Changes in the food industry, including increased regulatory attention on food safety, are having profound effects on career development paths and opportunities for food safety professionals, according to experts involved in industry and academia. The Food Safety Modernization Act, along with other factors, has resulted in a growing demand for both young, entry-level food safety professionals and more experienced hands—the future leaders in the field. At the same time, a movement toward formalizing training in a systematic fashion is under way.
“We have certainly seen companies hire more food safety professionals recently, and also there are more and more individuals who are into their careers in their fields going back to school to attain higher degrees,” said Michael Roberson, director of corporate quality assurance for Publix Super Markets Inc., of Lakeland, Fla. “This is something that a lot of people in the food industry are working on: trying to find the next generation of leaders in food safety and quality assurance, developing those leaders, seeing where those leaders are coming from.”
“I’d say there has been a push in food safety for the past couple of years,” said Moira McGrath, president of OPUS International, an executive search firm specializing in technical positions in the food science industry. “Food safety has become a huge area for food manufacturers to stock up and staff up.”
Staffing up is also taking place on the regulatory side. In response to the passage and ongoing implementation of the FSMA, regulatory agencies in the U.S. have been adding entry-level personnel and moving talented individuals into leadership roles.
“On the regulatory side, there are concerns in some states of a food safety workforce with no succession planning. This can be concerning, especially if there are many retirements at one time,” Roberson said.
As a result, efforts have begun to standardize food safety training and define career paths in the field, according to industry and regulatory observers. At the same time, some educational institutions are attempting to align their food safety programs with these career paths, as they advise students about the professional possibilities for young people with food safety degrees.
‘Before these young people even get into their careers, they can start aligning with some of these professions and careers, so it really provides a pathway right from their education into their careers, and then [as they] continue training.’
—Gerald Wojtala, IFPTI
Integration of Industry with Regulations
The International Food Protection Training Institute (IFPTI) was formed in 2009 to address a lack of standardization and integration in the training of food safety inspectors and regulators. The IFPTI, based in Battle Creek, Mich. and supported by grants from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is an initiative of the Global Food Protection Institute and is closely aligned with the Association of Food and Drug Officials.
In its first couple of years of operation, the IFPTI focused mainly on training regulators and inspectors, but it is broadening its focus to address the whole range of food safety professionals, including those working in industry, according to officials with the institute.
“Yes, the first focus was on the regulatory community, but we realize that we need to connect and link all the training networks and training providers through a system. It’s really a systems approach, not limited to regulators,” said Gerald Wojtala, executive director of the IFPTI. “If you talk to folks in industry, they’ll readily tell you that there’s so much in common in food safety issues and training that you shouldn’t have separation, whether it’s regulatory or industry or laboratory people or veterinarians. So we want to make sure there is not a lot of duplication and that people are getting common training across the board, across professions.”