IFPTI Fellowship in Food Protection: Developing an Integrated Food Safety System
By Christopher Weiss, Ph.D., and Gerald Wojtala
The Fellowship in Food Protection is offered by the International Food Protection Training Institute (IFPTI) and funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is a truly unique program that is open to individuals who perform food protection regulatory functions at the federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial level, with at least 4 years of experience in the food regulatory field, and who want to make a positive impact through association membership, advocacy, and leadership. The program focuses on helping the Fellows gain leadership competencies and requires each Fellow to design, conduct, report, write an article, and present primary research on a food safety issue of their choosing. Unlike more traditional training programs that largerly involve instructor presentations, the Fellowship emphasizes participatory activities that allow the Fellows to practice specific skills and concepts. The Fellowship Lead Instructors are recognized leaders in the food regulatory arena.
Seven cohorts (75 alumni) have successfully completed the Fellowship Program, and Cohort VIII commenced in September 2019. Fellowship alumni have reported increased career advancement, increased professional involvement through associations, and greater leadership roles within their agencies since completing the Fellowship Program.
As part of IFPTI’s partnership with FDA through Cooperative Agreements (IFPTI is currently in year 4 of a second 5-year Cooperative Agreement), the institute created the Fellowship Program in 2010 to help create future food regulatory leaders who can continue to promote an Integrated Food Safety System (IFSS) through agency collaboration. The program received American National Standards Institute accreditation in 2012 and International Association for Continuing Education and Training accreditation in 2015.
The Fellowship Program Curriculum
The Fellowship is a yearlong program incorporating three on-location weeklong sessions (typically at IFPTI’s Portage, MI, location), periodic webinars, and a mentor-guided research project. Week 1 focuses on Professional Communication, Week 2 focuses on Program Management, and Week 3 focuses on Applied Leadership. The program layout is shown in Figure 1.
Competencies (knowledge, skills, and abilities) for each of the content or topic areas were built out utilizing IFPTI’s competency-based curriculum framework development process. The IFPTI process has served as the foundation for FDA’s National Curriculum Standard (NCS), the goal of which is a true IFSS in the U.S., comprising a competent food regulatory workforce doing comparable work across all jurisdictions. A comprehensive article on the creation of the NCS was featured in the August-September 2016 issue of Food Safety Magazine.
To identify the competencies within the Fellowship content or topic areas, IFPTI facilitated a subject matter expert workshop comprising experienced food protection professionals who held various leadership positions in food regulatory agencies and associations such as the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO). A total of 369 distinct competencies covering the topic areas were identified. The competencies served as the foundation for learning objectives, and the Fellowship Program content was subsequently developed. Examples of these competencies and learning objectives include:
• Discuss the importance of emotional intelligence. (Interpersonal Skills, Week 1)
• Define ethical behavior. (Professional Behavior, Week 1)
• Define the process of policy making. (Policies and Administration, Week 2)
• Identify how science is used by food safety regulatory agencies. (Applied Science, Week 2)
• Demonstrate negotiation techniques. (Negotiation, Week 2)
• Identify the attributes of a facilitator. (Facilitation Skills, Week 3)
• Explain political influencers. (Political Awareness, Week 3)
During Week 1 (Professional Communication), Fellows discuss the role of leadership within the food regulatory arena and are presented with examples of various leadership approaches. Fellows then look at the history of the effort in the U.S. to establish an IFSS and the benefits of integration. Analytical skills are then examined, with the Fellows being given the opportunity to assess various agency policies against community, political, and food safety backdrops. Writing skills, interpersonal skills, and public speaking skills round out Week 1, with the Fellows creating written briefing reports, delivering presentations to their peers, and discussing the role of ethics.
During Week 2 (Program Management), Fellows continue to examine the benefits of an IFSS, with an emphasis on the need for effective collaboration across all food regulatory jurisdictions. Fellows then look at foundational functions of management, including planning, organizing, employee development, staffing, directing, team building, and controlling. The topic of applied science is covered next, with the Fellows discussing how science is used in the food regulatory environment. Week 2 then shifts to the process of policy making, public and administrative policies, negotiation skills and tactics, and legal proceedings, which include public hearings, agency legal authority, and due process.
During the final week of the Fellowship, Fellows focus on leadership skills, including effective facilitation techniques, advocating on behalf of their regulatory agency, engaging with stakeholders, and political awareness. Fellows also examine the topic of public relations and are given the opportunity to create and deliver their own food safety messages.
The Solaris IFSS
Throughout the program, the Fellows apply the concepts discussed to collaboratively design an IFSS for Solaris, a fictitious island nation located off the eastern coast of Florida, near the Bermuda Triangle (Figure 2). Each of the Fellows assumes a regulatory position within the country and is required to represent local and regional stakeholder needs, while helping to craft a food safety system unique for the country that fosters economic growth through international trade.
