Food illness related stories seem to appear on a daily basis in the news and on social media damaging consumers’ confidence in the management of the food supply chain. The assessment of ongoing foodborne illness outbreaks has identified two main practices that would improve food safety: a better competency based employee training and the implementation of comprehensive risk communication strategies. These two practices allow information to be shared, and in turn, help identify and control risks that may lead to potential threats to public health.
Scientists and industry professionals are now focusing on an area that has not received the required attention, although it represents the core of all food safety systems and is a pre-condition for their successful implementation. This area, referred to as an organization’s ‘food safety culture’, includes all employees, from workers, supervisors, scientists, to senior management. The extent to which organizations understand the nature and degree of risk will influence their perception of the steps required to produce safe food. At every step along the processing pathway where a human behaviour could contribute to increasing the contamination level, an opportunity exists for a change in behaviour or an intervention to reduce risks. Within this context, an example of an intervention tool that can help improve food safety culture within organizations is the availability and use of comprehensive food safety training programs for all staff.
In this regard, the University of Guelph’s Department of Food Science has launched a new online interactive food safety training program for all stakeholders in the food industry. This leading-edge training program, the Guelph Food Academy, is based on the Loblaw Academy, and has been designed to address the training needs of all stakeholders, organizational staff and professionals working in food safety, quality assurance, production and management. After three years of successfully delivering the Loblaw Academy, over 90 per cent of participants have confirmed the comprehensiveness and usefulness of the program, highlighting its applicability which is reflected in the implementation and/or enhancement of their current food safety practices. As new technologies, trends, and food safety risks emerge, the Guelph Food Academy offers an opportunity for industry partners to enhance their food safety culture and risk communication.