WITH over a decade of widespread experience in the agriculture and meat industries specialising in food processing, manufacturing and quality management systems, Dr Diana van Schalkwyk has gained a firm foothold in the system tirelessly working on solutions to pressing problems in the field including the quality and safety of food. Renowned as a food scientist of note, Dr van Schalkwyk is also the owner and director of Food Chain Solutions Namibia, a company that develops and plans food safety systems amongst others.
She was appointed a member of the Meat Board of Namibia since 2008 for supporting the meat industry and in 2009 she was selected finalist for the Business Woman of the Year. Dr van Schalkwyk holds a PhD in Food Science from the University of Stellenbosch, a Master’s Degree in Food Chemistry from the University of Namibia and has extensively published in scientific and other books. Her passion lies in job and wealth creation and thus uses every opportunity to educate and inspire the masses in this regard.
Give us a snapshot of who you are?
I am born and bred in Namibia and love the country very much. Apart from being a career woman, I am also a mother who have raised three daughters, who in their own right are aspiring to become professionals.
Briefly tell us about your upbringing?
I grew up on a smallholding near Windhoek and therefore learned to love nature, as I was never a city girl. Being in the veld with horses and dogs, taught me lessons which I still apply in my everyday life. My parents were professionals, my mother being a high school teacher and my father an advocate – that surely played a role in following an academic career.
What triggered your interest in food science?
My dream was actually to become a veterinarian, but those years when we applied at Onderstepoort, not many women had the chance to be selected. As food and veterinary science overlap in the field of Veterinary Public Health, I think it just then so happened that I then end up working at abattoirs and meat processing plants. I am also a lover of meat and triggered by the science of meat.
In layman language, what is a food scientist? What kinds of things do you do beyond what most people see?
Food scientists take care of the quality and safety of the food that we eat. In today’s modern world, we need to know what we consume to stay healthy. Many foods may be acceptable by looking at the surface, but you also need to know on a nutritional and microbiological level, what it contains. Currently, I spend most of my time developing and maintaining Food Safety Management Systems at various companies. I am also involved in the manufacturing side of the meat industry, as new technologies play an important role in industrial development. Training workers on topics such as food safety and hygiene, allergen awareness, biosecurity and food safety systems, is another passion that I pursue.
Tell us about the establishment of Food Chain Solutions Namibia?
I have been working in the Agriculture and Meat Industries since 1998. A few years ago, however, I realised that there is a need for assisting companies with the development of Food Safety Management Systems and this eventually developed into a full time career, resulting in the establishment of Food Chain Solutions Namibia. The company also engages in value-chain studies, research and many more. As Namibia is exporting almost all the meat that it produces, high standards relating to animal welfare and meat processing will always have to be maintained.
What do you enjoy most and least about your career?
It is always a good feeling when one can achieve certain objectives together with a Food Safety team. Examples of those achievements are – for instance – obtaining export status, FSSC 22000 cer t i f icat ion, etc. This can, h o w e v e r , often take months to accomplish.
What is it that people over/under value about what you do?
The type of work we do, involves a lot of paper work and continuous upgrading of p o l i c i e s , procedures, work instructions and many more. In Namibia, people struggle with the concept of detail and then sometimes do not appreciate the detail going into Food Safety Management Systems.
As a professional, what are you doing to ensure that fellow women excel or get into this field?
I am passionate about training and thus, every time when I have the opportunity, urge, especially women, to enter into the field of Quality Management. Unfortunately, we observe a trend at tertiary institutions where mostly men nowadays enroll for Food Science.
What advice would you give to those aspiring to join this field?
It is important that prospective students make some time to do job shadowing in the field of food science, to ensure that this is actually what they want to do for a career. You will not last long in this field if it is not a passion.
What don’t people know about you?
I believe that the person you are, is the total of all the experiences you had in life. There was someone that once told me the value of patience – it is like taking a picture with a camera – the picture that you take now, is perhaps beautiful, but sometimes, if you just wait a little bit longer, you will have the perfect picture.
Just what do you do for a little fun?
I love walking my dogs, especially in the veld. The smell of the bushes, the exercise, all of that is wonderful.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015