Can food industry be run without adequately qualified and trained technical personnel? It depends on the scale of operation and volume of business involved. As a matter of necessity handling of foods whether at home or eateries or processing industry, must be left to people with elementary knowledge about the health risks involved at various stages like storing, cleaning, preparation, holding and consumption. A house hold kitchen is generally managed by the female head of the family or a servant employed with some awareness about cleanliness and there is no formal training as they learn the basics through inheritance from their parents besides gleaning from early education in schools. An eatery primarily employs people for their culinary skills though servers and cleaners are chosen keeping in mind the general cleanliness.
In contrast food processing industry has to be more careful and stringent in taking personnel for floor level operations and management of the same with least hiccup. As the centralized processing and packing call for personnel knowledgeable about technological procedures, formal training is often necessary which takes place in Universities and specialized food technology institutions. Though this is an ideal requirement, many micro enterprises and home-scale processors do not have the wherewithal to employ such personnel due to high cost of hiring them. In such cases production is largely managed by the entrepreneurs themselves with able bodied skilled assistants with some past experience. In countries like India most industrial units engaged in food processing, especially in the informal sector do not have properly trained personnel and their survival depends on the ability of the entrepreneurs to use common sense for maintaining quality and safety. Raising a pool of technicians who have the credentials to work in a food processing factory is an urgent necessity and institutions for such training need to be established in large numbers through out the country.
Organized food industry however regularly employs food technology graduates from Universities without much of an "hands-on experience" and these new recruits become well versed with various facets of processing and their management within a few weeks. They are able to perform well because they are equipped with the fundamental knowledge of food and its diverse characteristics. It is true that any decent food industry must have specialists in food technology, quality control including microbiological assessment of raw as well as finished goods and food packaging. While a well equipped food technologist can do all these functions, they are reluctant being engaged in routine analytical jobs, preferring floor level responsibilities. Thus what food industry needs is a mix of food technologists, food engineers and industrial managers for successful running of a production unit.
In India presently there are several Universities offering technology courses specifically for employment by the food industry but most of these teaching shops are ill equipped to turn out appropriate candidates meeting the needs of the industry. They have neither the teachers with adequate knowledge about food industry nor the specialized pilot plant facilities so necessary for a balanced training. In some western countries there are industry-university partnership programs designed to train skilled personnel for employment by the industry. The most recent example is offered by the landmark 5-year partnership agreement concluded recently between University of Queensland and the Australian Food and Grocery Council that will address the problem of shortage of skilled personnel in that country trained in food technology. It is the enlightening and visionary thinking on the part of the industry body that provided the spur for such a constructive and collaborative training project. The idea is to attract talented students into food science and technology careers in the industry which can offer rewarding roles in management, R & D in product formulation and nutrition and production control aspects. They need to be better equipped to meet a range of challenges including sustainability, food labeling laws, food safety needs, packaging complexities, consumer aspirations and government policies.
India is a country where the critical role played by food technologists is rarely appreciated and the organized industry has to take the blame for this sorry situation. Many multi national industry giants routinely visit University campuses, pick up candidates of their choice at high remunerations and provide their industry specific training which makes them unfit for other disciplines of food processing. What is needed to day is the coming together of Universities and the industry bodies like CII, CIFTI, ASSOCHAM etc to massively fund selected Universities to upgrade their training facilities into world class centers. The example of catering industry or the Nurses training system prevalent in the country is worth following because large hotels own some of the catering training centers while large hospitals run nurses training centers in their premises to turn out well developed personnel for their industry. Can we think of food technology training centers owned and operated by major players like Kellogg's, Nestle, Pepsi, Coca Cola or others with organic linkage with some recognized Universities? Or how about a CII supported Food Technology Training Center in universities like Mumbai, Kanpur or Jadavpur which have already established their credentials in food technology during the last few decades? If there is a will there is a way! More than any thing there must be a far-sighted vision on the part of the food industry in the country for achieving well defined goals ahead.