The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program and the County College of Morris have introduced online training courses to teach employees of food production companies to protect the integrity of food during its preparation.
NJMEP is a nonprofit organization that advocates and provides training for manufacturing companies.
“NJMEP has been involved with food for about five years,” said Robert Salamone, director vertical engagements food industry specialist at NJMEP. “About 13 percent of the manufacturers in New Jersey are involved with food somewhere along the line. It is either in food processing or in actual manufacturing of food or making ingredients and support products during the supply chain for the companies who make food.”
Salamone noted that any company considered by the Food and Drug Administration to be involved with food manufacturing is responsible to meet safety requirements. “Traditionally all that training has been done in person.”
NJMEP provides the curriculum for the courses: current good manufacturing practices food allergens; food recall and withdrawal; food defense; and hazard analysis critical control points. The County College of Morris is providing the technological framework to offer these classes in an online format, Salamone said.
The organization offers these courses in person format to employees of New Jersey companies. The benefits of the in-person classes are real-time interaction with people whereas the drawbacks are the time and costs associated with employees moving from their workplaces to the location of the training, Salamone said.
Online courses offer the same curriculum but trainees learn at their own pace within 90 days.
Peter Okun, director of marketing and public relations at NJMEP, said New Jersey employed 35,000 people in the manufacturing of food in 2017. A person takes one course for up to 90 days and is tested throughout the course so they gauge their level of learning.
The online courses do not replace the in-person courses, Okun said. Instead they provide an alternative method of instruction, he said. The courses were developed in response to the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011. The law transformed the nation’s food safety system by shifting the focus from responding to food-borne illness to preventing it, according to the FDA. The FSMA rules are designed to make clear specific actions that must be taken at every production point to prevent contamination.
After meeting with clients, Salamone wanted to offer the same training yet save money by not sending them to a class. As a result, NJMEP and the County College of Morris combined forces to expand the training into online classes. Salamone sees value in keeping employees in their factories rather than bringing them to another location to take in-person training courses.
County College of Morris President Tony Iacono said the partnership with NJMEP is focused on content development, course design and instructional delivery. The collaboration ensures “we produced the highest levels of quality while also supporting industry standards and federal regulations such as ADA requirements.”
He added that the two partners share a philosophical approach. “Among the many things we have in common is the understanding that our business is supporting businesses,” Iacono said. “With this in mind, we are committed to the belief that by working together, sharing our expertise and resources, we can better meet the demands of business and industry. At CCM we do great things everyday but we do even greater things with partners like NJMEP.”
‘You could go to jail’
The dangers associated with food allergens underscore the importance of safety training. An allergen can kill people if it is introduced to food during production. Many potential allergens include eggs, tree nuts, milk, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, wheat and soybeans.
“When you make products, you have to make sure your allergens are isolated and they are not getting into your food production area,” Salamone said. “You have to make sure that nothing is contaminated so you do not get these products in the foods you are making. You have a civil liability and a criminal liability if something goes wrong.”
Incorrectly manufactured food must be recalled, Salamone noted. “If someone eats it, gets sick, or dies, you are considered negligent, you could go to jail.”
The Food Allergens course focuses on creating an effective foundational allergen control plan and handling allergen labeling on product ingredient labels and food recalls due to allergens.
The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points course teaches the seven principles of hazard analysis, critical limits, monitoring, corrective actions, critical control points, verification and record-keeping.
Current Good Manufacturing Practice Regulations and Readiness is a course designed to ensure the quality of products by establishing manufacturing procedures so that food is safe and has been prepared, packed and stored under hygienic conditions.
The Food Defense course demonstrates how to protect food from acts of intentional adulteration. Federal law seeks to prevent widespread harm to public health, including, but not limited to, acts of terrorism intended to target the food supply. Participants in this class will identify threats to the food manufacturing process from internal and external sources.
The Food Recall course teaches participants to develop a recall plan for their facility and to complete a first draft by the end of the course; to identify a key area of improvement and conduct risk assessment to make sure food is produced safely and identify the need to recall a food product. Finally, students learn how to test recall procedures with simulations, then develop improvements.