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South Dakotans work to improve Egyptian food safety through education

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Courtesy Photo
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Selfie of Sheri Kahnke and her mom, Mary Moeller with food safety professionals they worked with during their time in Egypt.

Access to safe food is a fundamental need all humans share. Sheri Kahnke says one way to provide this access is through employee training.

“What it really boils down to is the employees who are doing the work every day on the frontlines, need to know the role that they play in food safety and in food security and the global food supply chain,” Kahnke said.

With a masters in Dairy Manufacturing from South Dakota State University, Kahnke’s 20-plus-year career has focused on providing quality control oversight and training to employee teams at dairy production facilities throughout the U.S.

Recently, the Watertown resident volunteered to share her expertise with dairy processing employees in Egypt.

“Throughout my career learning about dairy foods and the transformational effect they can have on peoples’ lives because it is such a healthy product – it is something that I’ve always been interested in, reaching out and doing international development work. …That is something that really drives me and excited me to take advantage of this opportunity,” Kahnke said.

Farmer-to-Farmer is the opportunity Kahnke references. Offered through the non-profit Land O’Lakes Venture37, the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer program is an international food security enhancement program that connects farmers and food handlers from developing countries with volunteer experts, like Kahnke, explains Farmer-to-Farmer Program Director Hossam Habeeb.

“Egypt is a large country. Its population is about 105 million. And according to the Global Hunger Index, it suffers from a moderate level of hunger. So, food affordability, quality and safety remain challenges for the country…This highlights the importance of Farmer-to-Farmer. Our U.S. volunteers are sharing expertise and implemented systems – sharing this as practical practices not just theoretical things,” Habeeb said.

During the two weeks Kahnke was in Egypt she led workshops and toured dairy production facilities. She called on her career experience and worked to provide practical advice and information to food safety inspectors who work for Egypt’s National Food Safety Authority as well as milk processing plant quality control managers and staff.

“What we focused on was what are their typical food safety and food quality challenges? And we talked through those and brainstormed ideas for how we could positively impact those challenges. Then, really what it came down to was we have similar challenges. We have to focus on sanitation. We have to focus on making sure that the temperature of our product is maintained at the appropriate temperature. And then, also coming back to that human aspect. Needing to make sure that people know what they’re doing,” Kahnke said.

To maximize information sharing, Farmer-to-Farmer utilizes a train-the-trainer format. So, the workshop attendees Kahnke taught will host their own employee trainings.

“I love the fact we are able to go out and work with other people who have either a specialty in the dairy industry or in food science and really help improve that global food supply chain so that as a world we are better able to be food secure,” Kahnke said.

Because leading employee training is not always a skill that comes naturally, Kahnke asked her mom, Mary Moeller team up with her to lead the trainings.

Moeller is a retired SDSU Education professor. And like Kahnke, Moeller worked to keep her sessions interactive and applicable.

“Well what worked out so well was, my daughter who has expertise in food safety and security could introduce a topic and she would use what we would call in teaching, teaching techniques – whether it was a way to break down conversation and then bring the conversation from a small group back to the whole group. After she demonstrated that teaching technique or strategy, then we would stop the training and we would say, “OK, now let’s think about what my daughter just did. What did Sherri do? And is this something you can use as a trainer of trainers,’” Moeller said.

This was the first time the mother-daughter pair teamed up to teach, and Sherri Kahnke says the opportunity to work with her mom enhanced the entire experience.

“It just worked out to be perfect where we could go together and team teach food safety specialists in Egypt not only the food science aspects of their jobs and food safety aspects of their job, but also the human part of their job,” Kahnke said.

Throughout their time in Egypt Kahnke and Moeller had the opportunity to work with about 80 professionals in the dairy quality control industry. After this experience, they hope they will have future opportunities to volunteer their talents to help improve access to safe food.

Lura Roti is a freelance reporter working with SDPB.