UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Food safety training, developed by Penn State Extension and delivered to food industry professionals and university students and faculty members in Ukraine, resulted in a significant and lasting improvement in participants’ food safety knowledge, behavior, attitude and skills, according to researchers.
“We take for granted food safety precautions in the U.S., and most of them come from more than a century of food safety training provided by university extension systems across the country,” said research team leader Catherine Cutter, professor of food science in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “They are not routinely practiced in some other countries.”
The research was straightforward, noted Cutter, who also serves as Penn State Extension assistant director for food safety and quality programs. The comprehensive food safety training program was delivered at the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences in Kyiv, Ukraine. The training included courses in sanitation, food microbiology and mycology, thermal processing, hazard analysis and critical control points, cereal quality, and food defense.
The curriculum featured lectures, hands-on laboratories, case studies and product-development activities. The researchers assessed participants’ food safety knowledge, attitude, behavior and skills prior to program delivery, immediately after program completion and again six months later. They published their findings in Journal of Food Science Education.
The team found that food safety knowledge of participants immediately after the program and six months later was significantly higher than before the program started. Participants’ food safety attitude and behavior were positively enhanced, with long-term, sustained changes in proper food safety practices, training requirements and regulations. Additionally, handwashing skills improved significantly because of the training program.
What set this project apart from similar research was the incorporation of case studies and product-development activities, which imparted positive impacts on participants’ food safety learning experiences, explained research team member Swamy Anantheswaran, professor of food engineering, who focuses on nontraditional delivery of education.
“These particular training tools boosted participant awareness, knowledge and communication skills, improving their ability to connect scientific concepts and real-life examples,” he said. “Participation in case studies and product-development activities enabled students to integrate the principles of food science taught via lectures in order to solve real-world problems through active learning and group discussions.”
Little information exists on the use of these tools with international audiences, so the results may be useful to food industry professionals, researchers and academics interested in finding ways to improve the safety of the global food supply through training and education, Cutter said “Understanding and enacting standardized food safety practices in a global economy is important because food safety is an international issue that impacts everyone.”
The need for more food safety training is clear. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and almost 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses each year in the United States. From a global perspective, the incidence of foodborne illness is much higher. The World Health Organization estimates that one in every 10 people fall ill and 420,000 die every year after eating contaminated food.
There are more than 250 known foodborne diseases caused by harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, the researchers pointed out. These biological, physical and chemical hazards, if not controlled with proper practices and procedures, easily can contaminate food ingredients, raw materials, equipment and food-contact surfaces, as well as finished products.
Improving food safety attributes of employees working with or in the food industry is critical to ensuring the overall safety of food products and improving public health, said research team member Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension associate. “Penn State is a recognized leader in providing food safety training in the United States, so it was great to be able to see these same approaches having a positive impact in Ukraine.”
Also involved in the research at Penn State was Hassan Gourama, associate professor of food science. Other members of the team were Duygu Ercan Oruc, Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences, Appalachian State University; Siroj Pokharel, Animal Science Department, California Polytechnic State University; and Olga Shanina, Department of Food Technology, Petro Vasilenko Kharkiv National Technical University of Agriculture, Ukraine.
The research was supported by the Woskob New Century Fund, Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, the college’s Office of International Programs, the Penn State Department of Food Science, and Penn State Extension.
–Jeff Mulhollem, Penn State University