Britanny Saunier was recently named Executive Director of the Partnership. PFSE Community Engagement Manager Katie Weston talks to Britanny about how she got started in food safety, the future of the Partnership, and who to call when you’re moving.
Can’t watch the video? Read the interview transcript below.
Katie: Thank you for joining us. I’m Katie Weston, Community Engagement Manager for the Partnership for Food Safety Education. Today, I’m very excited to be interviewing Britanny Saunier. Britanny has been with the Partnership for a number of years, and is now stepping into a new role as the executive director. Thank you for joining me, Britanny.
Britanny: Hi Katie! Thank you for having me.
Katie: Okay, Britanny. Our first question is what was your first job?
Britanny: This is such a fun question because looking back at my first job, I was exposed so much to food safety, and I don’t think I realized the subconscious implantation of food safety in my mind.
So, I starting working, probably around fifteen or so, at an assisted living and independent living facility as a dietary server. I worked in the restaurant or food hall. I would serve residents who needed more skilled care, and then I also served residents who were just in their retirement age, very independent, but who would come and eat at the restaurant as a traditional restaurant. It was really fun. That was my first job as a server, working with a vulnerable population around food. I did that throughout college, even coming back on breaks and working there. I was there for quite a few years.
I remember one instance, a food safety story that I really want to share that sticks out to me now. There was a chef who I was working with in the kitchen. I was preparing the prunes for the assisted living portion of the meal service and the container was empty, so I was replenishing it. He told me, “No, no, no, you need to get a new container. You can’t reuse the previous container.”
Well, I was a very strong-willed sixteen year old at the time and thought I knew better. I said, “No, no, no, we don’t need to create more dishes. Let’s just do it,” and I dumped the whole can of prunes in that same container. Right away, he was very upset, of course, and dumped that entire container. So I feel bad about contributing to food waste. He dumped that entire container and said, “No, you’ll make people sick. You need to use a brand new container.” And that really stuck out to me.
Looking back, I appreciate his dedication and passion to protecting that population and I’m just so thankful. Hopefully, I never made anyone sick with my stubbornness as a young kid, but that was one of my first jobs and exposure to food safety.
Katie: You’re so lucky you had him there to start teaching you about food safety.
Britanny: Yes, I’m so glad there was a champion in that kitchen for sure.
Katie: How did you get started with the Partnership?
Britanny: I started with the Partnership around 2011 as an intern. I grew up in Ohio, where all my family is, and I had moved to Washington, D.C. to go to grad school to get my Master’s in Public Administration. I was really adamant about getting into the food safety realm, and the internship at the Partnership popped up and I thought, “Well, this is my chance.” Luckily, they chose me. Shelley chose me and I’ve worked with the Partnership ever since in a variety of capacities.
Katie: You recently stepped into a new role as executive director. What are you excited about in this new role?
Britanny: Well, it’s an incredibly exciting roll, and to just be part of advancing our mission is really important to me, to my core, my personal values and beliefs, and how I relate to our mission. It’s just an honor, quite frankly, to be able to work with our team, you and Shawnte, the whole board, and BAC Fighters to help prevent foodborne illnesses.
Katie: We love having you as our director.
Britanny: It’s on camera, guys.
Katie: I can’t deny it later. (Laughs)
Britanny: Yeah. (Laughs)
Katie: Do you have a vision or what is your vision for the future of the Partnership?
Britanny: It’s very bright. It is, of course, very much a need. One in six Americans will experience foodborne illness, unfortunately. We’re here to help prevent that. I think that, as we continue to work together as a collective community, the future looks like creating food safety as a shared cultural norm.
How do we do that? We do that by making food safety steps and practices a value of every household. It’s no longer a thing that should be done or must be done to stay healthy. It’s just something that happens because that’s just what we do. I’m really excited, and I think the Partnership is positioned to raise awareness of safe food handling steps.
So, I’m really looking forward to making food safety a shared cultural norm, rather than just something that must be done.
Katie: You talked a little bit about the food safety champion in your first job. Who else has inspired you to have the career you have today?
Britanny: Wow, there have been many people along my journey that I just want to shout out so badly now. However, I would say that clear moment for me, where I knew food safety was my path and where my heart needed to be, was when I was preparing for graduate school. I think I was packing an apartment. It was a lazy, summer afternoon and I was getting ready to move from Ohio to D.C. I took a break and I was watching a documentary on the food system.
I remember Barbara Kowalcyk came on the screen and she was sharing her very tragic story around her son Kevin, and how she lost her son Kevin to foodborne illness. Flash forward a few years ago, Pat Buck, his grandmother, served on our board of directors. I remember in that moment, hearing her (Barbara’s) story, and realizing, “Oh my goodness, people can get sick from handling of food and food products.” It never occurred to me until then.
Eating is a basic need. We all have to eat. I became so impassioned to work in food safety as a public health issue to help prevent those illnesses. So that was a critical moment for me, when I knew, “Okay, I’m moving to D.C., and I’m going to be studying public administration with a focus on health policy, with the intent of getting into food safety issues as a public health matter.” That was really a defining moment for me to launch me into this career.
Katie: Thank you for sharing that with us. I think we’re going to switch now to some fun questions. What do you think?
Katie: Alright, what is the best meal you cook? Your very best meal?
Britanny: Oh my goodness. Well, define best. You know, I’m a big fan of mixing things up. I love taking prepared foods and then a Top Chef word, elevating it with my own choices. One of my favorite go-to meals, and I know this might make some folks cringe, but I love taking the good old-fashioned, traditional ramen noodle packets and adding vegetables and eggs and Sriracha. Especially in this season of fall and warmth, it’s one of my favorite meals that I still make to this day.
Katie: That sounds really good. Now I’m craving ramen.
Britanny: I’m not sure some would say it’s the best meal, but it’s one of my favorite go-tos.
Katie: We’ll see if you remember this. What is the first thing you bought with your own money?
Britanny: This is such a fun question to really look back and think about what are those things that we just love as kids, right? I remember in some of those instances, where I came across a quarter here or there, and I was squirreling it away as a young kid. I loved buying cassette tape singles. In fact, I think one of my favorite and earliest purchases was probably the TLC cassette tape single. I can still see it now. I think it was like three dollars and you could get a cassette tape with one to three songs, whatever they felt like releasing. Sometimes there was a remix on the other side. So, that was something I was always buying as a kid, squirreling away coins and allowances for.
Katie: Oh, that’s so interesting. Okay, I’m sad we’re coming to a close, but I have one final question for you. I’m really curious about this. What’s your secret talent that no one knows about?
Britanny: Oh gosh, well then it’s not a secret! I actually don’t know. I think probably if you asked my husband, he would tell you I’m a really great mover, meaning I can just, for some reason, when you’re moving homes or you need to move furniture, I just get into this other mode. I can lift things and my endurance is at this crazy level. I have no clue how this happens. For some reason, I feel compelled to share that it’s my secret talent. But it’s the only thing I can think of that I have this special power that turns on. So, I guess if you need help moving, let me know.
Katie: I was thinking that, we know who to call.
Katie: Is there anything else you want to add before we end the interview?
Britanny: I’m just really excited to be working with this amazing group of food safety professionals and BAC Fighters. I hope we’ll get into some really fun stuff this coming year and really make a difference together. I know we’ll have fun and really make a difference in helping households stay healthy. Thank you for the hard work you’re doing. Thank you, Katie, for engaging with that important community.
Katie: Thank you. And thank you for sitting to do this interview with me, Britanny.
Britanny: My pleasure.
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Katie Weston is the Community Engagement Manager with the Partnership for Food Safety Education. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.