Jose Hernandez
L.-R.: Bob Sherwood, executive vice president, global institutional food safety & public health, Ecolab; Jorge Hernandez, vice president, quality assurance, The Wendy’s Company; Jean Edsall, director, food safety programs, Compass Group North America; and Mark “Mick” Miklos, director, food safety and quality assurance programs, National Restaurant Association.

The difference between companies that manage food safety well and those that take risks is that the good managers weave food safety steps into every aspect of their foodservice operation. “In my career, I’ve seen operations approach food safety as a separate training exercise, something they add on top of ‘regular training’ or in addition to it,” says Jorge Hernandez, vice president of Quality Assurance for 6,700-unit Wendy’s, based in Dublin, Ohio. “But food safety is something every employee has to implement naturally and automatically – every day, every meal.”

Hernandez knows what he’s talking about. Few professionals can match the breadth or diversity of experience he’s gained in his 30-plus years as a food safety and quality assurance expert.

  • He knows what makes a food safety program successful from a health-department viewpoint thanks to his early career as a regulator with the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • He became an educator during 10 years with the National Restaurant Association, ultimately becoming vice president of food safety and risk management. He oversaw the creation and launch of ServSafe. 
  • His 11 years with US Foods, Rosemont, Ill., taught him the importance of food safety in the supply chain.
  • Wholesome International, Pittsburgh, Pa., a Five Guys Burgers and Fries franchisee, brought Hernandez on board to build a food-safety protocol from the ground up for its new concept, Choolaah. The experience added another layer to his food safety expertise: Embedding food safety steps into every procedure as the restaurant concept was developed. 

Today, in his role at Wendy’s, Hernandez’ work impacts hundreds of thousands of guests a day.

Recognizing Hernandez’s professionalism, passion and extraordinary expertise, the Association’s Food Safety & Quality Assurance Executive Study Group awarded him its first Outstanding Food Safety Leader Award during the group’s annual conference in early October. The award, sponsored by Ecolab, a global leader in food safety solutions and expertise, recognizes food safety champions and has in Hernandez found an ideal, and unique, recipient. 

“Effective food safety all comes down to execution,” Hernandez says. “The science behind what keeps foods safe is the same no matter where it’s applied. Wash your hands, cool foods properly, cook foods to temperature, don’t cross-contaminate — but do your employees know why? And are these steps a natural part of every one of their tasks?” 

While the food safety science is set, how people absorb the food safety message is completely subjective, he says. “The biggest lesson I learned in my career is that you need to adapt your training to the trainee to find the approach that’s going to stick. That’s the key.”