Taking Your Network to Work

By: 
Mitzi Baum
Mitzi Baum photo
Mitzi D. Baum, Director of Food Safety Feeding America

Being able to tap into the vast networking resources that the Online Masters of Science in Food Safety Program provides has helped me to strengthen the country’s food bank network and ultimately provide those in need safer food.  I am the Director of Food Safety for Feeding America, the largest, domestic hunger-relief organization and I am always looking for an impactful professional development opportunity.

I began the Online Master of Science in Food Safety program at MSU to provide myself a better depth of knowledge to further my career.  However, what I didn’t anticipate and that is equally as valuable is the incredible professional networking opportunities. 

My first class was the on-campus component of the program, VM810 Food Safety Leadership and Professional Development; it was a great way to start the program, to feel a part of the Michigan State University institution and the student body.  It also provided an excellent opportunity to meet other students who were in various stages of the program – newbies and those preparing for graduation.  The lectures and field trips were interesting and stimulated new ideas but the time for networking was the real gold.

Working in the non-profit arena for 16 years, funding and budgets are always tight, so finding partners to provide expert education and advice to the 201 food banks is an opportunity not to be missed. I capitalized on these new relationships and I am continuing to build my network with other subject matter experts. 

I met Kristie Denbrock, Adjunct Faculty, for the Online Master of Science in Food Safety program, during my week on the MSU Campus.  I asked if she would lead a session on Food Protection and Defense at an upcoming conference in Chicago.  This past August, Kristie led a workshop for a filled room at the Palmer House Hilton. 

A classmate, Farzana Vogl, has been more than generous with her time. Food banks have been receiving more frozen fish through our partnerships with retailers and Seafood HACCP has become imperative.  Farzana facilitated an online Seafood HACCP webinar for the network that was attended by more than 100 people. 

While on campus for VM 810, I had an opportunity to relax with some fellow students.  One of them, Crissida Brown, works for HEB grocery stores in Texas.  We started discussing Class I recalls, due to labeling issues, and I asked her what HEB did with that product.  She told me that the product is dumped.  I quickly put my food banking hat on and explained that the Feeding America food banks have the capability to relabel that type of product instead of it being discarded.  She was surprised.  I explained to her that that is one of the ways food banks receive donations - they recover product that is perfectly fit for human consumption, make the labeling changes required and distribute it to those in need of food assistance throughout the country. 

Although this is a work in progress, it is yet another opportunity to educate a donor on the capabilities of the food banks, reduce the donor's dumping costs and save wholesome food from being destroyed and get it to people in need.  Networking is priceless.

It’s invaluable to have such an array of committed professionals provide their expertise to those that want to learn.  Everyone’s passion and dedication to the field has strengthened my own commitment to food safety.