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Feature   | Fall 2010

Many Hands Make Light Work

Training networks increase Purdue Extension's reach

After a June 2008 flood destroyed a downtown Franklin, Ind., office building, several local government offices, including Purdue Extension Johnson County, had to find temporary space elsewhere.

Franklin Community Schools stepped forward and offered Purdue Extension space in one of its administrative buildings.

Jill Overton arms outstretched over cans of food
Jill Overton, food service director for Franklin Community Schools, can't overstate the case for food safety with children. She sends all cafeteria workers to Indiana food handler certification workshops offered by Purdue Extension Johnson County.

Jill Overton, the school corporation's food service director, was one of Purdue Extension's new neighbors. Overton said it wasn't until the displaced staff moved next door to her office that she discovered the many programs and services Purdue Extension provides.

One particular program struck a chord with Overton: the Indiana food handler certification/recertification workshops that Purdue Extension foods and nutrition educator Linda Souchon delivers. All state retail food outlets, including school cafeterias, are required to have at least one certified food handler employed at each location.

When Overton and several of her managers needed their 5-year recertification, they signed up for Souchon's workshop. Common interests—Overton is a registered dietician—and the proximity of their offices gave the two opportunities to talk shop. Souchon offered to teach food safety programs during scheduled school breaks, which would allow more of Overton's food-service staff to attend—something that wasn't possible when cafeteria workers had to be away during the school day for training. "I like everyone to take the training, even if they aren't required to be certified," Overton says. "We're feeding a lot of kids; we do everything we can to avoid a food-borne illness outbreak."

Train the Trainer
Souchon is among a cadre of Purdue Extension educators and county health staff trained to deliver one- and two-day programs that teach food-safety education and offer certification to thousands of individuals employed at restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and other food-service outlets.

children standing at a cafeteria counter
Cafeteria staff, who attend food safety training, prepare and serve 4,000 meals a day at Franklin Community Schools.

By training key people around the state to deliver specialized content, Purdue Extension exponentially increases the number of Indiana citizens who can benefit from educational programs—whether the topic is food safety or plant-disease diagnosis.

Without this network of instructors, the statewide food-safety training program would not have such overwhelming success.

Ten years ago, Rich Linton, professor of food science and associate director of Agricultural Research Programs, assumed the monumental task of establishing a food-safety training program for the 16,000-plus retail food establishments, such as restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores, in Indiana. "My first realization was, ‘I'm not going to be able to do that out of my office on the Purdue campus,'" Linton recalls.

His second realization was the need to partner with Purdue Extension county offices, local regulatory agencies and industry groups, such as the Indiana Restaurant Association and the Indiana Retail Grocers Association. "By partnering with these organizations, we were able to get the message out that retail food safety education was coming and that there would be more opportunities for training," Linton says.

Purdue Extension county-based educators and local health department instructors were logical candidates for teaching the classes around the state. "State and local health departments also had addresses for every single retail food establishment, and they do inspections of these retail food establishments every year," Linton says. "Plus, they really know what the issues and problems are."

Last year, the Indiana Restaurant Association held 170 training sessions throughout the state, training 2,800 people in critical aspects of food safety in restaurants and other retail food outlets, says Debbie Scott, executive vice president of the association.

Having access to a network of educators qualified to teach the curriculum helped make that possible. "Our goal is to have classes in as many locations as possible to make it easy for people to meet the state requirement for certification," Scott says.


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