Eileen Odgers arrived in Australia over a decade ago from Ireland, and initially worked on-farm to secure a Working Holiday Visa. Today, Eileen calls Australia home and holds the Quality Assurance Manager position at Queensland-based operation, Moffatt Fresh Produce. Vegetables Australia speaks to Eileen about her role, the challenges faced and her thoughts on the Australian vegetable industry.

Moffatt Fresh Produce is a fifth-generation, family-owned grower and packer of carrots, onions, celery, beetroot and pumpkins. Packing facilities are based in the fertile Fassifern Valley located on the Scenic Rim, an hour from Brisbane.

The business has grown in recent years with growing sites across the Fassifern Valley, Lockyer Valley, Darling Downs and Stanthorpe regions. It now supplies produce to Woolworths, Aldi, Coles, Hello Fresh, market customers and export markets.

This makes Eileen Odgers a vital key to the business’ success. Eileen is Moffatt’s Quality Assurance Manager, and her tasks include facilitating third-party audits and ensuring compliance to Food Safety Standards and Customer Requirements. Moffatt’s packing facilities are currently certified with the Harmonised Australian Retail Produce Scheme (HARPS), Freshcare, Safe Quality Food (SQF) and SEDEX.

“We are also an Export Registered Establishment and accredited for export to Taiwan. Recent years have seen continuous developments in food safety standards and legislation, which has kept me busy developing, writing and implementing new policies and procedures for our sites,” Eileen explains.

“Working closely with our Quality Control Coordinator, I oversee and maintain our on-site Food Safety Management system.

“We have a small team of Quality Assurance Officers, who – using the iAuditor app – ensure compliance to customer specifications and legislation. This is done through various inspections in our packing facilities, including finished product assessments, weight verification checks and packaging & date coding verification checks.

“My role as the Quality Assurance Manager is busy and at times challenging, but ultimately rewarding.”

Journey to Down Under

Eileen first became involved in horticulture 13 years ago as a backpacker visiting Australia on a 457 Working Holiday Visa.

“I was required to undertake 88 days of agricultural work to secure my second-year Working Holiday Visa. I was involved in the production of potatoes and onions, returning to this company for a second harvest season where I was offered a permanent sponsored position,” she says.

“It was a multi-faceted role that involved areas of quality assurance, compliance and operations. On my travels around this beautiful country, that I am lucky enough to now call home, I have also been involved in the production of mangoes and avocados.”

Eileen holds a Master of Business Studies Management and has furthered her skills that now include lead auditor, internal auditing, and quality assurance and food safety management qualifications. These all contribute to the managerial responsibility and important decision-making processes required daily as Moffatt’s Quality Assurance Manager.

Eileen has been at Moffatt for over five years and has seen plenty of changes during that time.

“When I first started with the company, our two main products were carrots and onions. I have participated in the expansion of the business with the following new products: Dutch carrots, beetroot, bunched beetroot, pumpkins, celery and most recently, celery hearts and celery sticks. I’ve helped integrate these into our quality management systems,” she says.

As Quality Assurance Manager, Eileen explains that implementing a new product is a long process that requires the development and verification of the product process flow; development of a HACCP Analysis for the product; shelf-life verification & packaging trials and accompanying pre-requisite programs.

Each customer has a different process and unique requirements to ensure all specification and legislative requirements are met.

“Moffatt has embraced the use of apps and technology throughout the business."

Finding solutions

In Eileen’s role, the biggest challenge is increasing food safety compliance and the strengthening of food processing legislation.

“In this current climate, food defence and food fraud are more important than ever before,” she says.

“The knock-on effect is an increase in workload for me, which includes updating policies and procedures in line with changes, implementing new requirements throughout the business and providing additional training for staff.”

Moffatt has implemented innovative solutions to address the challenges that the business faces.

“Moffatt has embraced the use of apps and technology throughout the business, including inductions at reception to farm operations, farm maintenance and servicing, as well as preventative maintenance in our packing facilities to the quality and compliance of the finished product,” Eileen says.

Eileen sees opportunities for growth in the vegetable industry, particularly in the automation and robotics space.

“The ongoing labour shortage has really highlighted how much horticulture relies on overseas workers as the predominant casual labour source. There are in-field and packing shed operations in this industry that could be automated but are still being carried out manually,” she explains.

“I believe this is partly due to the high cost associated with automation and robotics. More affordable technology for farming and packing would help relieve some of the ongoing labour challenges.”

Providing opportunities

Eileen believes opportunities for education is the key to encourage more women into horticulture.

“I would like to see further funding in female leadership development; for example, programs such as the Women & Leadership Australia and Hort Innovation scholarships that are currently on offer for applicants,” she says.

“The increasing input costs associated with farming, production and freight means there is now simply too many conflicting expenses for businesses in this industry. There is a need to increase the number of full scholarships available that cover 100 per cent of the program fees.

“I am excited to see the continued growth of women in leadership positions across the management spectrum. It is important that we are not defined by our gender.”

Passion for horticulture

Eileen says the most enjoyable aspect of working in the horticulture industry is the continuous on-the-job learning.

“No two days are the same in my role, and each day brings a new challenge to overcome. It helps to build resilience and provides great job satisfaction,” she says.

Eileen is proud to be an integral part of some of Moffatt’s key programs that have been implemented in the past five years, including accreditation to HARPS and SQF.

Some further highlights for Eileen have been developing a quality management system for a newly built packing facility with a medium care processing room, and modernising Moffatt’s quality assurance and control records from manual to electronic.

“Completing these projects has been a huge undertaking that required a big team effort. They have provided invaluable learning opportunities,” Eileen says.

The final word

According to Eileen, it is an exciting time to part of the horticulture industry.

“Consumers have a renewed interest in the origins of their fresh produce, and safe Australian grown fresh vegetables are more important than ever before,” she explains.

“This industry will continue to face ongoing challenges – like the extreme weather we are experiencing – but farmers have incredible resilience and ability to keep going.

“I’m eager to witness continued advances in areas such as technology, improvements in environmental issues like water and soil health, and securing a stable labour stream to maintain the industry.”

This profile first appeared in the leading magazine for the Australian vegetable industry, Vegetables Australia. If you’d like to subscribe to receive a new edition of Vegetables Australia in your mailbox every three months, use our online subscription form!

Images courtesy of Eileen Odgers.