Chasing the Canadian Dream: An Interview With Albin Estipona

Originally hailing from the Philippines, Albin Estipona worked in Israel for 4-years with every intention of pursuing the American Dream afterwards. Luckily for FGF, he settled in Canada instead. Part of our team since 2007, Albin is the  Corporate Sanitation Team Lead. We spoke to him about his journey at FGF and how recent COVID-19 events are reshaping what it means to work in sanitation in the food industry.

What’s your name, and what do you do with FGF? 

My name is Albin Estipona, and I’m the Corporate Sanitation Team Lead at FGF. Our team is made up of 200+ Team Members and part of my job is to support our Sanitation Site Leaders in our sweet goods facilities.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in a small town in the southern part of the Philippines. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Therapy, an internationally in-demand field at the time. The job prospects at home, however, were not good. So I applied for a work permit and got sponsorship to work in Israel – which I did for 4 years. Originally, I wanted to pursue a life in the U.S. but getting a permit to work there was very difficult.

I thought to myself, why not try a country that’s at least close to the U.S.? In a few months, I got my papers and I was off to Toronto. I didn’t have any family in Canada, so when I first arrived, I worked in many factories, making candles, car parts, and working other odd jobs.

How did you start at FGF? 

In early 2007, after our shift, one of my colleagues said they had an interview at an FGF job fair. I offered to drive him there. During the drive, he convinced me that I should apply as well. Next thing I knew, I was sitting in front of a supervisor who asked if I had any mixing experience. “Yes, I do!” I said. I was very confident – I knew how to mix candle wax and cement.

She meant dough. It was the shortest interview I ever had in my life. But she told me that there would be other openings in other departments and she would keep me in mind.

Sure enough, a month later, FGF called and asked if I’d be interested in working the night shift in sanitation. During my first shift, I was trained on how to clean one of the transfer conveyors using a pressure washer. I really enjoyed the challenge. Days turned to weeks, and then months, and then years. I loved the job and I never looked back.

What has the journey been like since joining FGF? 

Within the first month, I was promoted to a team leader role. After 4 years, I was promoted to Site Sanitation Leader where I worked for 5 years before taking on my current role as Corporate Sanitation Leader. It’s been a really rewarding experience filled with personal growth, on-the-job training, teamwork, and hard work.

What do you love about your role?

Some of my favourite moments are around audits. It might sound odd, but it’s a constant challenge that demands the best out of everyone from across the company to do their part and help others out. I get to see how my colleagues are so deeply invested in what they do – staying late, organizing, cleaning, supporting each other – my team and I want to get the best possible score. In fact, auditors often compare our facilities to a hospital because of how consistent and thorough we are with food safety and sanitation.

What makes FGF a great place to work?  

FGF is a big employer of Canadian newcomers. We’re so lucky to have a diverse workforce and thankful for the opportunity to work side-by-side with so many different nationalities. Everyone at FGF – from the owners and all of our Leaders  – are all very down to earth and supportive. For example, when we work weekends, the founders will sometimes stop by, say hello and ask if there’s anything we need. They really take care of us.

Any advice for anyone starting a job at FGF? 

It’s very simple! If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and are passionate and dedicated about what you do, FGF might be for you.

How do you see sanitation and food safety?

They are one in the same. Our company – every person who is a part of FGF – takes food safety very seriously. The owners and our leaders are always willing to go the extra mile to make sure our training, tools, and reputation is reflective of the highest standards we hold ourselves to – especially now.

Has COVID-19 changed how you work? All eyes are now on health and safety.

We recently just completed a virtual audit because of the pandemic. We showed the auditor what we’re doing here at FGF and she was blown away. She told us that she hasn’t seen or heard of a single company in the U.S. or Canada who’s practicing sanitation measures to the level that we are. We always plan one step ahead – I’m so proud of what we’re doing to play our part in protecting the communities who depend on us for great job opportunities and great food!

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