3.11.2014

Would those Nigerians benefit from B.C.'s FOODSAFE program?

Yesterday, I wrote about food handling practices in street food vendors in Nigeria, and how the research suggested that they food handlers would be well-served by some formal education and training, potentially provided or designed by the government for quality and consistency assurance. B.C. has such a program in place, and last year a group of researchers from one of the province's regional health authorities and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control did a study to determine the level of success of the program.

The researchers did a telephone survey, similar to that performed by the artisan cheese researchers mentioned previously, and looked at worker's knowledge and attitudes about food safety, as well as their (self-reported) hand washing practices. It's worth noting, before we get too far in, that in 2013, once you took FOODSAFE, you were certified for life. There was no expiry date on the certification, and no upgrades or re-training was required.

Unsurprisingly, the research found that workers with FOODSAFE training had scores that were "significantly higher" than untrained workers, and that they also had "significantly better hand washing practices". They also found that after 15 years of being certified, knowledge scores "significantly decreased". It's worth noting that this study interviewed nearly 700 individuals to achieve their data, as compared to the relatively low "n" value of the artisan cheese study.

Linear regression model showing years since
FOODSAFE taken (McIntyre, et al. 2013)
While the fact that trained FOODSAFE workers had a better grasp on food handling and hygiene practices, and hand washing techniques is not at all surprising, it was interesting to note the statistically significant trend in knowledge loss over time. As the regression model to the right shows, the longer it had been since FOODSAFE was taken, the worse the knowledge scores were. The provincial authorities took notice of this study: as of July, 2013 (this study was published in March, 2013), all FOODSAFE certifications have a five year expiry date (for those taken before July, 2013, the expiry date is July, 2018).

The study results mimic what other research has shown: specific, formal, food handling education increases the skills and abilities of workers to provide safe food to consumers. However, it also shows that just giving the education isn't enough to maintain the knowledge base; there is no "set it and forget it" approach that will maintain public health. When considering the quandary of the Nigerians, and their demonstrated need for food handling and hygiene training for street vendors, it's worth keeping the need for recurring training in mind. Granted, one-off training is better than nothing, but it's clearly not the best approach.

Source: McIntyre, L., Vallaster, L., Wilcott, L., Henderson, S.B., Kosatsky, T. (2013). Evaluation of food safety knowledge, attitudes and self-reported hand washing practices in FOODSAFE trained and untrained food handlers in British Columbia, Canada. Food Control, 30, 150-156.
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