Designing education of food technologists to build in safety assurance

27 March 2017 | Column | By Subhaprada Nishtala

food technologists food technologists

The Indian food and grocery market is the world’s sixth largest, with retail contributing 70 per cent of the sales. Food has also been one of the largest segments in India's retail sector, which was valued at US$ 490 billion in 2013 (India Food Report 2016). The Indian food retail market is expected to reach Rs 61 lakh crore (US$ 894.98 billion) by 2020.

The Indian food processing industry accounts for 32 per cent of the country’s total food market, one of the largest industries in India and is ranked fifth in terms of production, consumption, export and expected growth. It contributes around 14 per cent of manufacturing Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 13 per cent of India’s exports and six per cent of total industrial investment. Indian food service industry is expected to reach US$ 78 billion by 2018. The Indian gourmet food market is currently valued at US$ 1.3 billion and is growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 20 per cent.

India is seeking to grow its contribution to global food products from the current 1 per cent. There are planned concurrent developments in the areas of state-of-the-art cold chain infrastructure and quality assurance measures. Apart from large investment pumped in by the private sector, public sector has also taken initiatives and with several centres for perishable cargoes and integrated post-harvest-handling facilities have been set up in the country.

Facing challenges

Food-borne pathogens are responsible for 48 million illnesses, 1,20,000 hospitalisations, and 3,000 deaths annually in the United States, and the associated economic burden is estimated to be $77.7 billion annually. Many outbreaks and recall events are a result of post process contamination or poor personal hygiene, which are preventable through ensuring the workforce possess appropriate behaviours and competencies

In the emerging scenario, the food science professionals need to develop sufficient awareness and appreciation of the relevant principles of life sciences, and physical sciences, as well as of a wide variety of other topics, including nutrition, preservation and storage techniques, processing unit operations, bio-processing, waste management, distribution and supply chain management, food laws and regulations and so on.

Quality management and quality control of food products continue to be critical to producing food that is safe to consume and has consistent quality and sensory attributes. The extent to which undergraduate students are equipped with competencies in quality management/control, in theory, has a direct connection with their career potential to ensure food products and/or services meet the expectations of consumers and society.

It is commonly evidenced in the industry that students joining in are technically prepared in the hard sciences, but they are not as prepared in what is sometimes termed as ‘soft sciences’, or communication skills areas. Universities need to do a better job of incorporating communication and leadership curriculum into existing food science courses.

The need of the hour is to improve the quality of food science education, including primary, secondary, undergraduate, graduate, continuing, and workplace education. Focus will need to be on developing

•           Problem-based learning and innovative learning techniques

•           Development of teachers and students

•           Innovative laboratory exercises

•           Interpersonal and human relationship development of students

Better preparing college students to enter the industry should supply the workforce with more qualified employees and improve food safety in manufacturing facilities. There is a need to continuously improve food safety curricula in higher education because college graduates are often hired into supervisory positions in food manufacturing facilities and there is a shortage of qualified professionals in this occupation.

Successful implementation of food safety management systems is a critical job task for managers in food manufacturing. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a systematic approach to prevent food-borne illnesses by identifying food safety hazards and controlling them through prerequisite programmes and critical control points. This system is globally recognised by international organisations such as Codex Alimentarius.

Therefore, training college students on how to develop and implement a food safety management plan and improving their aspirations to do so is essential to providing the food industry with workforce ready graduates.

Despite the resources and efforts invested in implementing food safety training programmes throughout the food industry, there has not been a significant decrease in food-borne illnesses (Viator and others, 2015). One explanation is that the majority of education programmes focus on achieving knowledge gains as opposed to behavioural changes. Although knowledge gains are important, targeting a specific behaviour, attitude, and aspiration is the key to ensuring the desired behavioural change will actually be achieved

An integrated approach for evaluating food safety education and training programmes’ impacts on planned behaviours is needed. The theory of planned behaviour is founded on the premise that social pressure, attitude towards a behaviour, and perceived control over performing the behaviour predicts a person's intent on preforming the behaviour.

Training employees on food safety practices has been shown to be one of the most important programmes that food service establishments can implement. However, results also provide evidence that traditional approaches used to educate and train employees may not be particularly effective, and new behaviour-based approaches that include food safety education as part of the culture of the organisation need to be developed.

Educational institutions must create an environment for carrying out projects dealing with real world issues and the opportunity to experiment. If students fail, they do so in a safe environment. And helps catapult them into being successful for the rest of their time in the industry. Students are not born scientists or engineers, they have to learn skills in math and science; similar training on leadership will go a long way in establishing a safe food manufacturing environment. 

All adults, including traditional college students and non-traditional students, have been shown to learn best in environments where they have hands-on learning experiences, but when the facilitation of hands on learning is not feasible, one option is to integrate videos into a case study such that students can virtually experience and conceptualise the case. This has been shown to improve student engagement and understanding. Adding interactive components to case studies maybe effective in a variety of other safety-related fields.

Food safety management must

There is opportunity to decrease the frequency of food-borne illnesses by improving food safety competencies and planned behaviours of college students before they begin careers in the food industry. The ability to “apply the principles of food science to control and assure the quality of food products” has been identified by the Institute of Food Technologists as a core competency for undergraduate students majoring in food science (IFT 2011). Typically, an undergraduate food science degree programme addresses various aspects of this competency in multiple courses. However, many food science departments do not offer a dedicated food quality management/control course. The process of mastering this competency is arduous because it requires students to combine a comprehensive knowledge of food science principles with a separate body of knowledge and skills from the field of quality management/control.

Equipping students with competencies in food safety management is one of the most important tasks of an undergraduate food science degree programme, especially for students bound toward careers in food quality assurance and food safety. Equipping undergraduate students with mastery of quality management/control competencies before they graduate increases their workforce readiness and therefore improves the food industry's ability to manufacture products and/or provide services that meet customers’ expectations.

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