We are so excited to be featuring one of our incredible FIF community members, Deneed Rief. Her career in the food industry started from a completely different field of study, but quickly led her to take on a journey in food safety . In this Q&A interview, Deneen leads us through her journey from a key role in food safety for major food brands to becoming a consultant.
Q. Let’s start from the beginning. Where did you grow up? What inspired you to start a career in the F&B industry?
A. I grew up in Golden Valley, MN. My parents were teachers and we traveled (in a camper) around the country every summer.
I landed in the food and beverage industry a little by accident. I got my degree in Soil Science and Agronomy from the University of Minnesota and started my career in sales. From there I went to analytical testing and then landed my job at General Mills in their laboratory. I started moving around to different roles within the company and realized my love of the food industry and particularly food safety.
Q. Can you share what your career journey has entailed? Where are you today?
A. I spent 15 years at General Mills moving around into different roles, as I mentioned above.
I started in the analytical laboratory, then move to manage the labs, was General Manager of Medallion Labs (which sold the General Mills analytical services to outside companies), spent a year in sensory, and then moved to manufacturing. I started working in the pilot plan and realized I needed to get “real production” experience and moved to a facility in Belvidere IL. I spent 4 years in Illinois and decided it was time to move back to MN.
Unfortunately, General Mills was struggling at the time and was not able to move me and my family back. That is when I made my move to Land O’Lakes. I started in their dairy plant in Kiel, WI, and then moved back to the corporate offices in Arden Hills, MN. Land O’Lakes again gave me the opportunity to learn new roles, so I helped develop quality programs and helped integrate a new business (Kozy Shack pudding) into the LOL quality management system When the FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) was signed into law in 2011, I joined the regulatory team and prepared all Land O’ Lakes businesses for full compliance.
In 2016, I was given the opportunity to lead a quality organization for a medium-sized supplier company called Hawkins, Inc. I loved my quality team, but after 3 years it was time to leave the corporate world and try consulting. I have owned my own consulting business for the last 2 years and I love it.
Q. What career achievements have been the most impactful to you and those that you have helped along the way?
A. My greatest career achievements have been in mentoring. I developed a Buddy Program at both Land O’Lakes and Hawkins for new FSQ employees. Helping a new employee navigate the corporate world is so rewarding. I have mentored employees both formally and informally for many years. I find great joy in helping others succeed.
Q. What are your areas of expertise for Females in Food members to connect with you on?
A. Food Safety, Quality Management Systems, and Regulatory Compliance
Q. What do you enjoy doing most in your free time?
A. Traveling. I love to travel for work, for fun, and for volunteering.
About 7 years ago I discovered international volunteering through the USAID Farmer to Farmer program. I have done volunteer assignments in Egypt, Lebanon, Kenya, Tanzania, and Morocco (both in-person and virtually during the pandemic). Training small food companies and cooperatives in these countries on food safety has been an amazing journey and one I highly recommend. Let me know if you want to learn more!
Q. What advice would you give your younger self? Or What advice do you have for those who are just coming into the food industry?
A. Build a network and keep in contact with them. I utilize my network all the time for questions, jobs, helping others, introductions, really anything. The food industry is smaller than you think and you never know when your paths will cross again.
Q. What is your favorite “on the go” breakfast?
A. I always make time for breakfast! Eggs are my go-to.