Originally published on May 18, 2018.
Land O’Lakes, Inc. Quality Assurance employees embark on Farmer-to-Farmer experience
“Everyone has the right to consume safe food. When different countries are struggling with delivering on that right, we can step in and offer advice. Usually simple fixes can lead to huge outcomes,” says Jeff Balousek, senior quality leader at Land O’Lakes, Inc.
Currently in Lebanon, there is a systematic pressure to increase quality and safety of fruits and vegetables for export to remain competitive on a global scale. From producer-to-processor, food safety and quality needs to be improved across the value chain.
Borrowing knowledge from quality experts
Through the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer program implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, we recently sent Jeff and two other quality experts, Julie Ware and Maria Skora, to Lebanon to train graduate students and ministry professionals on critical control points for food safety and quality.
All three of these volunteer experts are employees of our affiliate Land O’Lakes, Inc., a farmer-owned cooperative with industry leading operations that span the spectrum from agricultural production to consumer foods. Though Jeff, Julie and Maria are all members of the Land O’Lakes Quality Assurance department, each person brought a unique set of expertise and practical guidance to the assignment. Combined, these three experts brought over 60 years of practical experience in supply chain and food safety.
From Minnesota to Beirut
The volunteers’ first week in Beirut was spent training the students and professionals on HACCP (hazard analysis critical control points), a preventative safety management technique. At the end of the week, they gave the class an externally marked HACCP test, so students had the chance to become HACCP certified.
“The students really started to understand the risks associated with ingredients. It’s not just what they’re producing. They had to think about: where does this ingredient come from and how was it harvested?” says Jeff.
During week two, Jeff, Maria, Julie and the students headed to different facilities across the country to take the learning outside of the classroom.
“It was a really good platform for us to look at different problems in different settings,” says Maria. “As we were going out to different facilities, we could tell that the students were using the knowledge from the previous visits,” says Maria.
Maria and Jeff had both done Farmer-to-Farmer assignments before. This was Julie’s first time. Julie works at a Land O’Lakes dairy facility in Pine Island, Minnesota. Most of her background has been in compliance, and she shifted to quality about three years ago.
“I had a lot of quality experience out on the floor as a production supervisor, so I knew where quality issues can arise and how to find the root cause,” says Julie. ““I took everything I learned on the plant floor and used it in the scenarios with the students.”
A two-way street
Maria, Jeff and Julie were able to share their knowledge with the students, but also able to bring back cultural insights into their own work back in the U.S.
“Through something like Farmer-to-Farmer, it becomes very evident that the supply chain is worldwide. Everybody needs to understand what the risks are and how to protect themselves from the risks, but not everybody has the same resources,” says Maria.
But now that the students have taken the HACCP test, some will be able to become certified and train others on HACCP principles and about the importance of safety and quality in food.
“Teaching HACCP to these students strengthened my own knowledge of HACCP, too,” says Julie. “Our cultures may be different, but there’s a common thread – we all need to eat safely.”