Alumna cultivates career in food processing
Western Engineering News | July 9, 2019
Food processing is the largest manufacturing industry in most Canadian provinces, with meat product manufacturing representing the most significant food industry in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia.1 And, considering that half of all Canadians consume meat or products that contain meat on a daily basis,2 understanding how our food is processed should be a subject of importance to us, as well as one that is clear-cut.
Growing up with exposure to the food industry through poultry and cattle farming, Western Engineering alumna Sharon Flaherty, BESc’15, had an underlying interest in learning where our food comes from.
“I’ve always been curious about how meat makes it to your dinner plate and the processes it undergoes on the way there,” said Flaherty. “Knowing how my food is made gives me a higher level of comfort and control over what I’m eating and also what we’re feeding society.”
Flaherty credits her degree in biochemical engineering for providing the background needed to better understand the food processing and manufacturing industry and for encouraging her to pursue this area of interest as a career.
After her second year of university, Flaherty landed a summer work term with Sofina Foods, one of Canada's leading protein product manufacturers, with 16+ plants across the country. Upon graduating, she jumped at the opportunity to return to Sofina Foods to begin her career in food processing.
Flaherty started with Sofina Foods as a process engineer, spending the majority of her time on the production floor to determine solutions to improve processing lines. In 2017, Flaherty was offered the opportunity to move to Calgary to help with the design and build of Sofina Foods’ new poultry processing facility.
“The last greenfield poultry processing facility built in Canada was over a decade ago, so the move provided me with a rare career opportunity to be involved in building a state-of-the-art facility from beginning to end,” said Flaherty.
As a recently promoted senior process engineer on the project, Flaherty’s day-to-day responsibilities involve designing process lines that are safe, efficient and effective, while also allowing Sofina Foods to maintain its position as an industry leader.
Flaherty has grown quickly in the early stages of her career. She considers her third year of university as the big turning point in regards to career preparation and personal development. During that year, Flaherty served as an Orientation Week Leader/Soph Executive, a Western Engineering Toboggan Team Executive and as the director of the Canadian Engineering Competition.
“Balancing these responsibilities and school work helped me hone my problem-solving skills, which has become invaluable to me in my career,” said Flaherty. “The confidence I developed in these leadership roles made the transition into the working world that much easier.”
With the completion of Sofina Foods’ new Calgary facility coming up in 2021, Flaherty is already looking forward to the next phase of her career and continued education.
“I’m interested in pursuing a path that lets me work more in the business side of engineering, understanding how the profession fits into an operation and company as a whole. All in all, I think the most important thing for me is to remain open and flexible in my career; that way, I can take on whatever opportunity arises next.”
Starting September 2019, Western Engineering, in collaboration with Brescia’s School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, will offer a Master of Engineering (MEng) in Food Processing. This one-year graduate program provides students with the theoretical and practical skills they will need to meet the demands of the food industry. For more information, visit eng.uwo.ca/chemical.