There is a need for a framework to evaluate the effectiveness of food safety skills and education programs, according to a report published by Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

The report identified food safety training programs globally, whether they have an impact on reducing foodborne illnesses and deaths, and their use in different cultures and social settings. The study was funded by the foundation and authored by Alex Caveen, Michaela Archer and Mike Platt of RS Standards, a consultancy firm.

Current metrics tend to be developed for specific initiatives or locations. Recommendations to create a universal framework include identifying informal publications from food safety evaluation programs and drawing on existing knowledge to create guidance to monitor and evaluate food safety training. Before designing a training program, one of the first steps is to understand the specific risks through benchmarking, according to the report.

Need to evaluate existing work
Several programs were identified with initiatives led by organizations such as the FAO, WHO, the World Bank, International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST), and the GFSI.

Training programs are put into three types: formal such as professional qualifications and structured learning; non-formal including semi-structured learning; and informal including on-the-job, experience-based learning. Training for businesses, public programs, remote learning and food safety culture are also covered.

There are several organizations with an interest in developing training and capacity building programs, with often overlapping remits leading to inter-institutional politics and resource inefficiencies in funding and delivery of work, the report states.

The foundation’s foresight review of food safety in 2019 said that improving training and education was one of three core areas to reduce illnesses and deaths from contaminated food.

Tim Slingsby, director of skills and education at Lloyd’s Register Foundation, said there needs to be practical guidance for monitoring and evaluating training in different social contexts.

“Currently, evidence from peer-reviewed literature linking food safety training to reductions in food safety incidents is non-existent. While there are a range of programs run by private and institutional food safety training providers and international organizations, there is a lack of monitoring and evaluation to evidence their effectiveness,” he said.

Slingsby said there is often a lack of resource and capability for collecting data in low and middle income countries (LMICs).

“To have a lasting impact on the food safety performance in LMICs, broader development factors such as lack of infrastructure, poverty and levels of literacy need to be factored to ensure the programs are inclusive and not just serving the needs of higher-end markets.”

Evidence gap on training impact
Only 11 peer-reviewed studies were found that measured the impact of training programs in LMICs.

Standard training plus behavioral interventions such as incentive rewards and management support appeared to be the best way of improving handler performance.

Experts found a lack of information on the costs benefits of different types of training, the level be it basic or advanced, and other factors such as availability of tools and equipment, motivation and cultural dimensions. Employee attitudes, beliefs, and motivation were found to be more influential in shaping food safety behavior than just knowledge.

Training should also not be a one-time occurrence and behavior could be improved through regular refreshers, according to the report. Success will be reflected in improved business compliance seen through inspections, and companies with a high level of compliance will have a lower number of incidents.

The foundation is running programs in East Africa and the Caribbean to build workforce capacity with the FAO. In East Africa the focus is on contamination of grains by aflatoxins produced by mold in cereal supply chains. In the Caribbean, education is targeted at the tourism industry to reduce food poisoning in food service and provide assurance in a sector that these countries’ economies depend on.

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