By Dr. Randy Huffman, Chief Food Safety Officer, Maple Leaf Foods
Food safety is not a subject that has typically been on the minds of elementary and high school teachers or their students’ minds in the past. But helping the next generation understand what the risks are, where they exist and the roles of government, food companies and consumers in contributing to safer food was an essential program to introduce.
Following the Listeria crisis in August 2008, we made food safety our priority at Maple Leaf which included investing in food safety education. As part of that commitment, we partnered with the Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario (STAO) to develop innovative food safety resources for teachers and students in elementary and high schools.
Through these new teaching resources, students can discover and explore food safety issues in interesting ways, making connections to real life situations and in their day-to-day lives. We’ve developed hands-on activities and engaging research exercises for elementary students in grades 1, 5 and 8, and senior science students in grades 11 and 12. Part of the curriculum also provides insight into careers in the food industry.
In addition to two sessions to introduce these educational resources to teachers attending the annual conference, I was also given the opportunity to speak to conference attendees. I talked about the critical importance of food safety to the global challenge of feeding a population expected to hit nine billion people by 2050. Science and technology play such an incredibly important role in ensuring that our food system produces safe, wholesome and great tasting products to this ever growing population worldwide.
While science is critical, I also made the point, very strongly, that the real key to safe food is having every person involved in the food chain, from farmers and ranchers, to processors and retailers, and even consumers, fully aware of their role in food safety. We preach this concept daily at Maple Leaf Foods with our 22,500 employees, and I encouraged the science teachers in attendance that they also have a huge role to play as they are developing the next generation of food industry employees and consumers. I want to thank the leadership of STAO for giving Maple Leaf Foods this opportunity to contribute to food safety education.
It’s been an incredible partnership working with the STAO to develop these excellent teaching resources which I’m confident will engage the young and inquiring minds of the next generation. By investing in food safety education, we are taking another step forward in our journey to food safety leadership and building stronger food safety practices in Canada.