Haitian businesses learn space-age innovation to improve food handling
When they signed up for an intensive two-day training on food handling and processing, Haitian business operators didn’t know they were about to learn an innovation developed by the U.S. space program.
No, it wasn’t rocket science or how to become an astronaut. It was something very much down to earth; the science behind foodborne pathogens and, importantly, how to prevent contamination when handling meat, seafood, produce and other food products.
Researchers at Feed the Future Haiti Appui à la Recherche et au Développement Agricole (AREA) trained 57 professionals from Haitian food businesses and other enterprises on the best practices to strengthen the health of the food system of Haiti, a country that suffers from chronic food insecurity.
Specifically, the attendees packed into a Port-au-Prince-area hotel over two days in late February to learn the critical role a system known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plays in ensuring the safety of food and beverages sold to consumers. HACCP (pronounced HAY-sip) was developed in the early years of the space program by the Pillsbury Co. under contract with NASA, which considers this innovation among the most important technologies the space program transferred to the commercial sector.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, NASA needed a system to make sure the food they were sending into space would not sicken astronauts. Today, HACCP is the behind-the-scenes food safety management system that impacts the lives of consumers worldwide. With few exceptions, the United States and the European Union — among other countries — require business operators at all levels of the food chain to comply with the rules based on HACCP principles, said Lemâne Delva, AREA’s director of research who co-led the training sessions and serves as a professor at State University of Haiti’s Faculty of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine (FAMV).
“One of the key goals of this training was to strengthen the export opportunities for Haitian food processors,” Delva said.
During the workshop, Delva and Antonio Antoine, a postharvest and food safety expert on the AREA project, explained HACCP guidelines, which businesses follow to identify and prevent biological, physical and chemical hazards throughout the food chain: from the harvesting of crops and the handling of meat and seafood products to packaging and selling.
HACCP was a new concept for many of the owners and employees of Haitian agricultural and food processing companies who attended the event.
“I have learned a lot from the training,” said Marie Margueritte Nicole Marcelin, one of two representatives attending from REBO S.A., a Port-au-Prince-based coffee roaster and coffee shop, and its subsidiary, Produit des Iles S.A. “I want to ensure to apply all of the knowledge acquired during these two days.”
Marcelin and the other attendees participated in a variety of group exercises, including one to begin the development of their own HACCP plans, all with the goal to help them to improve their business operations and uncover opportunities to sell more.
In addition to Marcelin’s company, several enterprises sent multiple people to the event, including two companies that specialize in exporting mangoes, Golden Crown Produce and Carifresh S.A., and a startup, Groupe d’appui à la Production Locale (GAPL), which was founded by two former college students of Delva’s to processes breadfruit into a flour that can be used to make food aimed at children.
Frednaud Charlotin, a founder and technical director, said GAPL plans to increase production of the breadfruit flour at its factory. The training will help them develop a HACCP plan to address food safety issues. By the way, some experts have called high-protein breadfruit a “wonder food,” and researchers in Hawaii have even created a Breadfruit Institute dedicated to promoting the conservation, study and use of breadfruit for food and reforestation in the Caribbean and the tropics.
Others at the training came from the nonprofit sector, such as the Movement of Haitian Women for Rural Development (MOFHADER), a group that cultivates fruits and vegetables and process fruit jams, and the Association des Paysans de Vallue, an organization that aims to improve lives and increase the business opportunities for farmers in a mountainous region southeast of Haiti’s capital.
Did you know? AREA is a project funded by the U.S. Agency for Development and managed by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences to combat food insecurity in Haiti by helping build its agricultural research, extension and education capacity. Learn more.