The Loblaw’s Academy Partnership

Posted on Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Food safety is on the mind of most Canadian consumers. Knowing that your grocery store and all of its suppliers have been trained on food safety requirements and processes would be reassuring, right? Well, an innovative partnership between Loblaw Companies Limited and the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph is doing just that.

Loblaw takes food safety very seriously and works to drive improvement and focus around the area of food safety. To address public concerns with food safety and quality, Loblaw identified the need to increase their suppliers’ knowledge of Loblaw Vendor Operating Standards (VOS) and current food safety practices. To develop and execute the training, Loblaw contacted the word-renowned food safety experts at the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph.

Department experts developed a food safety training program for Loblaw to increase vendor knowledge of food safety and quality awareness and to ensure understanding of Loblaw´s VOS technical requirements, standards and systems, and their effective implementation.

Loblaw is the first major Canadian retailer to invest in food safety training for its suppliers.

“We chose the University of Guelph’s Department of Food Science because they are leaders in food safety, and we wanted to partner with the best,” explains Rosie Scarlato, Senior Manager, Central Quality Assurance for Loblaw Companies Limited. “Some of our suppliers are big in their sector and some are small, so designing a program that would be beneficial for both was the challenge. At the end we were able to design a program that has all the components needed to cover the different needs and skill levels of all our suppliers.”

With such a diverse supplier group there was a need to effectively assess vendor commitment, comprehension and implementation of food safety practices. The department developed an online interactive e-learning format, which enables Loblaw to reach all of their global suppliers. “Our supplier base is extremely broad. We have suppliers in every food category from all over the world. Our category of suppliers goes from dry grocery, to dairy, beverages, meat, seafood, even pet food,” explains Scarlato.

The first session of the Loblaw’s Academy ran from September 2012 to June 2013 and consisted of 10 food safety modules covering eight key food safety areas. The format of the Academy included course reading material and three assessment tools: quizzes, assignments and discussions.

“To address the educational needs of Loblaw's global network of suppliers, it was important that the online course content was easily accessible and comprehensive. The use of three different assessment tools would enable participants to engage in the program by applying different learning strategies including participation in an interactive discussion forum,” explains William Lachowsky, Food Safety Education Coordinator at the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety in the Department of Food Science. Lachowsky is the department lead on this collaborative project and works closely with Loblaw to ensure key learning objectives and deliverables are met.

Course materials provide a base knowledge of the subject of discussion and contain links to government and food safety/processing websites and scientific articles. The quizzes assess the participants’ comprehension of the course material, while the assignments involve an in depth analysis of each studied topic. Assignments ask participants to apply their new knowledge and skills to their facility and processes to improve food safety. Finally, a discussion forum provides a venue for participants to learn from one and other, share materials, network and engage in food safety related discussion.  

 “A main goal was that participants would not only improve food safety in their facilities but also, transfer their new knowledge and skills to their co-workers,” Lachowsky says.

85 participants completed their training in June 2013, and a survey of the graduates found that upon completion, 90 percent of participants rated their increased knowledge and skills of food safety as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’.

70 percent of participants also asked for additional food safety training modules in a similar format to increase their knowledge even further. Based on this, three new supplementary food safety modules are being offered in 2014 to those who are interested in learning more.

“The first session of the Loblaw Academy exceeded my expectations,” says Scarlato. “The amount of interaction, sharing of information and knowledge in the discussion forum was amazing and truly a testament that food safety is not a competitive edge, but a common goal among the food industry.”

With the first session being such a success, the second session of the Academy began in September 2013 with an astounding 400 participants. This session is composed of seven modules, rather than the original 10, based on feedback of previous participants. 

“The participants in the first session had an opportunity to complete a course evaluation and provide input to improve the program. Based on their comments and suggestions the course was condensed from 10 to seven modules,” says Lachowsky.  Also among the implemented changes was the development of orientation and test modules. Both will provide future participants with an opportunity to become familiar with the program’s technical requirements and the use of the different tools supported by the online learning environment.

The Loblaw’s Academy partnership is a perfect example of the impact of knowledge extension. Ground level manufacturers are learning from the best food safety researchers in Canada. The result is a more knowledgeable workforce and safer food products for Loblaw consumers. It’s a win-win situation for all.

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