Magnifying Glass on top of paper containing data tables

LiberEat Meet the Team: Dean, Our Quality Assurance Manager

Today, we introduce you to our Quality Assurance Manager, Dean. His detailed-orientated nature helps his work in all areas of the LiberEat business. Whether supporting our Technology, Development, or Marketing teams, Dean ensures we maintain best practice levels of accuracy and can continue to run smoothly.

We discuss his work at LiberEat and how it helps our unique allergen detection technology. He told us how he manages to keep up with food safety developments and regulations and what some of the most surprising errors he has spotted in allergen data are.

Image of LiberEats Quality Assurance Engineer

How long have you worked at LiberEat?

I joined in May of 2021, having graduated from my undergrad the year prior, in 2020. I later decided to continue my studies. Between October 2021 and 2022, I undertook a Master’s in Politics at the University of Essex whilst still working at LiberEat.

Where are you from, and where do you live now?

I have lived all over the place, but I joined LiberEat while still living in Aberdeen. More recently, I have moved down to the seaside in Kent, not too far from where I was born, which allows me to be closer to my family.

What is quality assurance?

Simply put, quality assurance refers to the processes and approaches required to maintain a certain level of quality in providing goods or services. So, it is to prevent any failures in quality as feasibly as possible to ensure everything runs efficiently and effectively.

I have always been a detail-orientated person; making sure something runs smoothly is something I have always wanted in everything I do.

Can you describe your approach to continuous improvement in quality assurance processes and systems?

My approach has evolved as the company and my role within it has evolved. The approaches I would take towards quality assurance processes from when we were a consumer-facing company and now that we have transitioned to a B2B company have changed considerably. 

The LiberEat business previously delivered a consumer-facing app, and the approach back then involved far more active searches for bugs in our app or any other app-related issues or misreported allergens. Since then, we have advanced the tech considerably and strengthened our allergen detection technology for food businesses in safety and quality assurance. We are working with food safety leaders within food businesses, ensuring that consumers are protected from allergens. Our technology continues to advance. As such, the general approach has become more flexible, allowing me to focus on other tasks within the company, which means I get to work with technical colleagues and those in marketing and leadership roles.

What has been one of the most obvious mistakes LiberEat’s allergen detection has discovered?

While proactively scanning food data for food businesses, we have discovered some more obvious allergen errors. We’ve detected around 700 allergen errors within live food data in the last 11 months for all sizes of businesses. There are loads of stages of the supply chain when errors can seemingly slip through the cracks – increasing the risks for food businesses and consumers.

It can be as simple as a packet of flavoured nuts not declaring ‘nuts’ as an allergen or even a milkshake not declaring ‘milk’. This is really where LiberEat’s technology shines.

What are some of the more obscure errors you have noticed?

Lupin is among the 14 major allergens we come across the least. It has been relatively rare for LiberEat to come across lupin in food in the UK, though it is more prevalent across Europe. 

E-numbers, in general, are always a bit more elusive as they are often just stated alphanumerically and not with their actual names, making it tricky to establish whether the E-number is plant-derived or animal-derived (important for vegans and vegan brands).

E224 is an e-number often detected for his allergen profile. It is potassium metabisulphite, a very common preservative and flavour enhancer containing sulphites. E220-227 are different types of sulphites highlighted in our allergen detection technology.

LiberEat’s superpower is that it can detect and alert food safety professionals to these allergens and allergen errors specifically before they reach a shelf, plate, or basket – which means consumers and businesses can minimise risk.

You work for a food technology business. What technology trends emerging are personally interesting to you?

Generally, I am interested in the growth and emergence of AI and machine learning. 

One of my observations about the food industry is that a great deal of food safety depends on human manual input. I wonder if AI/Machine Learning will advance this, as we see it impact so many other industries. A number of the food allergen errors we see are a result of data input by people at many different stages of the supply chain.

When humans get tired, they can miss things; generally, machines don’t. Of course, they are still folly to input errors, but they don’t often happen again once those errors are fixed. One of the most interesting things to me is that it can learn, adapt, and work continuously without strain.

Hands typing on keyboard next to a cup of coffee

To learn more about AI and machine learning, check out our meet the team interview with our machine learning engineer Aradia.

What does your role as a Quality Assurance Manager at LiberEat consist of? What does a typical workday look like for you at LiberEat?

It can differ from day to day and week to week. It often consists of finding new and relevant information on ingredients and allergens to add to our tech. It can also include fact-checking and proofing technical articles on our website, such as our Food Safety Management Systems article. It may also involve creating and testing demonstrations of our tech for prospective clients. I also check our allergen declarations to ensure they provide accurate information to the public. 

Daily, I like to vary my schedule and break tasks into chunks to keep things fresh. So, for example, a day may look like the following:

9 am: Checking allergen declarations for our prospective clients using our allergen error detection technology

11 am: Fact-check a new article or double-check old articles, ensuring they remain factual.

