The National Institutes of Health has awarded a grant to Iowa State University to develop a program to train inspectors for the new Food Safety Modernization Act.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will administer the $1.5 million grant for its three-year term. Iowa State scientists will team with Kansas State University to develop and deliver the training programs through distance education and on-site sessions.

“Our task is to support the development of the FDA Integrated Food Safety System while creating a food safety quality management system that increases efficiency and competitiveness while making food safer,” says Charles Hurburgh, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and the principal investigator of the grant. “Our area is the supply chain of bulk agricultural products before processing into traceable and identifiable consumer products.”

The training will focus on food safety in bulk agricultural commodities, targeting FDA inspectors and industry practitioners that need to meet the standardized FDA inspection system. Hurburgh says bulk commodities, like corn and soybeans, are of special concern because they are difficult to trace.

The program will include a cost-benefit analysis component, Hurburgh says, because the application of a formalized food safety quality management system often creates operational efficiencies for companies. The training will be organized to fit the format of the ISO 22000 food safety management standard being used by the FDA.

“We have found that a food safety quality management system creates more economic benefit than it costs by virtue of greater efficiencies,” he says. “We have the opportunity to fulfill the law’s compliance, ensure public protection and increase economic competitiveness all at once.”

Bulk agricultural commodities have not been actively considered a part of the food production chain, and so are less familiar to food safety regulators, Hurburgh says. Yet many food safety issues in recent years originated at a point where the product was a bulk material.

“We have the chance to influence how overall food safety needs in this area are met in a way that helps Iowa agriculture as well as the consuming public,” he says.

The NIH has awarded grants to develop standardized training for food safety inspectors to six other organizations: the University of Tennessee, the University of California-Davis, Auburn University, North Carolina State University, the National Environmental Health Association and the International Food Protection Training Institute.