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The Food Safety Knowledge Network Platform and Approach

The FSKN began as a collaboration between Michigan State University and the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) of the Paris-based Consumer Goods Forum and now includes several knowledge development and funding partners.  The overall objectives of FSKN platform are to:

  1. facilitate the production of safer food on a global basis
  2. transfer knowledge throughout the supply chain on a global basis
  3. enable career development, education and enhanced mobility for food safety professionals
  4. enhance the competitiveness of small growers and producers and enable access to high value export markets for emerging countries
  5. ultimately to achieve pragmatic cost reductions through the elimination of corrective actions and more efficient auditing
  6. secure the supplier base in terms of legality and food safety with improved conformity
  7. reduce perceived barriers to trade through the development and application of food safety competencies.

The specific aims of the FSKN are to:

  1. develop internationally recognized competences in relation to food safety for individuals at all levels and in all sectors of the food supply chain
  2. promote knowledge transfer within the food safety community.

The FSKN achieves these aims by harmonizing existing technical food safety training schemes through the development of the competencies of food safety professionals, recognized by international stakeholders, both from the public and the private sectors.

The FSKN is a collaborative platform that provides free access to high-quality, standardized learning resources in a highly scalable manner.  To that end, all content is shared on the internet as Open Educational Resources (OER) under Creative Commons licensing via the FSKN portals at FSKNtraining and Food Safety Knowledge Network.

The FSKN uses open source tools and openly-licensed materials encouraging development of derivative works that only require attribution to source and sharing under similar license as standardized FSKN content. This approach enables other users to customize, translate, and localize content for specific audiences or sectors of the food industry, and share these derivative works through either the MSU FSKN portals or their own web sites.

The FSKN utilizes a standardized approach to content development and localization, which is illustrated in Figure 1.  The initial step in content development for a particular food industry sector (or scope), is to determine the specific food safety requirements for companies in that sector.  This determination will include consideration of both public sector (e.g. government laws and regulations, Codex Alimentarius standards, etc.) and private sector (e.g. private food safety schemes such as those benchmarked by the GFSI) requirements.  For example, the FSKN first focused on developing educational content to support the GFSI Global Markets Protocols for the food manufacturing sector, which have established basic- and intermediate-level requirements for companies who wish to supply products to GFSI-member retailers in emerging markets (learn more about GFSI).  Thus, the educational content of the FSKN is based on internationally accepted norms for food safety standards and practices.

Figure 1. FSKN approach to content development and localization.

Following establishment of the company requirements, the FSKN approach then determines the competencies required of individuals who are responsible for managing food safety in these companies.  The competencies are defined through a standardized process (essentially a “job task analysis”) that links the company requirements to specific knowledge and skills required for the individuals who manage food safety on a daily basis.  For example, the competency framework for the GFSI Global Markets “Basic Level for Food Manufacture” scope consists of 90 competency definitions in 13 topic areas.  The competency frameworks are defined by working groups who have a breadth of expertise in the field.

After defining the competency frameworks which define the knowledge and skills required for persons responsible for food safety in the organization, standardized educational content is developed which conveys knowledge and skills relative to each competency.  The generic educational content is developed by MSU faculty specialists and others in partner organizations having specialized food safety knowledge.  This standardized educational content is provided in a variety of formats including PowerPoint slides, narrative story boards, digitally-captured presentations, formal eLearning modules, and other formats.  Providing the material in a variety of formats enables the learner to choose learning styles suitable to their particular needs and interests.

After development of the standardized educational content, MSU collaborates with partner organizations to adapt and localize the standardized resources with respect to language, local practices and cultural considerations, as well as to meet the needs of specific industry sectors.  Typically, we collaborate with academic institutions, competent regulatory authorities, development partners, or the private sector to develop these localized FSKN resources.  These localized resources are then used to educate and train food safety managers in the countries where we are engaged in food and agriculture development projects.  In addition to MSU-guided localization efforts, several FSKN partners such as UNIDO and IFC have also developed localized FSKN content with their partners in countries such as Egypt, Ukraine and Russia.

Initial development and pilot testing of the FSKN has demonstrated the efficacy of standardized training materials developed for the food manufacturing sector to improve knowledge and practices of food workers.  This effort also has been highly collaborative and resulted in numerous partnerships with public- and private-sector organizations to address food safety education needs.  Examples of key partnerships MSU has leveraged for the FSKN initiative include GFSI, food companies (e.g. The Coca-Cola Company, METRO, and several others), UNIDO, IFC, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, several universities in the US and other countries (e.g. Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Can Tho University, Kasetsart University, University of Maryland – Joint Institute of Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, The Ohio State University), and service providers to the food industry.

As a result of these efforts, FSKN educational materials including full courses and disaggregated resources are now available in multiple languages including English, Arabic, Chinese, Ukrainian, Russian, Spanish, Hindi, Tamil, Telegu and Marathi.  Additional FSKN content is currently being translated in Thai and Vietnamese and localized to reflect the needs of their fruit and vegetable production and processing sectors.  The majority of FSKN material is currently aligned with the GFSI Global Markets Protocols for Food Manufacturers, but the platform can readily accommodate any standardized content and competency framework.  Also, because the platform uses open source tools, metadata aligned with standards, targeted discoverability through content curation and push technologies, the platform enables a distributed network to be developed with localized information.  Collectively, it is anticipated these efforts will constitute a vital set of resources to build capacity of global food professionals and businesses to ultimately conform and comply against the appropriate requirements.