Food processors in Iowa are essential not only to increasing the quantity and diversity of food in their areas, but also in creating employment opportunities for members of their communities. However, to be successful, they must pay attention to food safety, sanitation and preparation. A new online training program from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach will help Iowa’s food processors meet these goals.
“The two-part training provides education on food safety concepts and best practices, and reviews quality assurance standards and control measures essential to proper food processing. The training is free, online and module-based,” said Shannon Coleman, a food and health state extension specialist and an assistant professor in food science and human nutrition.
Iowa’s Department of Inspections and Appeals requires that food processors uphold the standards set in FDA Code of Federal Regulations. Due to a lack of resources focused on smaller operations, training options for these guidelines and standards have been limited.
“This new training program is essential, as the state of Iowa expects that processors implement a food safety program to obtain a food processing license,” said Coleman. “An appropriate plan can ensure safe food is consistently produced in their facilities.”
Course modules provide essential education
The online course contains two modules. Current Good Manufacturing Practices focuses on general practices and procedures recommended by the FDA to ensure product safety and quality. Participants will review the requirements for methods, facilities and controls used in the manufacturing, processing and packing of a food product. The Functionality of Food Components module outlines how each ingredient in a product formula or recipe adds different functionality to the final product. Reactions between ingredients such as carbohydrates, proteins, water and fats plus mechanical action, temperature and other factors have a large impact on the quality of the final product. Understanding the chemical breakdown will greatly improve food quality.
“Food safety and the functionality of ingredients are both challenges in new product development,” Coleman said. “We hope to provide the knowledge emerging and current food processors need to help prevent food safety hazards on the processing floor and ensure all food products are safe to eat.”
On the online learning site, participants will be provided with the course overview, a platform navigation video and a list of course expectations. They’ll also find three to five lecture videos per topic, learning activities, and knowledge assessments and several resources about topics on which they have received instruction.
“The course includes problem-centered and real-world scenarios that will provide processors with a broadened knowledge of their product and confidence to implement their new knowledge,” Coleman said.
Incentives for Iowa participants
Currently for pilot offering, ISU Extension and Outreach specialists are offering incentives to Iowa participants who complete the online training. Five individual Iowa food processors will be selected to receive a Good Manufacturing Practices Assessment from Iowa State’s Center for Industrial Research and Service. (The first three Iowa processors who complete the training by Dec. 1 will be selected; an additional two Iowa processors will be selected from the next 30 who complete the program by Dec.17.)
The GMP Assessment is a summary look at the physical aspects of food processing good manufacturing practices done by a former FDA investigator using the food regulations as the assessment tool. The assessment is typically about a half-day’s worth of time during which extension specialists examine the company’s facility, equipment, processes and procedures through in-person, real-time observations. Coaching will be offered in real time with feasible options discussed for improvement. It is also designed to fast-track identifiable areas in GMPs that could be strengthened and areas that have achieved the level of food safety needed to be a food processor. The total value of each assessment is approximately $600.
In addition to this incentive, five individual Iowa companies will be able to submit one product for analytic testing for pH, water activity, color, etc. The total value of each submission is approximately $200.
“This new online training will build upon the agricultural economy of Iowa, while also providing an opportunity for these processors to move their product to the next level,” Coleman said. During the pilot phase, registration is free. Interested participants can register at https://registration.extension.iastate.edu/emc00/register.aspx?OrgCode=10&EvtID=18690&AppCode=REG&CC=121100813753.