Jake Odello

DIRECTOR OF FOOD SAFETY AT NUNEZ COMPANY

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to the AgSnacc Podcast where we take a look at careers in agriculture and the journey toward those careers. I’m your host, Erin Gorter, and we hope you enjoy this tasty AgSnacc.

 

Erin Gorter:

All right, so today on Agsnacc, we're here with Jake Odellol the director of food safety for the Nunez company. Hi, Jake, how are you?

 

Jake Odello:

Good. Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

 

Erin Gorter:

We're happy to have you. So our first question here is to have you describe what you do as a director of food safety and kind of what your typical day looks like.

 

Jake Odello: 

So I work for a grower shipper. So we grow and we ship leafy green vegetables. So my job is essentially managing the food safety program from the growing stage, so planting, cultivating, growing to harvesting and ultimately the cooling and to shipping. And we pack in a label. So that's Foxy Produce. If you see it in the stores, I am the food safety person behind Foxy Produce. And we and that program in, really, you know, encompasses regulations from the federal government, the state government and any local regulations that we may have to follow. It encompasses buyer specifications. So anything, let's say we're doing business with a large grocery chain, maybe Kroger, or Walmart, we encompass their specifications, and then any specifications that the industry for example, like the leafy green marketing agreement, or LGMA for short. We encompass any sort of food industry, food safety metrics, as well. So we're constantly so I constantly on a day in day out basis, and putting all of those pieces together to make a comprehensive program in order to get our products grown, harvested, cooled and shipped.

 

Erin Gorter:

Alright, and so I have a Foxy plug, because I was in Roberts, Montana at the chuckwagon store on November 23, 2020. And I took a picture of the Foxy lettuce, and I totally meant to send it to you and I forgot. So they’re, I'm showing him my picture of Foxy iceberg and Montana, so

fantastic. 

 

Jake Odello: 

Very nice.

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah. So we kind of like to look at how you got to where you are now. So can you give us a little bit more context about your high school experience, what type of school you went to, what extracurricular activities you were involved in, etc.


 

Jake Odello: 

Well, when I was in high school, I am not athletic at all. I can't make a bat hit a ball. And I can't put a ball into a hoop. So I was not athletic, didn't do anything athletic, but what I was good at is I had a few leadership skills. And I was very involved in student government and any sort of, you know, co-curricular activities and around school activities, school spirit, student government, administration, that sort of thing. And so I was very involved in that at the high school level. When I was in high school. I wanted to be President of the United States, which that's still a goal. I'm just not 35 yet. So we'll make you know, we'll see what happens when I turn 35. But that was my goal. And so I was on a, you know, a political science track. I was very involved with civics, economics, United States history. I wanted to do poli or political science at the end for my undergrad. And I was on that track. So I applied to a number of schools under the poly-sci major, and I actually did my first year of college at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, private school. Great, great school. One of the most beautiful campuses, I think, in the country. And I was there doing it for a year and I did political science. Realize that wasn't necessarily what I wanted to do. And it didn't interest me and then from there, I was able to swing back down to San Luis Obispo I and I went to community college. And I was then wanted to get into ag. A lot of my friends were in agriculture, whether that was animal science or whatever they were in the College of Ag at Cal Poly or they were doing some sort of agriculture at Cuesta so I wanted to do that. And so I was at Cuesta trans doing my Gen Ed, and studying to transfer to Cal Poly under ag business, got to Cal Poly did ag business for a year and realized that ag business was not necessarily the route I wanted to take. And so luckily enough, I met some very, very nice professors and friends in the ag science department and I ultimately landed in ag science and graduated with a bachelor's degree in ag science in June of 2015. from Cal Poly, and it wasn't, and it wasn't until I did an internship through the ag science program, I did an internship. And I found out okay, in my internship, I didn't want to do what I was specifically doing in my internship. But through that internship, I was able to get exposed to some food safety stuff. And that's when I was like, You know what, that's what I can do, that’s for me. So it was through an internship that I found what I could, that where I found where my head is the set of skills, and I thought it would do well and would do well in food safety. So from there, I then decided, that was at the very end of my Cal Poly time. So then, I started working towards food safety. I was originally hired in June of 2015. Right after graduation, I got hired at a grower shipper, another very large grower shipper out of Santa Maria, California, to do food safety, and I worked for them for just a few months. And then the job at the Nunez Company opened up, I interviewed and the folks where I was working in Santa Maria, they helped me and became references and stuff. And that's how I landed here in food safety. And I've been working my way up, I started sampling lettuce and worked my way up. Now in high school, I wasn't an academically strong student. Like I said, I wasn't athletic. But I just tried to apply skills that I had to things that I enjoyed. And so I just kind of followed where my enjoyment went. And that's what I did. 

 

Erin Gorter:

And you're still happy. And that's good. 

