University Economic Development Association


Award Category: Talent Development
Project Site: Food Safety Training
Submitted By: Iowa State University
Contact: Matthew Wenger , 515.294.9279

Case Study


Iowa State University Meat Science Extension offers a wide range of training programs for the meat processing industry including our flagship Sausage & Processed Meats Short Course as well as courses focused on Dry & Semi-Dry Sausage Processing, Cured Meat, and Basic Sausage. We have also partnered with Smithfield Foods, an international company to offer 8 training programs exclusively for their employees.

Food processing is the largest industry in Iowa comprising 25% of the market with 5.8 billion in annual sales. Food borne illness is a serious threat in a food processing facility, especially one handling foods that are ready-to-eat when they leave the facility. West Liberty Foods, a producer-owned value-added cooperative, designed and built a “state of the art” meat slicing facility in Mount Pleasant, Iowa and supplies sliced meat to more than 6,000 quick serve restaurants nationwide. However, management understood that the most sophisticated food safety system is only as good as the training employees receive. Without thorough employee training, widespread food borne illness could occur and the company could experience significant financial losses.

Iowa State University Extension specialists and trainers from West Liberty Foods team teach an eight-hour pre-employment food safety course that includes principals of food safety including safe food handling techniques and how food borne illness can be prevented. Upon completion, participants that pass a closed-book exam are eligible to work in the West Liberty Foods plant. Once employed additional food safety training is required.


West Liberty Foods, a state-of-the-art food processing facility contracted with Iowa State University to develop food safety modules relevant to a meat processing plant. As a result, Iowa State University faculty and Extension & Outreach staff at the regional and county level designed an interactive set of modules and provide Extension trainers to team-teach nearly weekly with the plant’s training staff.

This partnership has created a workforce knowledgeable about and capable of providing safe food. Since the inception of the program in 2003, we have trained 4,630 prospective employees in 425 classes taught in English or Spanish. We also provide ongoing review and updates of materials as well as continued education for trainers.

The program is a strong partnership between industry and Iowa State University (including county, regional and state staff). It is the first in-depth food safety pre-employment food safety program in the USA.  Because of growth the company expanded and opened a new plant in Tremonton, Utah. Iowa State University faculty and staff have assisted in training new trainers there as well.


The primary program objective was to bring the research based resources and teaching expertise of Iowa State University faculty and staff to assist the food processing plant by developing food safety modules as pre-employment education and to continue to team-teach to provide reliability and fidelity to the training.

The Food Safety Training program has expanded from the West Liberty Foods facility in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa to its facilities in West Liberty, Iowa and Tremonton, Utah.  The curriculum used at all three facilities is reviewed an updated annually to keep up with the latest information available.


Over the past 4 years, clients have reported $174 million in increased sales, nearly $5 million in cost savings and the creation of 650 jobs added or retained, all related to services they have received from Meat Science Extension.

To evaluate the West Liberty Foods training modules and methods of teaching, a pre/post survey was given to 1300 employees to measure knowledge and behavior after receiving the training.  Later a survey was completed by more than 200 participants (82% in English, 18% in Spanish) to determine how well the trainers were able to communicate the concepts to the participants. The results were compiled and shared with trainers and used to improve the training.

Results showed that both knowledge and behavior improved after training. For example the non-English speaking participants, in particular, increased their knowledge of food safety by 51 percentage points (from 42 to 93%) and their behaviors by 34 percentage points.

Results of the sample of 208 participants indicated they gained new information and that the training prepared them for work. Of the 208 surveyed, 84% rated the contents of the session as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’.

Future Considerations

Iowa State University Meat Science Extension and West Liberty Foods have shared this training concept and the materials with many smaller Iowa companies through food safety conferences because the West Liberty Foods CEO believes sharing up-to-date measures is important, that food safety is not proprietary information.

Processed Meats Short Courses are in their 36th year at Iowa State University and have been attended by well over 10,000 participants from all over the United States and over 30 international countries.  The success of the programs can be attributed to companies continuing to send employees to the short courses after realizing the benefits of attending.

Finalist Presentation

UEDA Awards of Excellence Finalists presented at the Annual Summit in Santa Fe on September 29-30, 2014. Summit attendees then voted for the best initiative in each category.