The Global Food Safety Curricula Initiative (GFSCI) is reaching around the world to harness the power of education in response to continuing concerns about food safety, one of today’s most pressing public health priorities. Since its inception in 2012, significant progress has been made towards identifying gaps in food safety curricula and building capacity, and establishing and harmonizing core competencies at the university and graduate levels for global application to ensure long-term food safety benefits from the farm to the table. Ultimately, this initiative will result in a future work force across nations and regions throughout the world that will have the skills necessary to handle food safety issues and reduce risk management through their work in government, industry and academia.

The International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) is leading the GFSCI, commissioned by the Global Food Safety Partnership and facilitated by the World Bank. It presented a report to the second GFSP meeting December 2014 summarizing results generated from responses to GFSCI surveys distributed around the world, which reveal both challenges and opportunities in food safety programming, and in facilitating working groups formed to consider and define a global food safety curricula.

The GFSCI has a number of specific goals:

• Identify and harmonize core competencies for undergraduate and graduate food safety programmes and provide a syllabi for food safety programmes

• Establish a process for acknowledgement of food safety programmes operating at international standard

• Provide databases with food safety graduates and professionals, existing food safety students and internship and co-op opportunities around the world

• Establish a Master’s programme in Global Food Safety Leadership

Collaboration Is Key
In order to achieve them, it has the support and assistance of multidisciplinary stakeholders and IUFoST is using its unique collaborative approach to bring together academics, scientists and industry and government/nongovernmental experts from many fields from around the world to assess, harmonize and endorse the core competencies needed for global food safety programmes and to develop the mechanisms necessary to benchmark them.

Global collaboration is a key element of the GFSCI and communications materials, including a website, were developed to introduce the GFSCI, provide updates on progress and generate survey and core curricula-related responses. Global outreach required the creation of generic and targeted distribution lists. In addition to IUFoST-specific contact material, 11 databases were created in conjunction with GFSCI communications plans and surveys to enhance global representation and participation in the GFSCI process, while also developing a comprehensive global Food Safety network. These databases represent a unique and valuable resource for future work, consultation and prospecting for additional contacts.

Food Safety Survey
Three surveys are in circulation, each with a different focus: academic; industry, government and nongovernmental organizations; and current food safety programme students. These surveys were designed to provide baseline comparative analysis of the current status of food safety programming, including supply and demand aspects. Each survey was prepared in consultation with a variety of groups and individuals to gather feedback on the content of the surveys prior to their release to ensure that they met survey objectives and provide the desired qualitative and quantitative results to facilitate next steps.

Key Survey Findings
Analysis of survey responses provided many unique insights, particularly regarding the supply (academic) and demand (industry) aspects of food safety education, allowing comparison of the education needs of Industry with the food safety education provided by food safety programmes. Additional insights are anticipated with further survey respondents, but compelling findings to date indicate that:

• Food safety education programmes are growing rapidly. Globally, almost 40 percent of all Institutions have been offering food safety programmes for less than a decade.

• Many types of Food Safety programmes are offered. Over 80 percent of all academic survey respondents reported offering Graduate programmes, and over two-thirds provided Undergraduate Food Safety degrees. Only 15 percent offered distance education programming. 

• The number of students graduating annually in all types of food safety programmes varied considerably among respondents. Over half of the Academic Institutions surveyed indicated that they had an annual graduating class of between 11–100 students and 11 percent graduated between 100–500 students annually.

• Programme length varied considerably between regions.

• While most academic institutions indicated that almost all of their food safety students were university students, over 2/3 of all respondents reported that at least some of their students were food industry employees. Over 75 percent of all industry survey respondents indicated that managers, team leaders and quality assurance employees take food safety training. An even higher proportion of multinational respondents indicated that those employees had food safety training, as well as 80 percent of all supervisors.

• Academic survey results indicate that hands-on training is a component of many food safety programmes.

• Industry survey results indicate a greater need for more training in both practical laboratory work and internships for potential employees. Across all food safety programmes, more priority was placed on practical lab training than on internships. Just over half of all academic survey respondents indicated Internships were part of their food safety programmes, while almost as many respondents indicated they did not offer internships.  Globally, schools offered internships of varying length, ranging from less than one month to greater than three months. Schools offered internships in various workplaces, including industry, government and the community.

• Practical lab training was much more of a priority for all schools, with over 80 percent including this in their food safety training. Lab training varied considerably in both the type of training and the number of hours required. Type of training included individual, group, independent and demonstration lab training. Number of hours varied from 2 to 500.

• The amount of practical experience offered as part of a food safety programmes differed depending on the level of the training offered.

• Industry respondents differed on a regional basis in their opinions of which areas new applicants needed additional training. Over 3/4 of all Industry respondents reported that new potential employees needed more Internship experience. Industry respondents also indicated that more than half of all job applicants needed additional lab training, with significant regional differences.

• Industry survey respondents identified specific coursework that new job applicants needed additional training beyond what is currently offered through their education.   

• Hygiene and sanitation, food microbiology and food laws were three areas in which job applicants needed additional training, according to Industry respondents. Multinational Industry respondents ALL indicated Hygiene and Sanitation was an area new potential employees needed additional training.  

• To prepare students for work in the food industry, courses most often offered by academic institutions included microbiology, food processing and food analysis. Forty percent of all academic institutions offered training in food laws to their students.

• Industry respondents also offered insights into valuable soft skill competencies in global food safety, including problem solving and decision-making, international food safety awareness and personal commitment to food safety culture.

• Only half of all Industry respondents felt that their new job applicants were ‘very prepared’ with written communication skills; 24 percent reported that new applicants were ‘very prepared’ in leadership. Globally, new applicants were considered ‘unprepared’ in other soft skills, including ‘influencing others’ and ‘critical judgment’.

• Almost 3/4 of all industry respondents indicated that they would benefit from a global food safety curriculum. Respondents provided insights into challenges, including political and implementation difficulties depending on the size of the corporation, the nature of their product and size of their organization.

Survey respondents and other contacts have been invited to join a graduate/professional database that will be accessed in the future by GFSCI-related organizations seeking food safety expertise in the respondents’ region. This promises to be another important GFSCI resource and is promoted on the GFSCI website and in communication materials and outreach.

Core Competencies
Results from the surveys will inform the work of Core Curricula Working Groups, considering the core competencies needed at each level. Research on existing curricula development is underway and preliminary review of a number of published works has been completed.

Analysis and consultation has been initiated to provide a starting point for discussions on the development of core competencies by allowing respondents to rate food safety programmes. Currently, experts from many fields are examining and considering the core competencies needed at each level with partners across academia, industry and government at the national, regional and international levels.

The core competencies of food safety undergraduate and graduate programming will be based on the outcomes of the work of these groups. Mechanisms related to recognition and any benchmarking adhering to the established global standard will be developed. An Industry and Government Advisory Board is providing critical insights in all key elements of the GFSCI.

GFSCI Next Steps
Surveys will remain open into 2015 to allow continued compilation of responses from around the world. Existing data will be factored into core competencies work currently underway. Development of the core curricula preliminary assessment form, graduate/professional and current student databases will continue to be developed. Future steps also include completion of a comprehensive syllabi, facilitating acknowledgement of food safety programmes through a recognition process, and development of a leadership Master’s curricula, with project completion scheduled for the end of 2017.

Lesley Peppin, Susanna Rosebush and Judith Meech, GFSCI Secretariat of the International Union of Food Science and Technology