The food safety industry is diverse, encompassing everything from laboratories to auditors, trainers and consultants. The industry operators rely on such outsourced services for a variety of reasons, but having available expertise is key to the business relationships.
Labs provide the needed information about microbial, chemical and physical properties of foods to enable a hazard analysis in the required federal food safety systems (FDA Food Safety Modernization Act). Lab findings are also a type of verification of sanitation and the effectiveness of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs under federal regulations. Because of the emphasis put on tests, labs typically have accredited tests that they can run. The trend now is for laboratory certification under ISO 17025. The growth of the food testing laboratories has been phenomenal, The food testing industry alone is worth approximately 14 billion a year in annual sales worldwide. This sector will only increase as the new federal laws under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) become phased in, Those laws now require additional environmental monitoring in food production facilities where ready to eat foods are exposed to the environment.
Auditors play a key role in verification of food safety systems. The results of food safety audits are used by buyers to assess both management effectiveness and food safety compliance. As the result of FSMA,, auditors are now to be “qualified”. The rules for Qualified Auditors are basic, and require education and training as core competencies. Audit firms are growing rapidly as the third party audit system is now well entrenched in the retail buyers procurement process. Auditing companies are conducting tens of thousands of these audits yearly and this number will increase, once again, as FSMA rules become incorporated in the third party standards.
Consultants are in demand to assist operators in developing and implementing food safety systems, and as a second line of defense in monitoring and verification of the effectiveness and implementation of programs. Consultants need diverse skills, and since the industry is so diverse, consultants need to be competent in several specialties in the supply chain and with several commodities (growing, raising, processing, packing, shipping, meat, dairy products, produce, seafood,) and know how food safety will be applied there. This is one area of the industry where there is a blend of experts, researchers, educators at the university and college levels, retired government officials, sanitarians, and former industry QA types. Such specialties in the workforce will find rich opportunities in the area of consulting.
Training in the food industry has several levels. There is an enormous amount of food safety training opportunities, from classrooms, to online courses, to webinars. Trainers typically have to be in some way qualified to teach the required courses that managers and employees must take. Training in the food industry spans from the food service employee to the operators of safety and quality systems at major processing firms. The need for training has further expanded by the need for a “Qualified Individual” to develop and manage the required federal food safety systems as found in the FSMA regulations. Courses around the US and overseas are now underway to provide the basic training in satisfying those requirements. Training firms and independent trainers, website operators and webinar educators are expanding their reach into this market.
Professionals with backgrounds in public health, food science, environmental health, epidemiology, and biological sciences are finding opportunities in this rapidly growing and changing market.