 

Jake Odello: 

Yeah, very happy loving it every minute.

 

Erin Gorter:

So how is education and work life viewed in your household when you were growing up and how do you think that influenced your career path? 

 

Jake Odello: 

Well, you know, in my household, I had parents, I have one parent that has advanced degrees, graduate degrees in engineering, and then I had another parent that had a four year degree. So college was always part of, you know, that was what you did. And then you go and get a job. But it wasn't necessarily a requirement. There was not a lot of pressure in I would say I wouldn't classify it as a lot of pressure to go to school. I think what influenced me on the home life was that my parents really said, Hey, do what makes you happy, do what you enjoy. Now. We need they helped me stay on a path that was a good path. But really that following my enjoyment, you know, okay, I enjoy this. I have a set of skills. Here I go, I'm going to go that way. Oh, that didn't work. Okay, go another way. You know, that route, it takes a lot longer than just your normal four years, because I was in college a while. But I think the what I picked up from home life was just to follow what I enjoyed. And that's what I did. And my parents and my support system supported me in that. And then the high school that I went to, they were very four year college focus, they wanted you to go to a private school or a UC. You know, Community College was not a route that I knew was even possible when I was in high school. So my high school was very college preparatory focused. So I always knew that I would go to college, and that's what you had to do before you started working. Now, there's a strong work ethic in my family. So I've been working since I was 15 years old. And I would any moment I had I worked. I worked, my first job was at the City of Carmel counting trash cans. I kind of trash cans, I counted parking spaces. That was a lot of fun. I went to the City of Salinas. I worked there for a while. I just did filing paperwork. So working was always part of life. And I think that is something I picked up for my family as well. My family comes from an agricultural background, and it was work, work, work, work work all the time. So that's where that came from. But education was always number one priority from when I was in high school. My high school culture was college priority college number one priority college. My family wanted me to go to college, but ultimately wanted me to follow my enjoyment path.

 

Erin Gorter:

And part of your journey along that way was a community college and I similarly felt like I went to a school where it was, you're going to go to a four year don't go to a community college, but I went to a community college and it was amazing.

 

Jake Odello: 

It was the best experience. I loved every minute of I went to Cuesta College. I'm still very close with the president of Cuesta College and some of the folks down there I met great friends. That can be I advocate for the community college system. All the time, I recently ran for a school board position in my local town where I live. And I didn't win unfortunately. But I came close, really close. But that part of my platform was making sure that students knew a path to achievement was not just a four year school, but all different kinds of paths. A more of a diverse cross section of pathways is important. So I've championed that a long, long time.

 

Erin Gorter:

Good to have those options. So you like your job, what is your favorite part about your day at work?

 

Jake Odello: 

Well, my favorite part. Now, the days in ag, when I work in agriculture, and I work in food safety, the days are long, I wake up at 4:30 every morning, I'm in the office, usually between six and 6:30. And then I'm here until the job is done. Whenever that may be. Some days are shorter, some days are longer, but I love coming in because everyone that works in this industry, we all work long hours, and we work together. And so there's not a lot of, you know, I don't want to scare anybody it's a good thing. But there's not a lot of life outside of work. So we are a unit and we are such a family. And it is so good. Because I, we can come in here. And we joke and we joke with each other, we kid with each other. And it's such a, it's like a fraternity or a sorority, we're all together. This is a camaraderie is really big amongst the employees. And also in agriculture, you have a huge generation gap. There's two or three generations older than I am still working here. So working with those generations, and learning alongside them and seeing how they've grown through that process. I love it. I love every day, every day, come here and I interact with, I have a co-worker that's 81 years old, and I have another co-worker that's 22. And we all just get along and we're just one big family. I love, so I love coming to work every day just because the people make it easy to come to work every day.

 

Erin Gorter:

And what would you say is the hardest part about your day at work?

 

Jake Odello: 

The people. So it's, you know, sometimes it's a double edged sword. No, you know, the hardest part is that I think change, I think this industry, agriculture industry, and I don't want to knock the industry it does very well. But this industry is slow to change. And when you're in a role like I am in food safety when new regulations are coming down every year now, and with the outbreaks continuing to roll through, you know, it's just people think we can solve outbreaks by regulation. And I don't think that's necessarily the solution, but it's just changing. So you constant, I'm constantly the person that has to go to that grower, or go to that harvest person and say, Hey, we got to do this differently. And people in this industry don't want to change. And and it's hard to tell them, Hey, I know you've been doing this for 80 plus years, or you've been doing it this way since, you know, 1976 I mean, farming is the oldest profession in the world. And we have to change it. And then sometimes we have to change rapidly. And that's, and that's hard to do. And then when people say well, why do we have to change? And you have to really explain and then you have to say, well, these are regulations, and they go where's the people making these regulations? And you we don't know where they are they in an office somewhere they write it down? Are they working in a committee? What committee? Who knows? Right? But it is hard to have to bring about constant change in an industry in which change is not necessarily welcomed.

