Hipólito is a Biochemist with a Master’s Degree in Food Sciences and Technologies. His professional beginnings were at the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology lab at the School of Chemical and Biological Sciences where he worked with native and protein-quality maize (QPM). Then, he worked as a professor, and since 2016 he has been a collaborator for Agroindustrias Tombell.
In this interview, Hipólito Álvarez tells us about his experience as a collaborator in the food safety area of Agroindustrias Tombell, discusses the main challenges he has faced in his field and his experience working with Veggies From Mexico and receiving weekly internal audits by Eleven Rivers Growers, as well as the benefits he has observed in the company operation.
Located in La Cruz de Elota, the company started in 1999. In the early beginnings, it only performed field, planting and harvesting activities of vegetables and grains. Then, due to its growth and logistics, complementing the company process was needed by building a packaging facility to provide service to harvested products.
I came into this company in 2016, when the Tombell packaging facility was still in development. I was hired as quality manager. I got to see the packaging facility rising from the ground up to the last installed structure, and I also took responsibility for food safety in packaging. It was a great experience, as I had only acquired experience in the food industry from working practices. At the beginning, it was quite a challenge to implement all quality and health measures at the same time, always having as a comparative model the processes already being performed by Tombell’s food safety manager, Pedro Pantoja, and by the quality and food safety team led by Fidel Vargas at Chaparral. And of course, this would not have been possible without the support of the great team of quality and food safety supervisors, who are always ready to help.
In my opinion, the most important activity is generating valuable information for decision-making of a variety of areas; coordinating packing processes with my collaborators in order to comply with regulations and demands of the foreign market.
Developing and maintaining a culture of quality and food safety, which helps adjusting easier and quicker to any scenario. It is very important to be able to communicate well and be updated; perhaps we have been working for years and doing things well, but all of the sudden there are changes and we must learn from them and communicate them effectively.
I believe that team leadership; not only quality and food safety, is important. I say this because implementing timely measures at the right time depends a lot on the leader of each area. For example, during the pandemic, it would not have been possible to come out with positive figures with a passive leader; it took proactive leaders to do so. I extend by appreciation to the medical personnel, social workers, administration, HR and management for being fully responsive to needs, as well as supervisors and area leaders.
It is of utmost importance. It must be continuous in the short term, to teach our collaborators the proper manner to get things done when we supervise them, and when we do not do so. The idea of training is creating a culture of food safety, so that work is always performed in the various stages of the season, having trainings occurring at the start or end of the season.
It has always been very important. On one hand, performing the processes and being certain that people consuming our food will not get sick, is a great satisfaction. On the other hand, working and taking care of the environment, supporting the community, the people living in it, as well as all our collaborators, all of this is done with a great deal of enthusiasm, so that other companies in the same field continue down the same path. At the same time, it allows us to standardize our processes by making them measurable and comparable, maximizing our business opportunities and reaching more demanding market niches and more informed clients.
It has been pleasant, as these certifications complement each other on the various processes they perform. As they say, stick to that certification that is the most stringent and you will be in compliance with all others.
Farming companies were not taken by surprise, as many of the actions and protocols that are being performed to prevent COVID-19 are part of the working culture in both field and packaging facilities, but it helped largely to reinforce food safety plans and identify sick people (as it is the case of temperature measurements). It also helped to be more aware of our collaborators in the health area, by better identifying vulnerable people to prevent them from being at risk.
It has allowed us to remain current on food safety matters, as well as with social responsibility. Their close support in each of their visits has helped us complying with other commercial schemes.
Personally, when I joined the company, my first trainings and backing in food safety was as a volunteer for Eleven Rivers Growers. To be honest, I learned a lot, and I remember Elvia and Diego in each of their visits, they were encouraging me to get the certification.
Just to say thanks. First for always being updated, providing training resources and for the support and follow-up of your continuous visits.