Imaginative Teaching Resources & Inspirational Career Ideas from the Chilled Food Industry

Craig Darby

We first spoke to University of Nottingham Applied Biology graduate Craig in 2012 when he was working for Samworth Brothers. In June 2017 we caught up with him again, shortly after being promoted to work in Samworth’s Group Audit Department. 

When do you first become interested in Food Science?
My career path has been a bit different from most graduates’ working in the food industry, up until the time I graduated I didn’t actually intend to work in food. My interest in food science began in more the microbiological side and this is how I first became involved in the industry. My first job in the food sector was working for the quality department where amongst other things I looked after microbiological trending, basically tracking down where any problems with bacteria were coming from.

I’ve since spent time working in new product development and operations, and now work as part of the Samworth Brothers group technical team as a supplier auditor.

Did you choose specific A Levels because of your interest?

When it was time to choose A Levels I actually wanted to work in genetics, so I chose subjects relating to this in Biology & Chemistry, but also took Maths with Statistics and an Economics AS Level. All of these have helped with my path so far, firstly by getting me onto the degree I wanted, which in turn got me into a job I enjoy.

Did you have a career goal in mind when you applied for University?
I did have a career goal in mind when I was applying for University; however it is not quite the one I have ended up with. Even while I was at University that career goal changed, and since graduating and beginning my career it has changed again! My Applied Biology degree has allowed me a certain level of flexibility so that I have been able to make those changes.

How did you find the degree course, was it what you expected, was it hard, what was most interesting?
My degree course provided me with what I’d hoped it would – a slightly broader spectrum biology degree with quite a heavy focus on the practical aspects of science. Starting off as 1/3 animal science, 1/3 plant science and 1/3 microbiology, in the second and third years of this degree we were able to tailor our course more towards which of these areas we wanted to, but still had modules to keep the core foundations of all three disciplines.

What work placements did you go on? What were they like, what did you do?
My degree did not involve any work placements, but after graduating I worked for the Food Sciences department of the University doing a 3 month work placement in association with the Society for Applied Microbiology. This involved working alongside a PhD Student looking at mutation rates in Campylobacter.

Tell us about your career path so far.
At Samworth Brothers I was a Process Development Technologist, working as part of the Technical Department. At the site the team of development chefs create products and then (hopefully!) get them approved by retail customers. My job was to take these approved products and scale them up to work in a factory so that we can make large quantities of them consistently, efficiently and most importantly – safely.

On a day to day basis I ran factory trials, created procedures for all the processes involved in creating that product to keep it as consistent as possible, programme/validate the machinery, write product specifications (so that the customer and the factory know exactly what is in everything), approve all the packaging (including the sleeve and all the information on it), and also try to solve any problems that may arise during these trials whilst constantly keeping an eye out for any potential efficiency improvements that could be made.

The food industry in general is very fast-paced, and that is one of the main reasons that I enjoy it. It is also one of the most innovative and creative industries out there, with an almost endless range of machinery and processes and their potential applications. Part of my job was to ensure that these machines are used to the best of their ability, maximising their full potential and getting the most out of them every day.

I was promoted to Senior Technologist, then to Production Manager and then to become Process Development Manager, overseeing a team of 9 technologists. After seven years at Samworth I realised I needed to widen my experience and took a role with Thorntons making chocolates, very different from chilled production and also working for a brand. I worked there as a Production Manager with 185 staff reporting to me.

An opportunity arose back at Samworth in the Group Auditing Team, so I returned there in April 2017. Now I’m produce-focussed, auditing the suppliers for every ingredient in our salads, sandwiches, ready meals and many other foods. I’m responsible for food safety and brand protection, and also travelling nationally and internationally to visit our supply base. Working with contacts in countries ranging from China to Brazil requires me to be an ambassador and a diplomat. We strive to continuously improve standards and encourage everyone we work with to think in the same way.

Even after being in the industry for a while I’m still amazed by the sheer size of things – it’s cooking on a very, very large scale! Our Bradgate Bakery site produces some 4 million sandwiches each week and uses 16 tons of bacon per week. I describe the size of our machinery in comparison to a domestic oven – a domestic oven can hold a large sized turkey – the ovens we work with can hold a buffalo!

It is also very satisfying to go out to your local supermarket and see a product that you have worked sitting on shelves and in peoples’ trollies – it’s really hard to resist sneaking a peak at your products whenever you go into the store!

What are your long term career plans?
My ultimate aim is for a Technical Manager position, however first I would like to further broaden my experience by continuing supplier audits to gain a deeper understanding of the industry as a whole, hopefully allowing me to be a more effective Technical Manager.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about Food Science as a career?
If you enjoy the practical side of science and are looking for something fast-paced and ever changing the food sector is very much an option to look at.

There are so many options on offer everything I’ve done has given me invaluable experience. If you start in one place you can move around and always go back to where you feel most comfortable.

The main piece of advice I would give people would be this – there are two halves to the food industry: retail (working for retailer head offices), and manufacturing (factories producing products including for retailers). Quite often the retail side is seen as the more appealing, and if this is where you see your career path I would highly recommend spending some time in manufacturing first – the knowledge and experience you gain would be absolutely invaluable. And who knows – you may enjoy it so much you may find yourself staying in it!

And what is the best bit for you?

The technology – there is so much innovation in the industry. For example sandwich cutters that use ultrasound rather than knife blades, and laser scanning & high pressure water jets used to cut chicken, also allowing us to be more precise in our measurements and reduce waste.




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