In modern society, most people take for granted that the food that nourishes us won’t cause disease — severe or mild. Occasionally, the headlines will tell of an E. coli or a salmonella outbreak due to tainted produce, but those instances are thankfully rare, in part because of professionals such as Alison Goldsand, owner of ABG Food Safety.
As a food and environmental safety consultant, Goldsand is part auditor, part investigator.
“I help with the third-party audits that are necessary at companies such as Costco and Walmart,” she says. “As an investigator, I do a lot of due diligence. I work with attorneys, and if they do mergers and acquisitions with food companies, I’m investigating everything from building design and maintenance to paperwork and procedures to ensure that they know what they’re getting into.”
Goldsand explains that most of her clients process food products. She recently worked with a frosting company that supplies Dunkin’ Donuts locations across the country. Compliance with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations is paramount.
“It involves verifying that their building and food is pathogen-free, but also that their suppliers are acting in a safe manner as well. It goes all the way backward through the supply chain as well,” she says. “Let’s say the flour my client uses is contaminated with salmonella because the processing facility didn’t heat treat it. The flour gets all bound up into the frosting and my client is then involved with the recall, which in turn, paints their brand negatively.”
As such, Goldsand spends most of her time in the field trying to find the root causes of problems.
“I love science, but even when I majored in microbiology, I did not consider myself a lab rat,” she says. “I like being customer facing, not having the day-to-day routine of plating something and putting it under a microscope. I leave that to the experts on that side of the industry.”
About two years ago, Goldsand decided to pursue a doctoral degree in food science to complement the master’s degree in the same field she attained in 2011. She did not, however, foresee that she would own a food consulting business during her undergraduate studies.
Goldsand started her postsecondary schooling on a path to become an orthodontist but wrestled with doubts as she progressed through the program. During her senior year at the University of Arizona, she decided to take a food safety course on a lark.
“I knew nothing agriculture,” Goldsand says. “I’m from Scottsdale, so it was a very new world for me, but I loved it. On the first day of the course, they showed how to slaughter a cow, pig, sheep and an ostrich. I was a vegetarian and was mortified, but also intrigued about how the process worked and the science behind it.”
After a conversation with her professor, Goldsand started working in his lab. A week before graduation, the professor offered her a master’s scholarship and teacher’s assistant position, which she accepted. Later, the same professor connected her with Shamrock Farms, where Goldsand spent the first five years of her career before starting ABG Food Safety.
“I was very fortunate to know the right people and make important connections before I decided to leave corporate America and try this out on my own,” she concludes. “And truthfully, I don’t think I’ll ever look back. Although it’s my job, food science is also my passion, as nerdy as that sounds. I never get sick of it.”