(Editor’s Note: This is an online-only article attributed to the February/March 2018 issue.)
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Recent severe outbreaks of illness from tainted packaged food have been traced to everything from Listeria in frozen vegetables, packaged salads, and ice cream, to E. coli in cookie dough, botulism in pasteurized carrot juice, and Salmonella in peanut butter. And the human toll of these outbreaks is devastating.
The CDC estimates that tainted food sickens 48 million consumers a year, sends 128,000 to the hospital, and causes the death of 3,000.
The financial effect on individuals and the nation’s economy is equally substantial. As noted in Fortune magazine in May 2016, the annual cost of medical treatment, lost productivity, and illness-related mortality due to contaminated food is $55.5 billion annually. That’s according to a 2015 study by Robert Scharff, an associate professor at The Ohio State University.
The impact on the health of businesses is also extreme. In 2011, the Grocery Manufacturers Association surveyed three dozen companies to measure the impact of food recalls caused by unsafe food practices. More than half reported being impacted by a recall in the previous five years. Cost of these recalls ranged from $30 million to $100 million. Along with the direct costs came reputational damage, which can’t be precisely quantified but inevitably raised the price tag of recalls substantially.
Signed into law in 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was created to reduce these human, financial, and reputational costs. Reliable exam and certification programs are now required to assess the knowledge of the industry’s workforce to help do so.
Testing and Assessment
Professionals in the food industry should be well versed in food safety certification and licensure programs, which are of vital importance to operations and to the public.
As Holly Dance, vice president for food safety testing and assessment solutions at Prometric, points out, “Time and time again the importance of reliable testing has shown how it can assess both the effectiveness of your training and the knowledge your employees have retained from that training. Being able to apply food safety learnings to keep the public safe is one of the most critical measures that will contribute to your long-term business success.”
Workers who handle food should be able to demonstrate their knowledge and qualifications accurately, while employers should be assured that their employees have the skills to do the job they have been hired to do. Overall, those who work in the food, restaurant, and retail industries need to be active participants in the safeguarding of public health and safety.
A Successful Testing Program
There are three key components that are critical to the success of a testing program for food safety certification.
First, a company or organization must work with a quality-driven food safety assessment provider. That provider should: collaborate with subject matter experts (SMEs) to ensure currency and relevancy; stay in constant touch with the particular segment of the food industry; meet the industry’s standards; maintain a deep and proven pool of talent; and invest in continuous evaluation.
Second, the provider must deliver reliable and relatable exam content. That content must: be responsive to market needs; be inclusive of varied professional interests; adhere to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards for consumer protection when accrediting job skills analysis and existing specifications; accurately reflect FDA Food Code and food safety guidelines; use a rigorous exam creation cycle; and continuously evaluate exams to correlate with market needs and trends.
Third, the provider must deliver exams that properly and securely assess the workforce. These exams must be created by actively soliciting industry input, incorporating interactive scenarios that mirror real workplace situations, and giving test takers the opportunity to provide feedback. That feedback should be used to enhance the exams and make adaptations to assure they remain relevant to the workforce and the industry.
Of all these elements of excellence, the most critical to success, from the standpoint of the assessment provider, is working with SMEs from the food safety industry to shape the methodology of creating exams. SMEs have in-depth experience in food safety and provide invaluable insights into the various industry sectors that must be devoted to food safety. Working with SMEs when creating exams helps ensure that assessments are relevant, rigorous, and accurately reflect the test taker’s ability to perform in the workplace.
As content updates to exams and certification programs occur on a regular basis, working with SMEs also results in higher-quality question sets, as well as quicker turnaround when updates are required.
Prometric’s Certified Professional Food Manager program, for example, is accredited by both ANSI and the Conference for Food Protection. Covering both retail and restaurant environments, it has been designed to mirror real-life situations that lead to the understanding of critical food safety principles and the ability to apply that knowledge at work. And for those who handle food, or work indirectly with food items in food preparation or serving areas, Prometric developed the Professional Food Handler Certificate. This program helps test takers demonstrate that they know how to: implement food safety practices to prevent illness, contamination, and pest infestation; properly clean and sanitize food prep and serving areas; identify appropriate personal hygiene protocols; manage time and temperature control; and recognize allergens and symptoms of allergic reactions.
Ever since the Pure Food and Drug act passed Congress in 1906, the food industry has made continual progress in delivering safe, wholesome groceries and meals to the American public. But as the statistics at the beginning of this article make clear, that commitment to progress must always be top of mind for restaurants, groceries, and other institutions. Through participation in exams, assessments, and certification programs, the industry can fulfill this commitment.
Williams is senior vice president of test development solutions at Prometric, a provider of food assessment solutions. Reach him at Stephen.firstname.lastname@example.org.