ST. JOSEPH, MO. – Billie Johnson, Ph.D., began her career in the pet food industry performing routine quality assurance testing on canned dog food. Over the next 23 years, she honed her knowledge of food safety and quality assurance. Today, Johnson oversees food safety and regulatory compliance at nine facilities for BHJ USA and BHJ Canada, where she has achieved many milestones for PCQI, Food Defense, HACCP and GMP training, as well as audit compliance.
“I was blessed with strong mentors…who recognized my potential and helped me move forward in my career and exposed me to all aspects of the pet industry,” she said.
In the following questions and answers, Johnson shares her journey from humble beginnings to becoming an expert in her field, with extensive knowledge of internal and GFSI-certified auditing, HACCP, preventative control development and performance testing. food safety of raw materials during manufacture.
PFP: Tell us about your business or career in the pet industry.
Johnson: I am part of BHJ USA and BHJ Canada (BHJ North America), which means that I oversee nine factories in North America. BHJ is essentially another meat and slaughter material processor where we sort, grind, debone and manufacture fresh manure material and/or frozen meat protein blocks. This includes poultry, pork, beef, fish and unique protein materials required by our pet food manufacturing customers.
BHJ’s philosophy is to be our customers’ preferred supplier because we reduce the complexity of supply chain components, producing a quality product for our customers. If our customers need a customized product, we can provide this service. We strive to be the leader in supply chain services by manufacturing high quality, food safe products, having achieved GFSI (FSSC 22000) certification. Overall, we have over 400 employees with plants in Alberta and Ontario, Canada, as well as California, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska.
PFP: How did you get started in the pet industry and how has that experience led you to where you are now?
Johnson: I started as a QA technician for Menu Foods in Emporia, Kansas, about a year after the plant was built. The vision of Robert Bras, owner of Menu Foods at the time, helped shape my understanding of food quality and safety for the pet food industry. He instilled in our team members the need to meet and exceed customer expectations and ensure that pets receive good quality, food safe pet food.
I worked as what I called a “dog food hauler,” hauling crates of canned pet food every morning for routine quality assurance testing. I was fortunate to have strong mentors, like Jim Barritt, Steve Lindsay and Dr. Rick Shields, who recognized my potential and helped me move forward in my career and exposed me to all aspects of the pet industry.
In the field of ingredient manufacturing, over the past few years I have been guided by the strong beliefs of Rod Deibert and Thomas Bendix Christensen, who encourage a holistic approach to manufacturing pet food ingredients for our customers. .
PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?
Johnson: Several challenges are expected when working in the pet food industry. One of the biggest lessons I had to learn early on was that even though I had a well-organized, process-oriented mindset, some days the to-do list might disappear because a more pressing matter had priority. Learning to identify the most pressing issues and manage them without going into “panic mode” is an important part of professional development within the pet food industry.
PFP: Tell me about a professional achievement in the pet industry that you are proud of.
Johnson: This happened early in my career when I was still learning the pet food process and how to do audits. The first GFSI audit I participated in, I just listened throughout the audit so I could learn. My first BRC auditor was John Clemence and he was a fantastic teacher. Years later, having learned so much about the audit process and food safety standards, I was asked to be part of the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance editorial team to write the Preventive Controls for Animal Feed Training for Current Good Manufacturing Practices, Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Animal Feed Regulations (referred to as the Preventive Controls for Animal Feed Regulations ), which aims to guarantee the safety of the manufacture/processing, packaging and conservation of food products intended for animal consumption.
PFP: What is most important to you and/or your business in the industry right now?
Johnson: Highly pathogenic avian influenza is a global concern for the pet food industry, as are labor shortage issues.
PFP: If you could choose three trends influencing the industry today, which are the most important and why?
Johnson: Internet sales will not disappear; it is something that will continue to increase. Social media also plays an important role in the pet food industry – raising awareness of the types of pet food available and people doing pet food editorials is something that we see more and more. Getting a pet has also increased in recent years.
PFP: What is it about the pet industry that people outside the industry may not realize?
Johnson: Regulatory requirements for pet food manufacturing are as stringent, if not more so, than human food processing. We have to follow guidelines set by multiple regulatory bodies, labeling requirements, export requirements, etc., so making pet food is a much more thorough process.
PFP: What advice would you give to young people starting their career in this industry?
Johnson: Be willing to learn and understand the process. Not everything in pet food processing is a regulated program. Rather, the process can be adjusted to meet expectations and specifications. Always be ready to think outside the box and try new avenues.
PFP: Just for fun, do you consider yourself a dog or a cat? Or, if you have pets yourself, tell us a bit more about them.
Johnson: I have three boxers, and they are definitely spoiled babies.
PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?
Johnson: In a society that doesn’t seem to think hard work matters, work hard anyway because it means something to you and your integrity in general.
Billie Johnson, Ph.D., earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in animal science and biology from East Texas State University, followed by a doctorate in microbiology and immunology from the University of Oklahoma. Prior to joining BHJ North America, she worked for 19 years at Menu Foods and Simmons Pet Food Inc., where she oversaw food safety programs at five manufacturing sites in the United States. She has also served as an independent advisor for food safety, quality and regulation, and maintains an extensive list of professional affiliations and training certificates.
Keep reading about other women leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry Series.