Originally published on October 19, 2015.
Jerry Heaps (far left) and Anthony Vojta (far right) with students during a visit to food manufacturing plant, which was part of the practical portion of the HACCP training.
Food safety is one of the biggest challenges faced by the food industry in Lebanon. Consumers report a large number of food poisoning cases each year and even more go unreported. In November of 2014, the Lebanese government finally elevated the importance of proper food safety and declared a food safety crisis. Land O’Lakes was able to count on three of its own employees – Heidi Lammers, Jerry Heaps and Anthony Vojta – to roll up their sleeves and travel all the way to Lebanon to support these efforts.
Lammers, Heaps, and Vojta’s visits were made possible by the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Program
, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development.
While on assignment the team of Quality Assurance Managers delivered a one-week certification course to 20 students on HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), the most internationally recognized management system to address food safety. “Though slightly modified, the course is essentially the same training we give at Land O'Lakes twice a year,” says Lammers.
While improving the theoretical understanding of HACCP was an important part of the assignment, the team also thought it would be important to learn the practical side. After the exams were completed, Heaps and Vojta spent another week with the students visiting processing plants. “These visits were a lot of fun,” says Heaps, “and a very useful learning experience for all of us because we were able to see some of the HACCP course learnings in a practical setting.”
Vojta adds, “In talking with some of the students, they were hopeful that they will land jobs within the industry as it moves forward in recognizing the value of adopting better quality systems and establishing food safety regulations.”
From L to R: Anthony Vojta, Jerry Heaps, Heidi Lammers and Farmer-to-Farmer Lebanon Country Director Celine Melki.
Having passed the HACCP certification exam and experienced HACCP in practice, these 20 students now have skills that they can use to improve food safety in Lebanon, but the experience was also a beneficial one for Lammers, Heaps and Vojta. Heaps believes that this international experience will improve the HACCP trainings he does in the future. “In the United States and around the world, people come to these HACCP trainings with various levels of food quality knowledge. I learned the importance of breaking down the lessons into basic terms to ensure people are digesting the information.”
Lammers agrees, “Collaborative initiatives like these help me understand what's going on around the world with food, so it's a unique professional opportunity to collaborate with them. Getting a better worldwide perspective helps me understand how the United States and Land O'Lakes fit into the bigger picture.”
Vojta shares, “I learned firsthand that as a commercial employee, I can share my expertise as a resource to our International Development projects and make an impact. For example, when we first arrived, we toured the plants before the HACCP training. During these tours, we'd made initial suggestions on how to improve some of their processes. Just one week later, the dairy processing plant had already implemented some things we'd talked about. It was rewarding to see that they were so receptive to our suggestions.”
Land O’Lakes and the Farmer-to-Farmer MENA program will continue to make food safety a priority over the next few years in order to help train a cadre of food scientists and food safety advocates to improve the situation in the country. In fact, in addition to Farmer-to-Farmer assignments, the Land O’Lakes Quality Assurance division and the American University of Beirut are developing a partnership for an “exchange student” program in Lebanon. Given the HACCP training’s success, Land O’Lakes will be replicating them in Egypt as well, another country with similar food safety challenges.