19 October 2021 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Prof Arno Hugo was recently elected as Vice-Chair of the Professional Advisory Committee (PAC) for Food Science in the SACNASP.

Prof Arno Hugo from the Department of Animal Science at the University of the Free State (UFS) was recently elected as Vice-Chair of the Professional Advisory Committee (PAC) for Food Science in the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP).

SACNASP, similar to other professional bodies, is the registration, regulatory and enabling body for natural science professionals. The Natural Scientific Professions Act, 2003 (Act 27 of 2003) mandates SACNASP to register practising natural scientists in one of various fields of practice. Food science is one of 26 fields of practice gazetted for natural science.

Acknowledged as experienced professional

As Vice-Chair of the PAC, Prof Hugo – who is familiar with the processes – is acknowledged as an experienced professional to evaluate applications in this field of practice, where candidates apply for professional registration in Food Science.

He explains that the Advisory Committee ensures that candidates have adequate and relevant training in the natural sciences and in the field of food science. “For registration as professional natural scientist in this specific field, the appropriately qualified candidates must also have one to three years of working experience in the food industry, depending on the level of their food science qualification,” he says. 

Prof Hugo is also involved in interviewing candidates who want to register as professional food scientists via the route of recognition of prior learning (RPL). “Candidates with relevant qualifications can also register as professional food scientists via RPL if they have 10 years of working experience in this field,” he states.

Furthermore, he also evaluates the qualifications and work experience of foreign nationals applying for critical skills visas to work as food scientists in South Africa, due to a shortage of food scientists in South Africa. 

Food safety – a basic human right

According to Prof Hugo, consumers should not have to hope and trust that their food is safe to consume.

Food safety is internationally regarded as a basic human right. Prof Hugo says people must have access to clean (meaning safe) food and water at all times. “When food processing and preservation activities are performed at commercial level, or food – including processed food – is traded to consumers who have no control over the process, the consumers should not only ‘trust’ that their food is safe to be consumed after processing. 

“There need to be processes in place to ensure that consumers are served safe food and water.”

He believes that in order to achieve this, only sufficiently trained and registered scientists should be responsible for ensuring that food safety and quality principles are always applied and adhered to during the manufacture of food products.

“Individuals who want to work in this space must therefore show training and competency to take responsibility for risks such as food spoilage or food poisoning. We all remember the 2018 outbreak of Listeria in the meat processing industry, which caused the death of 200 consumers,” he adds. 

Importance of quality education and lifelong learning skills

Prof Hugo is of the opinion that it is very important that education and lifelong learning skills, through continuing professional development (CPD), are of a high standard and are available to scientists who are contributing to the country's growth, as well as social and economic development.

“The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology consults a statutory body such as the SACNASP for input on the science professions. SACNASP is also mentioned in the White Paper on Science and Technology as the custodian of CPD, through which additional skills/re-skilling of scientists are conducted,” he explains.

He says some of the advantages of being registered as a professional natural scientist with SACNASP include that you are recognised as a professional; there is public confidence in you as a scientist, you are more marketable; and you adhere to a code of conduct (you are trusted for ethical values).

Regarding the work he is doing as the Vice-Chair of the Professional Advisory Committee (PAC), Prof Hugo says: “I consider this voluntary work as a privilege and part of my community service to the industry that employs our students.”

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