We meet Dr Mary Lenahan, Acting Senior Technical Executive, Biological Safety, at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland
Dr Mary Lenahan has been in the role of Technical Executive with the Biological Safety team in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) for over seven years and was recently appointed to Acting Senior Technical Executive. Prior to joining the FSAI, she gained a BSc Hons in Nutritional Science from UCC and a PhD in microbiology (food safety) from UCD in conjunction with Teagasc Ashtown Food Research Centre. “I have worked in various positions across both the public and private sector including conducting laboratory-based food safety research on projects concerning Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) and Salmonella, working in food microbiology laboratories that carry out routine analysis of food samples, and working as a salesperson to microbiology laboratories in the food and veterinary industry located all over the island of Ireland.”
The principal function of the FSAI, Mary says, is to protect consumers and raise compliance through partnership, science and food law enforcement. Her responsibilities include developing and undertaking projects in the area of the microbiological safety of food, and providing technical support and advice to food business operators, official agency staff and FSAI colleagues on compliance with food hygiene legislation, and to consumers via the FSAI advice line. “I support the work of the FSAI Chief Specialist for Biological Safety, the FSAI Scientific Committee, and its Biological Safety Sub-committee. I conduct microbiological risk assessments and provide both technical and on-the-ground support during food incidents, foodborne outbreaks and audits of the food industry.”
Mary represents Ireland at the European Commission by participating in working groups developing legislation and guidance related to microbiological food safety. Another aspect of her role is writing protocols and publishing survey reports for the annual national microbiological monitoring and surveillance programme and contributing to the publication of the national zoonoses report each year. Mary enjoys the variety in her role and says every day is different. It has exposed her to a variety of projects related to food safety, built her expertise, and allowed her to meet new people and expand her professional network.
Mary’s work is divided between planned project work and urgent unplanned reactive work as the need arises, such as risk assessment of food incidents related to microbiological food safety, participation in the management of microbiological foodborne outbreaks, audits and investigation work. It can be difficult, she explains, to manage both areas effectively so that the planned work is delivered to the agreed timelines. Another challenge is trying to improve and bridge any gaps in microbiological food safety training, information, and guidance that Mary and her team identify during the course of their work. “We are striving to deliver guidance and information in new ways that are in accessible and user-friendly formats such as pre-recorded webinars and self-serve eLearning.”
The next couple of months can be a busy time for Mary and her team as the year end often marks the deadline to deliver planned projects. “In terms of advising people on issues specifically related to microbiological food safety, January can be busy because many people decide they will start a new food business as a New Year’s resolution. They require information and advice on how to ensure they are placing safe food on the market and that they are complying with all the applicable food safety legislation.”
Words of advice
For those considering starting a food business, it is important to be aware of the requirement to register a food business with a competent authority before it begins operating, even if it is operating from a home, she says. “All food businesses, big or small, must be aware of the legislation regarding food hygiene and food safety, and their responsibility for ensuring any food they place on the market is safe.” The FSAI also offers free online eLearning programmes that are designed to be completed at a food business’s own pace and at a time that is most convenient for them. The majority of eLearning materials are in bite-sized modules they can be viewed in short sessions.