, I certainly don’t want to eat anything that could be contaminated; but, when it comes to my wonderful grandchildren, there’s NO WAY I want to take even the slightest chance of them consuming any tainted food. So, they definitely keep me on my toes.
Q: For your successor, what do you feel are top priorities for this person’s first year?
A: First, I think it would greatly benefit Stop’s new CEO understand the history and culture of the organization. And, importantly, it’s critical to learn about and connect with the people who’ve done so much up to this point to start and expand Stop’s work.
In my role, I’ve spent time listening to and visiting our constituents, as well as experts in the world of food safety, and I recommend the new leader do the same. It’s one of the most rewarding and fruitful parts of the job. While it’s impossible to develop relationships with everyone, carving out specific time to reach out and talk with people is a priority.
Another big priority is fundraising. So much potential exists in this area with our current and prospective supporters. Individual and corporate donors are truly the lifeblood of Stop’s work, so nurturing these relationships is vital. With more financial support, the organization’s programs, advocacy efforts, and help for victims can exponentially grow. It is not an easy organization for which to raise funds. It is much easier to raise money for children’s issues, health issues and even veterans.
It is an exciting time. Stop’s new CEO will undoubtedly come in with a fresh, new perspective, which I know will invigorate the organization.
Q: Lastly, what will you miss about working with Stop?
A: That’s easy: The wonderful people!
I’ll miss the Board and staff along with so many of Stop’s friends and supporters who I’ve grown close to. They’ve played a special role in my life, which I’ll cherish as I go forward.
About Deirdre Schlunegger
In 2010, Deirdre Schlunegger began her role as CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness and, in May 2019, she retired. In retirement, Deirdre is looking forward to spending time with her family and enjoying many hobbies including bike riding, reading and knitting.