Beyond Price: Key Factors for Choosing Effective PCQI Training

By Kathryn Birmingham

When it comes to ensuring your company’s food safety protocols are up to par, having a qualified Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) is crucial. But if your company does not have an in-house PCQI lead instructor, the responsibility of choosing quality training falls to someone on your HR, general management, operations, or food safety team, and there are many options on the market to choose from. These include face-to-face, hybrid, or completely online training formats, and because the FDA cannot legally regulate a monopoly on training, there are a variety of ways to receive the FDA-recognized curriculum for PCQIs. Aside from price, there are several critical factors that can be used to choose the best training that will have a lasting impact on your organization. By knowing what to look for in well-designed training, you can ensure you receive the highest quality education.

Effective food safety courses break down hours-long certificate training into modules, or manageable bites of cognitive load … this helps learners stay focused.


Understanding training needs

First, it’s essential to focus on a product that addresses the top training challenges faced by food facilities. The latest qualitative research from Campden BRI and its partners is a good place to start your comparison of workforce development training. Their analysis, which includes data from organizations like Intertek Alchemy, BRCGS, BSI, Intertek, SGS, SQF, and TSI, collected from 3,000 sites globally, targets food and beverage manufacturing and associated packaging and distribution industries. The research identified the top training challenges as

  • scheduling time for training
  • allocating resources
  • having staff to manage training delivery and documentation, and
  • leadership support

The 2024 report also highlighted that self-paced adult learning is in high demand to resolve scheduling conflicts, and it stressed that building confidence and competency in self-paced learning are top training goals. These goals align with the need for flexibility and adaptability in modern food safety training programs, especially in a rapidly changing industry where new regulations and technologies constantly emerge.

Components of effective competency-based training

Food company leaders want employees who can confidently make good decisions and who stay true to updated SOPs, follow food safety plans, and contribute to food safety culture.

Well-designed training for working adults leverages educational research on the effectiveness of various methods, the validity of the content, and its relevance to the worker. This is particularly important for high-stakes professional training, such as online PCQI certification. Several factors can make a big difference in learner motivation, perseverance, critical thinking, and knowledge retention.

Course quality checklist

The supervisor tasked with choosing training for your food safety team members can look at the following course design factors for guidance. These are some instructional design and teaching methods consistently recognized in measuring training effectiveness. Effective food safety courses:

  • Modular Structure: Breaking down hours-long certificate training into modules, or manageable bites of cognitive load can help learners stay focused. This approach allows learners to absorb information in smaller, more digestible chunks, which can improve comprehension.
  • Clear Learning Objectives: Each module should have clear learning objectives to guide learners. These objectives provide a roadmap for what learners should achieve by the end of the module, ensuring that they stay on track and understand the purpose of each lesson.
  • Authentic Content: Avoid AI-generated content that may come across as inauthentic. This can irritate learners and impact concentration. Authentic content, often created by industry experts, resonates better with learners and adds credibility to the training program.
  • Practice and Reflection: Training should provide time between lessons for practice and reflection on new concepts, aiding retention and building deeper connections to daily work. This iterative process helps learners internalize what they have learned and apply it in real-world scenarios.
  • Remediation Opportunities: Learners should revisit and remediate concepts that haven’t fully stuck. Remediation ensures that all learners reach the desired level of competency before moving on to more advanced topics.
  • Research-Based Assessments: Using research-based assessments builds confidence and helps learners retain new knowledge. These assessments are designed to evaluate understanding effectively and identify areas where additional focus may be needed.
  • Scenario Practice: Incorporating scenario practice improves decision-making skills. Scenarios allow learners to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations, enhancing their problem-solving abilities and preparing them for real-world challenges.
  • Intuitive Navigation: Ensuring that navigation to the glossary and resource content is intuitive enhances the learning experience. Easy access to additional resources helps learners find the information they need quickly, supporting their learning journey.
  • Emotional Engagement: Designing training that considers the emotional aspects of learning – using stories and providing a safe place for practice – can significantly boost engagement. Engaging content that connects with learners on an emotional level can make the training more memorable and impactful.

Choosing the best training

Despite the many fads that cycle through corporate workforce training, these are some of the tried-and-true instructional design and teaching methods that produce consistent results.

Empowering your employees through effective training methods is crucial. So, how does your training measure up? Evaluating training programs against these criteria can help you select the best option for your team, ensuring they are well-prepared to handle food safety responsibilities and contribute to a culture of safety within your organization.

About the Author

Kathryn Birmingham, Ph.D., is Vice President of Research and Development at ImEPIK, LLC., and holds a Lead Instructor Certificate for the FDA’s PCQI course. She is the instructional design leader for ImEPIK’s PCQI Online© course software. She has over 30 years of experience in curriculum development, higher education administration, research with teaching, and food safety.

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