How Land O’Lakes Venture37 is helping the Government of Egypt bolster its food safety system with a first-of-its-kind technical assistance project
The United States has long been recognized as a leader in food safety, with well-established federal and state food safety programs, and robust inspection through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
However, this isn’t the case for many nations whose food safety programs are still evolving.
“Reliable food inspection isn’t just critical for quality of life – it’s essential to open new opportunities for trade and exports, because international customers look for compliance with international food safety norms,” explains Alex Samel, Chief of Party for Land O’Lakes Venture37 in Egypt. “Egypt is a great example of a nation that is moving from a highly-fragmented and variable food safety system to a more robust, national, standardized system that will open new doors for economic growth.”
In February, Egypt issued formal regulations establishing its National Food Safety Authority (NFSA), a major step forward that established a singular regulator of food safety in Egypt. This new authority is charged with integrating together thousands of existing inspectors spanning multiple agencies and localities, and a patchwork of different food safety protocols. A standardized food safety protocol and training program represents a critical first step toward addressing inefficiencies in monitoring, inconsistent findings and recommendations from inspector to inspector.
That’s where Land O’Lakes Venture37, working with experts at the International Food Protection Training Institute (IFPTI), has stepped in to help – delivering knowledge and expertise developed by the FDA and USDA. The project, Transforming the Assessment and Inspection of Food Businesses (TAIB), launched late last year
with support from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service via the Food for Progress program.
Launched nearly 40 years ago by Land O’Lakes, Inc., one of America’s largest farmer-owned cooperatives, Land O’Lakes Venture37 is a nonprofit that brings experience deploying technical expertise in support of development goals – and through robust cross-sector partnerships, the project has achieved important early milestones.
“This is the first food safety technical assistance project to take the successful training model used to standardize food safety training in the U.S. and deliver it to a government that has requested support to enhance its own national inspection system,” says Samel. “Egypt’s food safety inspectors are now receiving the same training provided to our FDA and USDA inspectors in the United States – delivered by the same expert training organization. It’s a critical first step to help Egypt in its quest to standardize inspections.”
Working together with IFPTI experts, Land O’Lakes Venture37 led a program in April for 13 NFSA inspector-trainers who received a modified version of FDA’s FD-170 food safety training course – as well as guidance on how to deliver the FD-170 instruction themselves.
“Think of this as Food Safety Inspection 101, the standardized course that anyone inspecting food and agricultural products in a standardized system needs to receive,” says Gerald Wojtala, Executive Director of IFPTI. “By starting with this initial overview course, the aim is to equip Egyptian inspectors with the same basic ground rules and processes for inspections, no matter where they are located in Egypt. To build capacity, we’re taking a ‘train-the-trainer’ approach. Those who receive technical assistance through our training programs will be equipped to serve as instructors themselves, taking the expertise and knowledge of this system across Egypt.”
During the training, NFSA’s inspectors received hands-on training on how to conduct a proper risk-based inspection, a key principle of any modern inspecting program, and to take samples utilizing modern equipment. For many, this was their first time utilizing sterilized sampling equipment, something NFSA has committed to requiring in the future.
Partly because this is the first time the FDA program has been adapted and delivered to a foreign inspecting authority, Samel says the program is already drawing additional interest in the region.
“We’ve seen incredible progress following the initial April training, as Egypt’s NFSA is fully committed to success and is now implementing the training course for all existing and newly transferred inspectors,” he says. “In a major sign of support, momentum and excitement for this program, Egypt is also showcasing the training course to visiting delegations, including the equivalent food safety authority in Morocco. We are proud of what has been achieved in the early months of the program, and we credit the Government of Egypt and NFSA leaders for their strong commitment to making progress.”
In the long-term, establishing and implementing a standardized food safety protocol in Egypt is an important step to help open new doors for international trade. For example, shared food safety protocols are a key element of a potential two-way trade agreement with the United States that would enhance opportunity for farmers in both nations. And while the program is in its first of five years, the NFSA has already moved to expand their inspector training, bolstered by the FD-170 training program to standardize the inspection training process.
It’s a strong start to a deliberate, long-term approach to building standardized capacity for Egypt’s food safety authority – all leveraging the support of the U.S. Government and technical expertise from Land O’Lakes and IFPTI.
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(Note: Specifically for this project, Land O’Lakes Venture37 remains known as Land O’Lakes International Development within Egypt.)