Industry and policy makers know food safety requires growers, processors and distributors to deliver safe food. That means food safety training and capacity building have to be effective. To figure out what is working, data needs to be shared and evaluated. For this, the public and private sectors need to collaborate.
That is also what the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 calls for. Congress mandated FDA to develop plans for international food safety training and capacity building to reduce foodborne disease. Under FSMA Phase III, mandatory training by producers and processors needs monitoring and evaluating. That can succeed only with adequate data. We believe a public-private partnership to collect and share data could promote FSMA compliance and safe food.
Under FSMA, the move from voluntary to mandatory training requires new ways of handling food supply chains for any actors contributing to the U.S. food supply. Companies have incentives to collaborate, despite operating in a competitive space.
A single food safety event in a food sector can easily spill over to the whole sector. Similarly, a redirection of aid to fund improved training materials and techniques can benefit the entire sector.
Training for large-scale producers may not work for small-scale producers, like ones that cannot afford cutting-edge technologies or confront poor infrastructure, like unreliable electricity that undermines cold storage and testing labs.
With these challenges, ensuring food safety requires the efforts of many. In a cyclical way, companies need access to markets with safer products to generate sufficient returns to invest in food safety and sustain their businesses. Food safety depends on capacity building at all levels of the value chain.
From practical and business perspectives, stakeholders in both public and private sectors need to assess their efforts to see if they are meeting their own goals and if money is well spent. An efficient, systematic approach measures not only the training, but also the four stages of the training impact chain: immediate (impacts on training capacity), short-run (impacts on knowledge, attitudes, and skills), medium-run (impacts on behavior and outputs), and long-run (impacts on welfare). This requires data.
Stakeholders can come together initially to identify what types of indicators they are going to track and then agree on what data they will collect. Because capacity building data collection can be costly, it is also important to identify early on what types of data already exist and what is still needed.
The FDA inspects less than 2% of all imports into the U.S., providing only a limited snapshot of what is really occurring in the industry.
The private sector—producers, manufacturers, suppliers and sellers—also collects data for both internal (compliance and control) and external (reporting) purposes. If this data could be made available and aggregated, with trend information depicted over time, it could prove very useful for evaluating training and capacity building impact.
We see a sweet spot in the sharing and evaluation of training and capacity building data for food safety. Although public and private partners sometimes have different goals, they can converge where benefits meet expectations on both sides. Sensitive issues around confidentiality, competition, conflicts of interest, institutional integrity and consumer confidence can be addressed.
With FSMA as the starting point for collaboration, a public-private data sharing platform could facilitate capacity building monitoring and evaluation based on robust, evidence-based assessments. Our white paper describes not only the rationale, but also a structure and process that could lead to an effective, sustainable public-private partnership.
“Partnering with a purpose” may sound cliché, but now is an auspicious time to come together and leverage science to promote food safety. We look forward to adding momentum to food safety training and capacity building soon – stay tuned as we prepare for a listening session this summer to improve food safety training.