August 29, 2014

Online food safety training program available for parish volunteers

By Brigid Curtis Ayer (Special to The Criterion)

Parish volunteers that handle food have a free online resource they can access to ensure food safety at parish events or Church-sponsored venues involving food.

The program, called IN-TRAIN, is an online food-safety-and-handling training program that volunteers can access anytime, anywhere, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Whether it is food served at a funeral reception, a parish retreat, picnic or festival, parish volunteers and those who supervise them have access to a new online, food-safety training program,” said Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), who serves as the official spokesman for the Catholic Church in Indiana on public policy matters.

Prompted by a study panel of the Indiana General Assembly, the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) sought to provide resources for a food safety training program.

“We wanted to develop something that was hassle-free and easily accessible for volunteers of nonprofit organizations,” said Scott Gilliam, director of the Food Protection Program for ISDH.

“The goal of IN-TRAIN is to ensure food safety for the public. If someone were to get sick due to improper food handling, not only could a person be harmed, but the incident could also harm an organization’s brand, mission and the good work the particular nonprofit is trying to accomplish.”

Gilliam calls IN-TRAIN a “refresher course” for those handing food.

The program, developed by the ISDH’s Food Protection Program, is based on a national program called TRAIN. TRAIN was developed by the Public Health Foundation. Indiana has purchased its own affiliate site, IN-TRAIN, to provide similar food-safety training, but both can be accessed because TRAIN sites are connected.

Learners on IN-TRAIN can access information about state, local, national and even international training opportunities available to them both online and in person.

IN-TRAIN operates through a collaborative partnership with state and federal agencies, local and national organizations, and educational institutions. TRAIN is funded by its network affiliates and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A subcommittee of the Indiana General Assembly’s finance committee examined ways for improving food-safety and handling procedures for nonprofit organizations, including Catholic parishes. The IN-TRAIN program took about 11 months to develop, Gilliam noted.

In addition to the online program, the department developed several handouts. Handouts can be downloaded, printed and displayed in areas where food is prepared. Voluntary safety standard handouts include proper hand washing and drying procedures; proper food cooling; a self-inspection check list; ideal refrigeration temperatures for various types of meat, poultry and casseroles; and proper manual washing of equipment, dishes and utensils.

Nonprofits are exempt from a variety of food safety and handling regulations, according to Gilliam. Because nonprofits have voluntarily complied with best practices for safety and handling, the program is seen more as an effort to make “modest improvements” to safety and handling. The program’s goal is to provide a uniform training program that anyone can access to ensure basic food safety and handling is followed.

After completing a short online registration, the training video takes roughly 35 minutes to complete. Gilliam said the department sought feedback from nonprofit organizations during the development of the program on how to best develop and deliver a program that would be applicable to their organizations’ volunteers.

Tebbe participated in a panel that provided practical feedback on how a program might be best implemented in a parish or Church ministry setting. In addition to the ICC, Gleaners Food Bank and the United Way of Central Indiana also provided feedback to ISDH on how to develop a voluntary program to ensure food safety and handling.

“Parish volunteers across the state of Indiana will be able to access this tool to ensure food safety and handling,” Tebbe said. “Parishes have not had any incidences or problems of food poisoning or persons being harmed by improper food handling, and we want to keep it that way.

“Given the many venues our parishes serve others in providing or handling food,” Tebbe continued, “our participation in the IN-TRAIN program is another way the Church can make a good faith effort to promote the public good and safety by voluntarily enhancing standards. I am hopeful members of our faith community take advantage of this resource.”

For more information on IN-TRAIN or to register for the online training go to https://in.train.org.
 

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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