It was a family affair recently when Richard Carlson traveled to West Lafayette, Ind., to collect the outstanding food science award from his college alma mater, Purdue University. Richard’s wife, Laura, is also a graduate; their older daughter, Emily, is a current student.
Richard, who serves as vice president of quality management at Hormel Foods, expressed his delight at receiving the honor and more, with having Laura and Emily there to witness it.
“… I am even more pleased to be able to share the experience with my wife, Laura, herself a Purdue alum, who for nearly 30 years now has been my biggest fan, encourager, advisor and champion. We are also thrilled that our daughter Emily, a new Purdue student, can be here with us today.”
His Journey To Hormel Foods
Richard was graduated by Purdue in 1990, the same year he joined Hormel Foods as a process and quality control engineer at the Austin (Minn.) Plant. Food production was already in his blood, put there by his family, which owned and worked a 400-acre farm in northern Indiana. The Carlsons raised corn, soybeans and wheat while tending to their small herds of cattle and hogs. The land was a wedding gift from Richard’s maternal grandfather to his parents. His father died some 25 years ago, but his mother continues to live on the farm that has been her home since she was 9 years old. These days, an outside party works the land.
“It was a great way to grow up and learn a work ethic,” Richard says, adding he loved “being around the animals.” Still, he knew farming wouldn’t be his life’s work. “It was never the thing I wanted to do.”
He found his passion at Hormel Foods, where he leads the effort to ensure high-quality, safe food. Given the reach of the company, that’s no small thing. Even so, Hormel Foods has an outstanding food safety track record and proven systems in place to ensure it.
For instance, the Hormel Foods food safety and sanitation systems are based on the highly regarded Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points principles. They are overseen by Richard and other team members, independent third parties, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In addition, all employees receive food safety training appropriate for their responsibilities within the company.
“What we do here every day is protect our brands, our consumers and our customers. It’s safety first,” Richard says. “Then we need to comply with all regulatory requirements and ensure that our consumers have a great experience.”
Preparing The Next Generation
Over the years he has added another responsibility to his job description: attracting and retaining people “who will invest as much as [our generation] has.”
To that end, he had the opportunity to do some low-key recruitment while at Purdue. He met and spoke with current students.
Right now, change is happening faster than it ever has and slower than it ever will again.Richard Carlson, vice president of quality management
Among other things, Richard talked about the food safety evolution he’s seen during his career and the need to have vision. Consumers’ preferences for cleaner labels, organic products and sustainability, for example, have also fueled changes in the way quality and safety are approached.
Not everything is so different, though, despite the passing of nearly three decades since Richard was a student at Purdue.
“… There is an aspect of what we do that doesn’t change, and that is the moral and ethical responsibility we have to ensure our customers have access to high-quality, safe and affordable foods produced sustainably and from animals that have been treated humanely.”