PART II of our conversation with Jerry Wojtala, executive director of the International Food Protection Training Institute
President’s 2011 federal budget was recently amended to include an $8
million request to fund the International Food Protection Training
Institute (IFPTI), a non-profit organization dedicated to
career-spanning food protection training for state and local food
protection professionals, located in Battle Creek, Michigan. The
request is significantly greater than the $1 million approved in the
2010 federal budget, and will allow IFPTI to greatly expand its current
In partnership with the Association of
Food & Drug Officials, and in collaboration with the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA), IFPTI has trained approximately 300 food
protection professionals from more than 30 states, and with the
additional resources, the organization expects to have the capacity to
train up to 2,000 to 3,000 food safety officials in 2011.
Food Safety News recently had a chance to chat with Jerry Wojtala, executive director of IFPTI, about the history of the organization and its critical role in fixing the U.S. food safety system. (See PART I of our discussion, on the history of IFPTI, here.)
Q: What is IFPTI’s current capacity and how would it be impacted with additional funding?
A: Right now the IFPTI is located in a building with Western Michigan University’s satellite campus in Battle Creek, and we have 26 classrooms available, as well as the hotel right across the street with a tremendous amount of space for training. The current approach has been to identify existing training and partner with people who already have training courses. FDA has been a great partner. We have either held or still have yet to hold about 12 courses that FDA has put together. But also, some of the other association courses, so the initial approach has been to identify some existing courses and test out some models, so we have been bringing out folks into Battle Creek for training, we’ve been holding some training in other cities around the US.
With increased funding, what we’d like to do is not only identify some additional courses that need to be developed. In partnership with the 50 state training work group, we’re working closely to identify the universal existing courses and to identify the courses against some known competencies for people in the food protection profession. Then we can identify gaps in training and then try to fill them.
Eventually, one of the charges of the 50 state training workgroup is to look at job-task analyses and eventually certification. We’d like to eventually see a certification for people in food protection so that, for example, for someone to pass from entry-level into junior-level, they would have completed a certain curriculum and achieved some sort of certification for that. They would be required to take certain courses in order to achieve a certification.
Certification really ties together with integration because if we can assure that folks have met certain training requirements, then we can have some assurance that any inspection, whether it takes place at a local, state, or federal level has some equivalent level of assurance. If we can do that, we can really increase the capacity that is out there. That’s really what we think integration is all about: leveraging a lot of the existing capacity which isn’t being leveraged right now.
Q: Obviously a lot of state budgets are hurting, and there are a lot of public health officials worried about food safety inspections decreasing. Does IFPTI reimburse with training, or how does that work?
A: That’s correct. Budgets, as you mentioned, at the state and local level, are a huge concern. Things are not getting better, they’re getting worse, and as we all know, one of the first things that has happens is that training budgets get cut when you’re just trying to keep people to out doing the work, so that’s a huge concern.
There’s all sorts of states right now that have restrictions on training, and restrictions on travel, and restrictions on spending money, so IFPTI wants to focus on the state and local regulators and help reimburse their travel to take courses. One other way we want to do this is to increase the instructor pool so we can send instructors around, and bring training to jurisdictions who can’t travel out of state. For now, we’re also bringing people to Battle Creek and that’s one of the things we want to continue to do–is to make Battle Creek a training academy central, so that all other things can spring out of this effort. We hope that there will be other food science and food safety offshoots of this whole effort.
Q: Food safety regulation on the state level varies a lot state to state, is there going to be any specific outreach to certain states that are perhaps known for having inferior food safety infrastructure? Will you be targeting the most vulnerable states, or is it kind of going to be up to those states to seek out IFPTI training?
A: That’s a great question. Obviously we want to try to get the folks who really need the training. One way that we want to approach that is to work closely with FDA, and look at the manufacturer food regulatory program standards. As you know, there are the retail standards and the manufactured foods standards programs. Right now, in standard two, there is training required in those standards. At this point, there’s no mandatory requirement that states participate in those standards. We’ll be able to identify needs of states as we work closely with standards state by state.
Q: How different are the standards state from state on training? Do you find that they’re wildly different, or is it more about really just establishing harmonization? How great is the need for it?
A: There really is not only no mandatory uniform training out there that states follow, but absolutely no career-standard curriculum or training, and so it’s kind of hit or miss right now.
A jurisdiction in any part of the country might decide to train some of their staff by bringing in an extension specialist from the university, or wait once a year to get an FDA course that comes around to their state. If you have canning plants in your state and you hired some new folks and you want to get them trained in canning, you might not get a canning course coming to your state for a number of years, not only because of time and budget, but because of the availability of courses.
Right now there’s a lot of reliance on one or two courses a year from FDA and then it’s kind of hit or miss trying to find courses and attend conferences. We think there’s a better way to do that. I should say that that doesn’t mean that IFPTI is going to create these courses and those are going to be the only courses that folks can take. We want to leverage a lot of the other associations and people who have courses already in existence and identify the competencies that those courses need.
Q: Assuming a food safety bill eventually does come to fruition, how will that effect what you guys are doing?
A: When you look at the current food safety legislation, there seems to be a lot in there about the integration. We think it’s important to integrate state and local agencies in a national food safety system, and really the only way you can assure that integration is successful is to assess and to train. We really think training is one of the key components in integration, and I think that it’s kind of recognition as we look at some of the federal funding that has started to come our way.
We really think that training is really part of the larger integration effort to improve the food safety system.
Q: So this really does rely on the federal government committing to improving and expanding the food safety system, correct?
A: That’s right, and you know, FDA has already indicated that they are committed to integration and so I think its just a matter now of everyone rolling their sleeves up and trying to figure out how to do that, and I think we’ve already started seeing some efforts.
For more information about the training institute, visit www.ifpti.org.