By Lies Keogh
As a boy growing up in Nigeria, Howard Popoola was fascinated by food. He kept his own garden and grew corn and beans. This childhood passion for food led him to the University of Lagos, where he received his master’s degree in food and industrial microbiology. After working with the United Nations food program, Howard relocated to the United States and held progressive positions in quality assurance at several major household brands such as Darigold, Kraft Foods and Nestle Ice Cream.
Howard left the manufacturing side of the food industry in 2005 and became Senior Director of Food Safety and Quality Assurance at US Foodservice. When joining Topco Associates LLC in 2009 as Vice President of Quality Assurance, Howard envisioned a five-year strategic plan to improve food safety and quality management. One of the first things Howard tackled in this newly created role was getting the manufacturing facilities certified to one or more of the benchmark food safety schemes as outlined by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). Howard’s success is reflected in the impressive numbers of 95 percent of facilities certified today, versus only eight percent in 2009.
Another challenge that Howard and his team faced was the management of suppliers’ documentation. Suppliers would often claim they were certified to certain food safety standards, but it was virtually impossible for Topco to verify the status of these certifications. This is where Howard brought in a solution provider called TraceGains to minimize these risks. “With all of our supply facilities loaded into TraceGains’ application, notifications on audit expirations are automatic now, so we don’t even have to touch it,” explains Howard. “ That saved us about 10 to 15 percent in time spent going after suppliers to get audit documentation to us.”