Joan Peterson a self-employed Registered Sanitarian and Food Safety Consultant. She has worked in the field of environmental health for almost 40 years. In addition to being a member of NEHA, Joan is actively involved with the Minnesota Environmental Health Association as a member and a leader. Throughout her career, Joan has had the opportunity to work in communities across the United States, interacting with people from both rural and urban areas. In a country where these two groups can seem more and more disparate, it’s incumbent upon EH professionals to find common ground with whoever they encounter in their work.
This story is part of a limited series of blog posts celebrating EH professionals who value and work on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the field. Joan’s story is an illustration of how taking the time to understand diverse cultures and meeting people where they are can go a long way in our profession.
Joan started her career in a new rural multi-county health department in Benson Minnesota. From there she moved to established metro health departments in her home state. For the last 24 years, she has been self-employed, teaching classes, assisting health departments, consulting with establishments, and doing second-party audits for NSF Retail auditing division. With NSF she has audited establishments in numerous communities across 45 states. Through these experiences, she worked to incorporate a coaching approach to auditing while taking time to learn and understand local culture and customs. While many auditors may view their role as an overseer, Joan believes that in treating everyone with respect, creating relationships as equals, and teaching people how to incorporate health practices with their own unique culture in mind, we can empower everyone to work together to create healthier communities.
Because Joan’s job regularly takes her across the country, she works in politically, racially, culturally, and socioeconomically diverse areas. Over the years, she has created strategies to build trust and relationships by listening, understanding concerns, and relating to people on a personal level. For example, in every audit, she teaches food safety practices that can be used both at work and at home. In doing this, she can learn about the people with whom she works and build genuine connections. In turn, they not only learn to keep food safe but how properly handling food can prevent food-borne illnesses in their entire community.
About her approach, Joan says, “After I introduce myself at the beginning of an audit, I ask how they are and how their business is today. This lets them know that I am listening and helps me gauge what is going on in that location and sometimes the challenges that they are facing that day or in general. When they know I am listening they are more likely to confide issues that I may not see, and we can work on those as well.”
The people that she works with look to Joan as someone they can trust instead of someone they should fear. The result is that people feel empowered to create healthier environments across the country.
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