Improving food inspection through a virtual school
The key objective of this project is to provide common technical and attitudinal training for food inspectors in the eight countries, to allow modernization and mutual recognition of national food inspection systems and thus contribute to the region's development through trade facilitation and improvement in the health of consumers from healthier, safer foods.
Food inspection in the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic is carried out by various official agencies, which makes close coordination among them important to ensure food safety throughout the food chain.
Although there are legal frameworks that establish the responsibilities of the various entities, in some cases actions are duplicated, whereas in others there are no controls in certain parts of the food chain. Some countries have mechanisms to facilitate internal coordination of food inspection and thus ensure food safety control without hindering production or commercial activities.
In recent years, the ministries of agriculture of the region have been assigned new responsibilities in the area of food safety, to improve public health and competitiveness and facilitate trade, for which strategic modernization is required.
It was envisioned that the creation of a cadre of food inspectors, trained in modern inspection techniques and having an attitude leading to proactive participation in the improvement of food safety in the region, would contribute not only to eliminate or minimize incidents resulting in obstacles to trade, and to overcome the distrust of each country in the food inspection system of its regional partners, but also to continuous modernization and improvement of food safety regulations. Harmonized food inspection procedures across the region will make it easier to advance towards a customs union and positively impact the health of consumers.
Institutional framework of a regional virtual food inspection school
The project assisted in forming an Academic Council composed of eight individuals made up of one representative from each participating university. The school involved one university or equivalent academic/technical institution in each participating country. The universities were entrusted with the task of administering exams, issuing course certificates jointly with the virtual school.
The International Advisory Group in charge of curriculum and class material development formed during the pre-project stage was confirmed and expanded. This group, composed of representatives from universities in Europe (Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain), North America (University of Nebraska-Lincoln - UNL, USA; Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México - UNAM), Central America (Universidad de Costa Rica), as well as food safety institutions, such as the Agencia Santafesina de Seguridad Alimentaria (ASSAL) from Argentina, during the pre-project phase, was expanded to include representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - FAO, the Pan American Health Organization - PAHO, and the International Regional Organization on Agricultural Health - OIRSA).
There was a Technical Group composed of a representative from each food safety control agency in all eight participating countries and a Steering Committee that constituted the school's top governing body. The Steering Committee consisted of five individuals, four of which were elected by a joint meeting of the Academic Council and the Technical Group. The representative of the University of Costa Rica, the institution that constituted the pivot of the school structure, was a permanent member of the Steering Committee.
A virtual course for food safety inspectors
One of the most important goals was to have a virtual training course for food inspectors and a similar course for food safety auditors consistent with modern food inspection and food safety assessment techniques and responding to the national, regional and international needs of the region.
Over 470 trained food safety inspectors
Over 470 inspectors from Central America and the Dominican Republic were successfully trained.. The creation of a cadre of food inspectors, trained in modern inspection techniques and having an attitude leading to proactive participation in the improvement of food safety in the region, will contribute not only to eliminate or minimize incidents resulting in obstacles to trade, and to overcome the distrust of each country in the food inspection system of its regional partners, but also to continuous modernization and improvement of food safety regulations.