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Meet the quality assurance chemist supporting candy manufacture

By: Nina Notman, special to C&EN

Tara Kennedy Griffiths reveals the vital role chemists play at Hershey’s largest manufacturing site

Tara Kennedy Griffiths
Tara Kennedy Griffiths
Credit: Tara Kennedy Griffiths

Tara Kennedy Griffiths joined the analytical laboratory at Hershey’s flagship site in Pennsylvania in summer 2009. It was near the end of what had been the largest global financial crisis since the 1930s, and she had just graduated with a BS degree in chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. “It was a turbulent time to be coming out of school, and when I received the opportunity to work in a chemistry lab I was thrilled,” she explains. She would have been doubly so if she had realized how fascinating she was going to find food chemistry.

The quality-assurance laboratory Kennedy Griffiths joined supports manufacturing and R&D across the food company. Its scientists analyze Hershey products’ physical properties, such as fat levels, particle size, and viscosity. These tests support the rapid analytical measurements made 24/7 on the factory floor. “Analytical chemistry support is also needed when they are developing new recipes or bringing in experimental ingredients, such as vegan options,” she explains.

Kennedy Griffiths spent the next 10 years working up the career ladder in that laboratory. This included taking on a managerial role and a five month job swap to Hershey’s El Salto facility in Guadalajara, Mexico. During this time, Kennedy Griffiths also completed a part-time master’s degree in food science and technology at Kansas State University.

Then, in November 2019, Kennedy Griffiths left the lab and went to the factory floor. Here she serves as a liaison between her old quality-assurance laboratory and the manufacturing team. “I'm also getting firsthand experience of how the chocolates perform in the manufacturing process and using my chemistry background to help with troubleshooting,” she explains.

What's in your lab coat pocket?

A Sharpie. We’re pulling samples that need to be labeled all the time. I can't live without a Sharpie.

What's your favorite analytical instrument?

A protein analyzer with a robotic auto sampler. It tends to be finicky, and regularly needs to be taken apart and put back together. But I really enjoyed working with it.

Why should an analytical chemist consider a role in the food industry?

The science and chemistry of food is a really broad area. Someone with an analytical chemistry background has the opportunity to leverage their skills in a lot of different ways. 

What's the best professional advice you've received?

Your career is your responsibility. You should always be looking for opportunities, whether it's within your current role or a new role. There's always opportunity there. You just sometimes need to search for it and someone's not always going to point it out to you.

What's the most exciting product you've worked on?

The Hershey's Gold bar. Our technical group did a lot of work on the Gold bar before it was released a few years ago.

What's your favorite candy bar?

The Take 5. It is the best candy bar, and it is the most underrated candy bar.

What's your morning routine?

I get up around 5 am and make myself a smoothie. I put on something comfortable and head to work. Once there, I put on my uniform and get onto the factory floor.

What do you like to do away from work?

I practice yoga three to four days a week. My husband and I also like to travel. Luckily, we had nothing planned in the foreseeable future, but we really enjoy vacationing in Mexico and usually go once a year or so.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

Copyright 2020 American Chemical Society (All Rights Reserved)

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