Mexican food engineer Laura Natalia Fernandez Cedi not only works to make sure that food supply chains stay safe during the pandemic, but she has also previously helped Tanzanian farmers to get into new markets.
Fernandez Cedi, who now works as a quality manager in Austria for retail group REWE International AG, says the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has once again shown that in the face of fear and uncertainty, people tend to over-supply themselves with food to make sure they can make it through uncertain times.
“It is in these times when the biggest challenge of retailers is to ensure the supply of food to the entire population, but more importantly, to ensure that the food that reaches the consumers is safe and that the workers who are preparing it comply with quality and hygiene standards,” she said.
Fernandez Cedi is now applying the lessons she has learned through years of experience in food quality and safety related projects, including at a research laboratory at the International Atomic Energy Agency, at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization; and the private sector where she ensures quality and safety of products sold in Eastern European countries.
From The Avocado Capital To Austria and Beyond
Fernandez Cedi was born and raised in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico, in a region known as the world’s leading avocado producing region, and she says her passion for food safety started when she was just a kid.
“My father always worked in food production companies and from time to time he would invite me to visit the avocado or beverage processing plants,” she said, “Avocado is processed in many different ways: avocado halves, as sauces, guacamole or oil, so since I was a child, I admired my father and was proud of him when he explained me the processes or showed me a new machine that he had suggested to make the processes more efficient or to guarantee the safety of the final product.”
From this, she decided to study Food Engineering at the Universidad de las Américas, in Cholula, Puebla state, in Mexico, when she was only 18.
In 2016, after a series of internship opportunities and completing her Masters in Sciences, Fernandez Cedi was undecided whether she should return to Mexico or continue with her life in Austria, when an interesting opportunity came up.
“At that time a project manager from UNIDO, where I was working, invited me to collaborate with him in one of the nicest projects I had the opportunity to work on,” she said, “The project aimed to assist horticultural processors in Tanzania to provide high quality products to the tourism and retail sectors of the country by implementing and improving their quality systems and obtaining certification for their processes.”
“I was lucky enough to go to Tanzania and visit the production sites, talk to the people and observe first-hand the advantages that an international certification provided to small producers to sell their products in hotels and restaurants in the region,” she said adding that selling their products in the tourism sector as well as in supermarkets ensured them a stable income for their families and those of all their employees.
UUnlike many parts of the STEM world, Fernandez Cedi says, the food security and standards industry has a predominance of women.
“In the food industry there are many female researchers and workers, both in my university and master’s classes, about 95% of the students were female.”
Another Mexican who has helped those in different countries through expertise in regulation is Karen Lucatero. Both Lucatero and Fernandez Cedi previously interned at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Vienna, Austria.
Lucatero’s passion for helping people has taken her from a biotechnology engineering background to helping small and medium chemical businesses in Colombia enter international markets with their products.