Learning About Food Safety with Dr. Michelle Pfannenstiel

Dr. Michelle Pfannenstiel is a veterinarian who started a food safety planning consulting business called Dirigo Food Safety after her time in the Army, where it just so happens veterinarians are in charge of food safety. We talked with her about what the public should know about her field, how Covid has impacted her business and clients and the most important things to know when curing your own meat. You can learn more about food safety by listening to Dr. Pfannenstiel’s podcast “Food Safety University” here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Food Karma: How did you get into this business?
Michelle Pfannenstiel: I started in food safety as a veterinarian for the US Army. What most people don’t know is that the veterinarians are in charge of food safety for the whole Department of Defense from the food at the gas stations on base all the way to the White House. I realized that small farmers, ranchers and food processors needed to know about food safety when I was shopping at local farmers market to feed my growing family. Everyone was so concerned about what was and wasn’t legal. Starting my own business after getting out of the Army was a natural fit.

FK: What should consumers know about the food safety industry?
MP: Consumers should rest assured that the industry is getting more professional, more responsive and taking food safety more seriously than ever before. The food safety industry includes testing and training, consultants and a whole bevy of support services out there helping food manufacturers execute food safety the very best way they can.

FK: How has your business changed during Covid?
MP: COVID-19 allowed my business to really hone in on what’s important and what farmers/ranchers and processors need to know to feed their people. I took a lot of panicked phone calls about what to do if someone got sick. The good news is that we didn’t have much in the way of recalls!

FK: What have you learned about your business during Covid?
MP: That much like my customers, my business is resilient and strong. That teaching people how to do food safety is a great space to be in because food safety planning can change everything for the better for a food business.

FK: Have you seen an increase in producers getting into cottage industries during quarantine?
MP: Absolutely. I field so many inquiries about starting home based business. Some of those I can help, but some, I can’t. There are really no states where you can have cats in your kitchen and run a home based food business! Which is a good thing.

FK: What are some safety tips for restaurants or home cooks getting into curing their own meats?
MP: Read first. Ask a lot of questions. Don’t be afraid of curing salts, but use a spreadsheet to calculate them. Be really clear on your recipe and process before you start. And then, know what hazards (the things that cause food borne illness) that you have to watch out for.
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