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Interview with Sterling Crew, outgoing IFST Vice President


Sterling Crew FIFST has just completed two terms as IFST Vice President. We ask him about some of his outgoing thoughts.

Sterling, how have you found your time as IFST Vice President?
It has been fantastic and a real honour. It is such a great organisation to work with and has given me a fabulous opportunity to connect with the membership. I have been very fortunate to have served with three great Presidents: Margaret Patterson, Maureen Edmondson and our current President David Gregory. I have learnt a lot from them and from our CEO Jon Poole and his team. It’s been a huge privilege and fun as well.

What was important to you when you first took up the post?
Trying to play my part in increasing membership value. It is key to our future growth. We should not forget we are first and foremost a membership organisation. It has been my mantra.

What is the main challenge ahead for the profession?

Maintaining the trust of the public. Food consumed in the UK is amongst the safest, most authentic and nutritious in the world. Yet, many in the general public remain unconvinced of the benefits that food science can deliver. This has been fuelled by food scares and misinformation. Sensational media coverage is bringing about a climate of apprehension, where there should be none. We must endeavour to present evidence-based information to help members of the public make informed decisions.

What are your views as a trustee?
It has been reassuring to see IFST further strengthen its financial position and governance structure. It helps secure the charity’s future. As we have seen recently, a number of other charities have not fared so well. We should not take our future for granted. The organisation must continue to innovate and improve. The stewardship role of a trustee is critical.

Any recent changes you would highlight?
The investment in two new positions of Policy and Scientific Development Director and Scientific Affairs Manager. It means we can communicate and connect more effectively with government, industry, NGOs, the public and better serve our membership. A real step change for us. It is important that we can inform and influence our key stakeholders, especially with Brexit on the horizon and potential changes on the way food is to be regulated.

What have you most enjoyed?

Interacting with our students. I have been impressed with their professionalism and their enthusiasm, which is infectious. The future of the profession is in safe and secure hands.

Also, it’s just been great meeting members across the whole spectrum of our profession. People who I might not have met under normal circumstances. We can tend to work in our own specific professional sector silos. We are such a diverse lot.

What challenges are there for IFST in your area of work?

I have spent 35 years working in the food supply chain. Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the country and employs over 400,000 people. It feeds our nation. We are facing a huge technical skills shortage which we cannot ignore. We need more trained food technicians and scientists to fill the gap. Our profession is still relatively unknown. We need to raise its profile and shout out about the rewarding careers available to encourage more people to join us.

Are there any future IFST developments you are looking forward to?
We have taken the first steps towards applying for the status of chartership. We don’t know how long the journey will take or what its final outcome might be, but I believe success would be great for IFST and its individual members, a real coming of age for the profession.

There are also some exciting plans to make the membership application process a lot easier and to further improve communication and enhance the whole membership experience.

Keep an eye out for the upcoming refresh of the Food Safety Register. It helps give employers the confidence and assurance they are looking for and for our members it forms a key part of their professional development. It is a trusted scheme, which has widespread recognition and support. I would encourage members to use it.

What would you do if you had a magic wand?

I would definitely use it to sort out our country’s obesity epidemic. It is reaching horrific levels with no signs of it being reversed in sight.

Any final thoughts?
We should ask ourselves not what IFST can do for us but what we can do for IFST. It’s membership engagement that drives our organisation. We should all play our part where we can.

I would urge members to become actively involved by joining their branches, special interest groups or the various Institute committees. There are also chances to meet fellow food professionals at the numerous presentations and conferences. You can help shape IFST’s future and meet some great people.

A final thought – it’s worth remembering knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it into a fruit salad.


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