University of Guelph launches online food safety program

Spun from food safety program developed for Loblaw's global food suppliers three years ago

Food safety expert Mansel Griffiths says any Canadian food business worth its salt has a program in place to provide employees with hands-on training on the do's and don'ts of proper food handling.

But he says those programs can't and don't provide the deeper level of understanding about food safety that a new international online program launched by the University of Guelph does.

"It's designed to help organizations develop a food safety culture," said Mansel, a food science professor at the Ontario university and the director of the Canadian Research Institute of Food Safety. "It fosters an attitude of good practices from staff who slice meat or work in quality assurance to production and management."

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Spun from a food safety program that the university's department of food science developed for Loblaw's global food suppliers, the interactive online program is made up of seven training modules that are given over six months.

Module topics include regulatory affairs, risk analysis, incident management, social media, raw materials and finished product specifications, allergen management, plant layout, foreign matter prevention and detection, shelf life and challenge studies, listeria monitoring and control, nutrition labeling, and validation and verification.

The first module is scheduled to begin in February.

Registration for the augural $2,000 program opened in early December.

"We're already getting inquiries from around the world," said program co-ordinator Bill Lachowsky.

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An agriculture and food education expert at UGuelph, Lachowsky helped develop Loblaw's online program three years ago to help educate global suppliers of its President's Choice brand.

"Because there are so many food safety standards and programs, they wanted a generic vendor operating standards (or VOS)," Lachowsky said about the program.

Dubbed Loblaw Academy, it was the brainchild of Loblaw senior vice-president food safety Mike Liewen.

Lachowsky said the original program was comprised of ten modules and had 85 participants from around the world.

That was pared down to six modules and a "Big Picture" segment in its second year, when enrollment jumped to 260.

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Now in its third year, the program has 160 participants from companies that supply Loblaw's PC brand with everything from bottled water and confectionary to produce and meat products.

According to Lachowsky, participant surveys reflect high levels of satisfaction.

"People love because they get to interact and share resources and experience and knowledge with other people in the food industry on every continent except Antarctica," he said.

That success, he added, led to the development of the new program, which is not specific to Loblaw.

"It's great that people in the food industry everywhere can now benefit from this program," Lachowsky told Canadian Grocer. "They can learn the latest information about food safety whenever they are according to their schedule."

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