As the company expands its businesses, offering more products for more consumers, leaders embrace the growing importance of food safety.
When Cargill Executive Vice President Gerald Mitchell asked Dr. Austen Cargill to lead the company’s new food safety department in 1990, Austen was curious. The great-grandson of founder W. W. Cargill was unfamiliar with the field of food safety. Companies had always worked to provide safe food, but they traditionally did so under a quality control process, since the formalized food safety processes of today were not common at the time.
Austen accepted the challenge, and under his leadership, the company established a team that focused on ensuring food safety from farm to fork. Their work helped shape what later would become an industry standard.
Great Cargill minds and industry experts joined Austen in creating a culture committed to food safety. The team that was established in the 1990s included Dr. Howard Bauman, whose credentials included work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Pillsbury, and the creation of the food safety management system known as “HACCP” (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) in the 1960s. To better understand the current state of the company, Austen traveled to numerous facilities, reviewed their processes and spoke directly with operators and food handlers. He often stayed for the night shift on his visits, talking to employees as they worked into the early morning hours.
“[Austen] was the hardest-working person you will ever meet,” recalled Todd McAloon, the food safety, quality and regulatory lead for Cargill’s animal nutrition business, as well as a key member of the team. During the early years of the company’s food safety department, McAloon made site visits with Austen and helped him train about 1,000 of Cargill’s first food safety employees. “Austen wanted to see everything and experience the day-to-day challenges of making safe food,” recalled McAloon. “He also made sure business leaders were committing resources to implement food safety systems.” Ultimately, Austen’s perseverance and passion for food safety helped change Cargill and eventually led to changes for the entire food industry.
During food safety seminars, Austen often invited students to consider the many products made with Cargill ingredients. “I’d say, ‘How many of these products are in your house? How many do you feed to your kids?’ ‘Don’t you want to make sure this product is safe? The product you make is eaten by your children, parents and grandparents,’” Austen explained. “That made it personal.”
The advancements Cargill achieved with its food safety department were widely considered revolutionary and enhanced the company’s reputation of trust, helping to form long-term relationships with customers.
Now, Cargill continues to evolve its food safety management systems to align with international standards and shares best practices with the rest of the food industry. All of Cargill’s food production facilities have achieved Global Food Safety Initiative recognized certification. Today Cargill has more than 4,000 food safety, quality & regulatory professionals, and all employees are continually empowered to personally contribute to the success of the company’s food safety system.
Food safety remains critical to Cargill’s long-term success. Every day, Cargill strives to maintain and enhance the trust of its customers and consumers, beginning with the safety of the food and feed the company produces and extending to improving food safety around the world.