While attending the 2017 Food Safety Consortium in Schaumberg, we had the pleasure of conversing with several FSPCA (Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance) Lead Instructors regarding their Preventive Controls for Human Food courses. It was reported at the conference that 50,000 PCQIs (Preventive Controls Qualified Individuals) have been trained at FDA-recognized workshops since the inception of the program. As with any new system, there are concerns – although we can all agree the quality of the curriculum is excellent, no single system is ever perfect right out of the box, and we are all developing ways to optimize the experiences of our attendees.

With the introduction of the blended course, many potential attendees rejoiced because they could now take their required class without needing to be out of the office for longer than a day. Sounds great! However, we have discovered that many people who think they do not need much instruction to become a PCQI actually require more assistance than originally anticipated. This is easily accommodated in a live course, where a qualified instructor can tailor the class to the individual attendees. A pre-recorded live session lacks that benefit, and also may lull the attendee into thinking they can just skip through the web-based training without absorbing too much of the content. Ever taken driving school? 

Time and again, we have found there is no substitute for the in-class experience, and it is one reason we have hesitated to offer the blended class. We understand that everyone learns differently; however, it is human nature to try and minimize the time spent in a pursuit deemed mostly unnecessary by the participant, and most feel any training mandated by regulation is unlikely to offer much practical benefit. The good news is that a PCQI course taught by an excellent instructor can bring much more value than may have been expected; the bad news is that there is no more an exam to certify a Lead Instructor than there is one to ensure the aspiring PCQI has retained and can apply what they’ve learned prior to being granted a certificate. Instructor candidates are vetted in advance by the FSPCA and must demonstrate capability in the Lead Instructor class via a teach-back which, while a good idea in theory, is not really an accurate representation of an individual’s ability to teach due to many factors including nerves and lack of preparation time.

So how are we (the collective we as Lead Instructors) addressing these issues in our courses? First, the importance of post-workshop instructor availability and follow-up cannot be overstated. No one expects an instructor to offer free consulting services, but any instructor worth their salt should offer some follow-up as no instructor is infallible and perception is reality – meaning that an instructor may not have imparted the information in the format most accessible to the attendee, and should be willing to follow up with further clarification after class (within reason).

Some instructors are choosing to require an examination prior to approving a PCQI candidate for their certificate. This is not a part of the recognized curriculum, but it is within an instructor’s rights to require one if he or she deems it necessary. We have not yet adopted this approach, but some classes do get more “homework” than others – another limitation of a web-based course, as the web-based portion is pre-recorded and cannot be changed by the instructor. 

We also ask our attendees to think critically and demonstrate an ability to critique an established food safety plan. This capacity for higher reasoning and rational thought is what separates us as humans from most other mammals, and we must set the bar high as people will rise to the level that is set for them. We do ask our attendees to fill out the blank forms provided by the FSPCA as class break-out exercises, but we also present them with other plans that have been filled out in advance and ask them to give us examples of three areas with which they agree, three with which they disagree or question, and finally one thing they might choose to do differently.

In summary, there are many things an experienced and talented instructor can bring to the table to keep a PCQI workshop from resembling a driving school webinar (which in itself most closely resembles a remarkably effective cure for insomnia). Unfortunately, Lead Instructors do not have to take a test prior to being loosed on the unsuspecting public, so attendees must not be afraid to give honest feedback on workshop evaluations as good instructors take constructive criticism to heart and try to improve next time. What do you do in your classes to engage your attendees?