Online Education University

The Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, has launched an expanded online interactive food safety training program for food industry professionals.

Called the Guelph Food Academy (GFA), the program consists of seven modules that participants are expected to complete within six months. The modules cover regulatory affairs, raw materials and finished product specifications, risk analysis and incident management, allergen management, plant layout, foreign matter prevention and detection, and shelf life and challenge studies.

Originally, the program was developed in cooperation with Loblaw Companies Ltd., and was exclusive to the Canadian retailer’s global President’s Choice brand suppliers. After three years of successful program delivery, Loblaw agreed that the university should open the program to the entire industry.

“Participants in the first year of the program were so enthusiastic about the value of what they learned that in year two, Loblaw invited other suppliers to participate, ” program administrator Bill Lachowsky told FoodProductionDaily.

Organically grown

“The program continued to grow in scope and participation each year, and the positive buzz increased demand to the point where Loblaw said we could go ahead and offer the program to the entire food industry, ” he added.

Guelph Food Academy instructors Bill Lachowsky (left) and Dr. Romina Zanabria.

To date, more than 375 people from across Canada and 17 other countries have successfully completed the training. The 2014 cohort had 170 participants.

Lachowsky, who is both the food safety education coordinator and the facility manager of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety (CRIFS) at the University, is one of the Academy instructors. The other is Dr. Romina Zanabria, food safety project coordinator at the CRIFS.

Lachowsky explained that he and his colleagues made a few tweaks to the program to adapt it to a broader audience. For example, they condensed 10 modules worth of material into seven modules.

“This program is intense, and the materials target a 12th grade education level, ” he said. “We encourage participants to network with one another to problem-solve and complete the assignments.”

Fostering a collaborative, interactive approach within the program has also had a domino effect in some participants’ companies or facilities, Lachowsky added. It has helped some participants to recognize and overcome information siloes within their organizations.

Bringing that collaborative approach into their facilities can also help Academy participants and alumni cope with “grey brain drain, ” Lachowsky said. Referring to the loss of critical knowledge and experience when veteran employees retire or are downsized, grey brain drain is a problem in many North American companies.

Real world, real issues

The benefits discussed thus far — the quality of the program’s content and instruction, the convenience of an online format, and the ability to network with professionals from a variety of countries and market segments — might be enough for a manager to justify the cost of enrolling himself or an associate in Guelph Food Academy.

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