 

Erin Gorter:

And I wouldn't, I don't think it's just that industry. I think change is hard in general sometimes for anyone.

 

Jake Odello: 

Yeah. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Like think about myself sometimes and plans change, it becomes challenging to deal with and

that's hard. 

 

Jake Odello: 

Totally. Yeah.

 

Erin Gorter:

All right. So in the business of producing, managing and marketing, the distribution of food, what is your favorite ag snack? And you can't just say leafy greens I'm going to make you have to pick one if you're if you do choose to go that commodity support route.

 

Jake Odello: 

So, my favorite is actually, so what I like to eat at home is actually kale, I love kale. I love kale chips. You can bake them in the oven and they become little like little crispy chips. And that's one of my favorite ag snacks and we grow kale, so I love it. But you know, my run of the mill, the thing that I buy at the store every week is not only kale, but romaine. I love romaine. I think romaine is tastes really good. And I love it and sandwiches, I love it and salads. And so I would say romaine and kale, I might go to ag snacks.

 

Erin Gorter:

And so I know this is directed for high school students right now and internships might not always be like a possibility. But you, can you think of any other specific experiences that high school students could seek out right now. And just to gain a little bit of knowledge and background in what it might be like to work in the produce industry and, and work in food safety?

 

Jake Odello: 

So the, you know, internships, and that's those kind of things, you know, changes from year to year, I think, you know, if you're looking for internship in that route, and that's fine, you just have to stay posted with people, you know, you just have to be in communication with people. But I think as a high school person, you know, or anybody for that matter, but a high school person should not underestimate the power of job shadowing. You know, you're paid, and you don't get paid, and that's fine. But sometimes when you start out, you need a little sweat equity. And I think this industry does, is very welcoming to job shadowing. I've done it. People have shadowed me for a day or whatever. And I think when you're contacting companies, or you're contacting businesses, or ag companies, I think it would be a very welcoming message from somebody that says, hey, I'm interested in this business, and I'm a high school student, you know, and I'd love an internship. But I could also just do some job shadowing if you’re available for job shadowing and, and people might be receptive to that. And then that way, you just got in the door, if that's how they open the door, doesn't matter how they open the door, but you got in it, I think job shadowing is a great way. Right now, it's complicated, because of COVID, right, COVID is going to put a damper on some of that. And so you have to be mindful of that. And be mindful too, that, you know, as COVID is going on, this industry is trying to grapple with how do we continue working and sometimes people, the companies have just said, Listen, we're not having any visitors. So you have to be mindful of that and go in with that knowledge. But, you know, hypothetically, as the vaccine rolls out, and we get back to some normalcy, I'm hoping, once everyone gets vaccinated or a majority of us get vaccinated, then I'm assuming that job shadowing may come back as a possibility. So don't underestimate that and use that as a tool. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah, that's great advice to get in the door, like perfect, and just see what it is. Because you might find out much like you did that you don't even want to do that, like with some specific jobs. So yeah. All right. So this is the last question, also has to do with advice. If you could go back to 16 year old Jake, what's the biggest piece of advice you would tell yourself?

 

Jake Odello: 

Well, it's just that is that, you know, I would tell myself that now I enjoyed what I did. And I don't live with regrets, really. So there's nothing that I would really change. And if I had the opportunity, I'd probably do it all over again, the exact same way. But I would go back and I'd say, Hey, you know what you got to really look at and find what you don't like, because through that process, you're going to find what to do like, and I'm so glad that I really was able to, you know, at first I didn't know what I was doing. But later as I got down the road a little bit more after high school, I figured out you know what I was doing, I was just doing stuff, finding paths. And I just found out, I didn't like those things. I went to EOP that wasn't, that wasn't for me. Beautiful campus, good school, but it wasn't for me. So I found that's not what I wanted. That wasn't a mistake that was very valuable. So I would tell myself that finding what you don't want to do is just as valuable as, or more valuable than finding what you do want to do. And so it's okay to run into those roadblocks. Sometimes it's okay to go down a path and go, Oh, I don't want that, I'm going to change. It’s okay to do that. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Good advice. I like it. And you don't regret the journey that you went on along the way.

It's important.

 

Jake Odello: 

Yeah.

 

Erin Gorter:

All right, so again, we were here with Jake Odello, the director of food safety for the Nunez Company. Thank you for your time today, Jake.

 

Jake Odello: 

Thank you.


Thank you for listening to this AgSnacc, a production of the Brock Center for Agricultural Communication at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in collaboration with the South Coast Region Agricultural Education Consortium. For more information, please visit our website at www.agsnacc.com. That’s www.a-g-s-n-a-c-c.com.