EVIT alum’s career journey leads to food safety industry

Working in food safety, Saul got his start at EVIT
Posted on 03/02/2022
Saul built his foundation with training at EVIT, now works in food safety

In 2002, Saul Lopez signed up for the Culinary Arts program at the East Valley Institute of Technology because he loved food and thought it would be better than taking a boring elective at his high school. From EVIT, he went on to a prestigious culinary school and restaurant career.

But it ended up not being what he really wanted to do.

While working at a restaurant, he watched as health inspectors came in and became intrigued by their work. So he left cooking behind, got an entry level job at a food testing laboratory and learned as much as he could about food safety before getting hired by the United Dairymen of Arizona in their internal lab.

Today, Lopez is an assistant safe quality foods manager over a team of supervisors charged with ensuring quality and safety standards at a local dairy processing facility – and he loves it. 

“The people I work with are very professional and come from various backgrounds like me,” he said. “And our products feed people all over the world.” 

Lopez is an example of how career and technical education at EVIT gives students a foundation that can take them in many different directions. While at EVIT, Lopez worked in the student-run restaurant, got a job at a fine dining restaurant in Phoenix, and got accepted to Johnson & Wales Culinary Institute. 

“To be honest, culinary college was not for me,” he said. “EVIT spoiled me. I already knew how to fillet an entire salmon by high school. And at J&W, it cost me a lot to just learn that again. No regrets – I am grateful for the experience. I just feel I learned a lot more from EVIT about the industry than I ever did at J&W.” 

After his $30,000 culinary college education, Lopez was still making $9 an hour and moving from one kitchen to another just to get a dollar raise. “That wasn’t good enough for me,” he said. “Think lifestyle. If you’re going to go to college, what’s your true return on your lifestyle? And be OK with that.”

By moving from culinary into food safety, Lopez is still working in the food industry, but in a job that pays well and provides the lifestyle he had always wanted. While working for United Dairymen of Arizona, Lopez earned his Safe Quality Food (SQF) and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certifications. 

“I worked with great people who believed in my success and gave me the necessary training to grow within the company,” he said. 

Twenty years after his first culinary class, Lopez is still using skills he learned at EVIT. “My instructors showed me that food safety is to be respected, and it started for me at EVIT,” he said. “We learned how to chill soups, label expiration dates and the importance of cleaning.” 

Lopez encourages other students to take advantage of the career training opportunities offered at EVIT, especially EVIT’s tuition-free high school programs. “You are already ahead of the curve by going to EVIT. Take advantage while it’s free! And learn as much as you can about the industry,” he said. 

EVIT offers over 40 career training programs for high school students and adults at two central campuses in Mesa and a branch campus at Apache Junction High School. Learn more about EVIT programs at www.evit.com

Enrollment for 2022-23 is under way. Start the process at www.evit.com/enroll.

Saul’s Career Path:

  • Completed EVIT Culinary Arts program in 2004
  • Attended Johnson & Wales Culinary Institute
  • Worked for several restaurants and hotels
  • Worked for a food testing laboratory
  • Currently, assistant safe quality foods manager for United Dairymen of Arizona
  • Future plans: Continue to learn and grow in the food safety industry

Get started on a career while in high school

How to enroll in high school programs at EVIT:

  • Complete and submit application online at www.evit.com/enroll
  • Parents/legal guardians of new students will need an active email account to access and use the online registration system
  • Upload attendance record, discipline record, current unofficial transcripts and proof of immunizations
  • Admissions office will inform students via email once application is approved or if more information is needed
  • EVIT is for all high school students – public, charter, private or home-schooled – who reside in one of 11 East Valley school districts: Apache Junction, Cave Creek, Chandler, Fountain Hills, Gilbert, Higley, J.O. Combs, Mesa, Queen Creek, Scottsdale, Tempe
  • More information: Call (480) 461-4108

How to enroll in adult programs at EVIT:

  • Schedule appointment to meet with an advisor by calling (480) 461-4110
  • Complete online application form at www.evit.com/enroll
  • Tuition rates vary by program. Apply for financial aid by visiting www.fafsa.ed.gov and using school code 035723
  • Send questions about financial aid to [email protected]
  •  More information: Call (480) 461-4110