Face-to-Face: Meet Deena Awad
Ever wonder if anyone else is facing the same professional challenges as you? Or just looking to connect with some new people in your field? In IFT's Face-to-Face series, we will be introducing you to a different IFT member every month with a fun, insightful Q&A session.
This month meet...
Deena Awad, Microbiology Operations Supervisor, Silliker Food Science Center.
- How did you get your start in the food industry?
It was my senior year at Michigan State University. I was majoring in microbiology and thinking about attending culinary school after graduation. I didn’t yet know that food science was offered as a major, I just knew that I loved both microbes and food. I discovered Food Science while randomly browsing the MSU major offerings. I saw that they offered a food science degree with a focus on food safety, so I switched majors and never looked back. Getting into industry was part luck, part tenacity. I knew that I wanted to work in an environment that gives me the broadest base of knowledge in my field.
I wanted to work with food safety issues in many different food matrices. So my target coming out of graduation was to work for Silliker. The large network of food testing labs gave me some freedom to decide where to live (in the world, not just the U.S.), and they have the Food Science Center, which I affectionately dub “the mothership.” By sheer luck, I was connected to several people at Silliker’s FSC via networking. It helped that I was coming out of research at MSU and several of my professors spoke of, and had even worked for, Silliker. That connection got my foot in the door. I was introduced to Wendy McMahon, the Lab Director for FSC as a career mentor. Once something opened up at Silliker’s FSC, I was called to interview and started just a few months later.
- What do you love about your job?
Where do I start? I love that I am still very much connected to industry, but still working in research. Since FSC is contract research, I get to work with cutting edge platforms and technologies every day. I participate in method validations, challenge studies, shelf-life studies, and process validations dealing with many different foods. It is like sneaking a peek behind the curtains of the food industry … amazing!
- What is the biggest challenge that you face in your job?
Other than the fast pace, which is a challenge as well as a motivator for me, the biggest challenge I face right now is transitioning from strictly bench-top work to accommodate the management work that comes with my new role as a supervisor. The bench work is so interesting that I find myself struggling to leave part of it behind.
- What have you learned or been exposed to in the past 12 months that has helped you in your job?
One of the great things about FSC is that the management team gives you the room to grow. If I find a project interesting and want to work on it, I am encouraged to do so. Because of that approach, I have been exposed to everything from project planning, project execution, to scheduling staff and maintaining inventory. It keeps things interesting. In the short year and a half that I have been with Silliker, I worked with everything from spoilage organisms to pathogens, in food matrices that run the gamut from raw foods to ready to eat foods, and everything in between. I feel that I have a much broader, and much more solid, base of knowledge and experience in food safety after this past year.
- How do you see the food industry evolving over the coming year?
I think we can already see a trend with food companies taking a more preventative approach to food safety—there is more of an effort to find food safety issues before the point of a recall. Of course, clean labels, natural ingredients, and local sourcing are still growing trends as well, but I think these have been on the rise for some time now.
- Fun Fact: What’s your favorite food?
I like pretty much everything and am very much motivated by mood. Lucky for me I live in Chicago, so my every whim can be satisfied! Sushi on a patio on a cool summer evening? Yes, please!
If you are an IFT member and wish to be profiled, please contact Kelly Hensel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-604-0211.