Karl Thorson: Becoming a guardian of food safety

by Joanie Spencer
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In 2016, Mr. Thorson received General Mills’ Eldon Hansen Leadership Award, one of the accolades he is proudest to have received.

For the most part, sanitation is often a thankless job. It’s the department that gets attention when things go wrong, as Karl Thorson, food safety and sanitation manager, General Mills, Minneapolis, and Baking & Snack's 2016 Operations Executive of the Year, can attest.

Because the areas of food safety and sanitation have very little in regard to formal education, those who rise up through these ranks rely heavily on the guidance of others. Mr. Thorson’s passion for the craft has made him a guiding force in this realm. And because of his leadership, he recently received the Sanitarian of the Year Award from the International Association of Food Production.

“I was so proud to receive this award, not only for me but also for this area,” Mr. Thorson said. “It’s becoming a lot more popular as a career and an area of study, to be able to manage allergens and microbial risks. And as you look at the growing visibility of things like recalls, a lot of it is tied back to sanitary design and sanitation execution.”

Although he’s recognized as a leader in this area of bakery production, Mr. Thorson is quick to admit he’s standing on the shoulders of giants, those who helped him rise to this level. They include Brian Anderson, who led sanitation for Pillsbury and was part of the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s food safety working group, and Kevin Farnum, who was the founding leader of General Mills’ Sanitation Center of Excellence.

One of Mr. Thorson’s earliest mentors, Eldon Hansen, stands out in particular.

“He’s the one who gave me my first sanitation training,” he said, recalling how Mr. Hansen taught him that visibly clean is not clean enough, and how to take a piece of equipment apart and get to the root of a problem. “It was my first experience with sanitation and learning about the importance of design, cleaning methods, disassembly, inspection and digging into a root cause.”

In 2016, Mr. Thorson received General Mills’ Eldon Hansen Leadership Award, one of the accolades he is proudest to have received.

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