While creating the Solaris IFSS, Fellows:
• Identify stakeholders
• Negotiate with stakeholders
• Develop an organizational chart
• Conduct policy planning
• Craft messages to stakeholders
• Develop an implementation plan
• Interact with parliamentary committees
Aim of the Research Project
The Fellowship Program also requires each Fellow to design, conduct, report, write an article, and present primary research on a food safety issue of their choosing. Each Fellow is assigned a mentor, who helps guide the Fellows through all aspects of their research project, including conducting background research on their selected topic, designing a data collection instrument (e.g., electronic surveys, phone interviews, focus groups), analyzing collected data, presenting the data, drawing conclusions, and making recommendations (e.g., changes in food regulatory policies and/or procedures). Additionally, each Fellow’s research article is published in a special edition of the AFDO Journal, and each Fellow presents his or her research findings at the AFDO Annual Educational Conference. (The current cohort will present their research findings at the AFDO conference in Glendale, AZ, June 27–July 1, 2020.)
While the current Fellowship Program has the Fellows present their research during the AFDO Annual Educational Conference, due to the number of proposed Fellows, IFPTI encourages and supports Fellows to attend other food protection-related conferences, such as the Association of American Feed Control Officials, AFDO affiliates, the National Environmental Health Association conference, and the Food Safety Summit.
The Fellows’ research projects have covered a variety of food regulatory issues, and a handful of projects have resulted in AFDO resolutions. To illustrate, Table 1 displays a list of Cohort VII research articles.
A full list and text of all Fellow research articles can be found on the IFPTI website at ifpti.org/fellowship-program/published-works/.
Success of the Fellowship
Results of the Fellowship alumni survey, which is sent out annually, clearly demonstrate the program’s effectiveness. Since completing the Fellowship:
• 97% have recommended the Fellowship Program to their coworkers and colleagues
• Almost 66% have been promoted
• 86% have become more active in professional associations or work committees
• 80% have been given a greater leadership role within their agency
• 91% have kept in touch with their cohort classmates
• More than 50% have taken on leadership role(s) in professional associations or work-related committees
• 83% have used the designation “IFPTI Fellow” when describing themselves
• Two of the Fellows forwarded their leadership career into FDA positions
• One Fellow advanced to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Additionally, IFPTI Fellows have assumed various leadership positions within AFDO and regional AFDO affiliates. Currently, four Fellowship alumni serve on the AFDO Board of Directors; five alumni serve on the AFDO Southern States Board; two alumni serve as advisers to the Mid-Continental AFDO Board; two alumni have served as presidents of regional AFDO affilitates; and a handful of Fellowship alumni currently serve on committees for the Central Atlantic States Association.
Fellowship’s Potential for Expansion
Due to the success of the IFPTI Fellowship, the program has the potential to expand beyond the U.S. food regulatory arena. The Fellowship could easily be modified for food industry representatives, and the program could also be tailored to attract international food protection professionals, especially with IFPTI’s recent and ongoing efforts with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Egypt’s National Food Safety Authority.
IFPTI is accepting applications for Cohort IX. Anyone interested in the program is encouraged to submit their application through the IFPTI website at www.ifpti.org. The selection process for the next cohort begins May 1, 2020.
IFPTI is a 501(c)(3) organization based in Portage, MI, whose mission is to protect public health and the global food supply by building workforce capacity. IFPTI was founded in 2009, largely to help in the creation of the IFSS in the U.S., comprising competent regulators doing comparable work across federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions. The idea of the IFSS was first identified by AFDO, which realized the need to create a training organization to assist regulatory agencies in training regulatory food protection professionals. The Food Safety Modernization Act further required the integration of our food safety system. With assistance from FDA, the Partnership for Food Protection, the Kellogg Company, AFDO, and Battle Creek Unlimited, IFPTI was established in Battle Creek, MI, and later relocated to Portage.
Since its founding, IFPTI has collaborated extensively with industry, academia, federal, state, local, and international governments to build competency-based solutions for training food protection professionals. The organization has been the architect of the FDA, which sets forth the competencies needed by food safety regulators, across all jurisdictions, to successfully perform their job functions. IFPTI has led the development of the NCS through 5-year Cooperative Agreements with FDA’s Office of Training Education and Development, the most recent of which was awarded in 2016.
IFPTI focuses on five core competencies (capabilities): needs analysis, competency-based learning systems, capacity building (at the system, organizational, and workforce levels), regulatory food protection expertise, and project management. In addition to staff members with years of experience in regulatory food protection, IFPTI has a unique mix of talent on staff to design, deliver, and evaluate learning experiences. Additionally, IFPTI maintains a strong network of food protection professionals who provide services such as content development and instruction. IFPTI’s strong network of individuals from various professions allows the institute to nimbly respond to staffing needs of various projects.
Christopher Weiss, Ph.D., is director of curriculum framework development for IFPTI. For the last 5 years, Chris has been facilitating the development of competency-based curriculum frameworks for multiple regulatory food protection professionals in conjunction with FDA, including regulators of retail food establishments, manufactured food facilities, and animal feed. Chris has also been facilitating curriculum framework development for various audiences within the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Gerald Wojtala is the executive director of IFPTI. Jerry has an extensive background in food safety inspection, state and federal regulation, and food regulatory program management. He served as deputy director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) Food and Dairy Division from 2001 through 2010, after serving as an inspector, regional supervisor, and state food scientist for MDA for close to 15 years. Jerry also served as president of the AFDO from 2008 to 2009.