This is part three of a four-part series on building a food safety culture in your establishment by Francine L. Shaw, president, Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc.
While attending a recent food safety conference, an attendee said something that really hit home for me: “We don’t provide food safety training, we provide food safety education.” She explained further, “Do you want your children to receive sex training or sex education?” BINGO! She’s right. As foodservice professionals, we train our teams on many aspects of the foodservice business and that must include food safety education. We provide employees with knowledge about food safety protocols and procedures so they can perform their jobs correctly and safely, and so that our guests will remain safe and healthy.
Why is food safety education and training important?
If food safety is neglected, the risk of food contamination increases, which can cause foodborne illness outbreaks. Foodborne illnesses can critically damage a company’s reputation and result in criminal negligence, loss of sales/profits, scathing media coverage and even bankruptcy. Food safety education and training is a win-win situation, protecting both the guests and the company.
Educating and training employees involves some expense, but the return on investment is immense. If your company has a well-established food safety culture, employees are more likely to follow company policies and procedures correctly. As a result, mistakes significantly decrease, profitability is amplified, employee morale is boosted, employee turnover and absenteeism is reduced, and the company’s reputation remains secure.
Many times, food safety lapses occur when new employees are not properly trained or during a change in company policy. Training also gets neglected when finances are tight or things get busy. Create a system to prevent these lapses!
While we want to think that our employees do things correctly all the time, in reality, they do not. Before becoming a food safety professional, I spent over 20 years in the foodservice industry. I had a great team, yet I sometimes caught my wonderful employees taking short cuts. They were well-trained, we did well on our internal inspections, health inspections, third-party audits, etc., but one of those short cuts could have made someone sick.
Educate Employees on the Why
Often, employees aren’t educated about why things are important. Perhaps they don’t understand why it’s important to wash their hands often and well, why poultry must be cooked to 165°F, why raw proteins should be stored on the bottom shelves in the coolers, etc. Understanding why these things are critical helped me (and my employees) follow the rules more closely. If employees understand that juices from raw poultry could drip onto ready-to-eat foods such as vegetables and contaminate them, they’ll be more likely to follow the rules versus if their manager told them to store poultry on the lower shelves without offering an explanation about why this behavior is important. When training, it’s always important to explain the “why” factor.
When developing a training program, there are many things to consider:
- Determine whether your current program is effective.
- Remember that various levels of management require different training, but all levels should be educated in food safety.
- Determine which training certification program will be best for your restaurant.
- Determine who will be certified?
- Will classroom or online training be best for your team? (I recommend that the initial training is done in a classroom environment.)
- How frequently should your team be trained? (Regular, ongoing training is best.)
- Would your team benefit from a food handler program?
- Would incorporating company-specific information be beneficial?
- Who will deliver the training?
Other training tips include:
- Incorporate visual aids for participants who may be visual learners.
- Include participatory exercises to help make the materials and lessons more memorable.
- Use consistent terminology throughout the program.
- Ensure that managers serve as role models. Employees will emulate their leaders, so they should lead by example.
- Make it known that senior management was involved in the training development process and they expect all employees to embrace and follow the program.
A good food safety training program will be at the core of your food safety culture. The health and safety of your employees and guests depend on the food safety training and education that you provide, so make this a priority no matter how busy you are.