1 pm: Lunch

2 pm: Research the latest information provided by the Food Standards Agency

3 pm: Creating demos for prospective clients

4 pm: I will go back and finish some of the tasks started earlier

Naturally, however, my days and weeks can differ significantly depending on our priorities at the time.

Why is quality assurance so crucial in allergen detection?

Simply put, people’s lives depend on accurate allergen data. If someone is allergic to something and they come in contact with it or ingest it, then they can go into anaphylactic shock and die. It’s not a preference to prioritise and monitor allergens to avoid error; it’s a best standard that food businesses are keen to meet. There isn’t any room for mistakes, and that’s why it is so important.

How do you stay up-to-date with the latest food safety regulations and standards?

Standards and regulations are relatively complex, so I try to be proactive, and the best way to keep up to date with the Food Standards Agency news and guidance. I look for any files they have created on guidance and refer back to ones from previous years that are still very important. 

We also use the Food Safety Agency’s alerts that you can subscribe to, allowing them to alert you whenever there is a food recall or withdrawal.

How does your role affect other areas of the business?

I work closely with our Tech Director, Ben, in our technical team.  One of the more significant tasks we collaborate on is making sure the business keeps up-to-date with regulatory changes and guidance, as any changes have knock-on effects within the LiberEat platform. It’s important for our customers and our business that our service is clear and correct at all times.

For our marketing and social media team, a large part of my role is proofreading our technical articles. Quality assurance is also part of operations; it ensures everything runs smoothly and risks are minimised.

I also help to make demo presentations for prospective clients to showcase how our platform works – demonstrating the technology and showing their teams what we can do for them. This also allows them to visualise using our platform as food safety professionals in their daily lives.

What's a fact about you people might not know?

This might not be surprising given my line of work in quality assurance – but I can often fixate on specific things. I’m often falling down rabbit holes when researching specific topics – which becomes increasingly niche the further I research. This is something I have used repeatedly for my own personal interests, academia, and in my work at LiberEat. 

What’s your favourite hobby or activity outside of work?

I’ve got a few, but one of the main ones is that I love to read, more recently fiction books – which I rarely used to enjoy. I also love playing grand strategy games like ‘Europa Universalis IV’. Other than that, however, I enjoy spending time with my family, watching films, and going on nature walks.

Group of people playing a board game

What's your favourite book and movie, and why do you love them?

My favourite book is Stoner by John Williams, named after the protagonist William Stoner, set around the turn of the 20th century. The book revolves around the near-entirety of his life, from growing up in a farming family to becoming an agriculture student at the University of Missouri and later as a professor of literature, and all his home- and work life in between.. 

It’s a fascinating story not because of the events in his life, most of which weren’t particularly remarkable, but due to the disappointment that follows him like a stray cat. The novel provides unique insights into banal and allows readers to follow Stoner’s stoic metamorphosis.

Image of bookshelf

My favourite movie is Twelve Angry Men, an intense American courtroom drama from the 50s. It concerns twelve men on the jury who may condemn another man to death. Other than for a few minutes, the entire film is set in a single room. They’re forced to admit their doubts, biases, and prejudices in that room as they deliberate on a verdict. It’s perhaps one of the most thought-provoking films I’ve ever watched.

Why do you think the LiberEat technology is so crucial for food safety?

Our technology outperforms all current industry methods in detecting and alerting businesses to allergens missed in their communication (menus, websites or food labels). 

What new skills have you learnt since working at LiberEat?

I have significantly developed a lot of my skills. I always thought my attention to detail was good but working for LiberEat in Quality Assurance and dealing with allergen data has only strengthened that. Some of the most important skills that I have developed include time management, problem-solving, and triage.

If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

  1. Detailed
  2. Adaptable
  3. Passionate

What is your favourite food and why?

It’s the standard answer that people answer most often – pizza!

It can make all the difference if you get a decent dough, like sourdough, and cook it properly with decent local ingredients.

Slice of pizza on plate

What is your favourite thing about working at LiberEat?

The flexibility, being able to work on different projects at different times. You are given a lot of room to explore your tasks. LiberEat allows you to be independent and flexible in your work, which I really enjoy.

What interests or surprises your family and friends when you tell them about LiberEat?

Simply what ingredients are in certain products can be quite bewildering for them. For example, I was asked by a family member whether a particular almond croissant contained alcohol, as their friend is a Muslim, and the pair of them were unsure. It did contain alcohol due to the common use of alcohol in flavour extract, meaning they couldn’t consume it. Many are unaware that many flavour extracts contain alcohol because that is how the flavour itself is often extracted, using alcohol.

Can LiberEat help your own business with food allergen data?

LiberEat has a unique allergen detection technology that helps prevent errors in allergen data on food packaging and menus. This can help to protect your customers from the 14 major allergens- find out more about these with our allergen information hub.

Correctly managing and reviewing your allergen data is important for keeping you and your customers safe. Errors in allergen data can cause potentially devastating allergic reactions and expensive product recalls. Give yourself peace of mind and get in contact with us to find out more about how LiberEat can help protect your business.

To find out how LiberEat Technology supports food businesses to detect allergens and errors, to protect consumers