Food safety culture, food safety education, food safety training – all phrases that we hear daily in the foodservice industry. While they sound similar, they are not synonymous. In my opinion as a food safety expert, there’s a huge difference between food safety education and food safety training. Food safety education is an ongoing effort to teach foodservice professionals about more than just the “basics.” It’s helping them understand why food safety is so important, the proper protocols to follow, how to prevent contamination, cross-contact, etc. – on an ongoing basis.
Food safety education is critical. Maybe that’s where the food safety problems lie: food safety must be looked at as an education program, rather than part of a one-time training program. Food safety training is the action of teaching a person a particular skill or type of behavior i.e., how to properly clean and sanitize a piece of equipment. One task is taught, then another, and another – sometimes without ever understanding why the assignment is crucial, instead following specific procedures for no reason other than “because I said so.”
Food safety culture begins at the top of an organization, many of the fundamentals of that culture must be implemented by entry level employees, as well as management. As we’ve seen over the past few years, there’s often a breakdown in execution, resulting in foodborne illness outbreaks. If entry level (or any level) employees don’t understand the magnitude of food safety, they may not make the extra effort to wash their hands often, remove their aprons before using the restrooms, properly clean and sanitize equipment, etc.
Restaurants’ food safety education programs should achieve positive, measurable results. A solid technology infrastructure will make the education process seamless. Instructors must be dynamic, personable, engaging, and positive, making the material relevant and memorable.
Food safety regulations require foodservice operators to provide food handlers with a basic understanding of food safety. These good practices prevent customers from suffering food poisoning and allergic reactions, help minimize food waste, increase employee productivity and maximize profitability.
Correct food safety and sanitation practices can greatly improve team member efficiency, keep employees safe and consumer confidence high, as well as meeting or exceeding regulatory standards, and thus avoiding problematic incidents, such as having non-compliance fines or potentially embarrassing closures.
It’s essential to implement an ongoing food safety education process to maximize success. Measure your program’s successes with third-party inspections, mystery shoppers, and follow-up software programs. These programs and solutions can be implemented regardless of a company’s goals or budget, helping them effectively, efficiently, and safely run their operations.
Reward systems are incredibly effective, so reward your employees for participating in education programs and implementing the protocols they’ve learned. Rewards can be simple and inexpensive: a paid day off, pizza parties, movie passes, etc. Make them feel appreciated. Rewards don’t always need to be monetary, not everyone is motivated by money.
I believe that we can get more people to care about food safety by properly educating them on this topic. To maximize success, emphasize food safety education, explain why food safety protocols are important, model proper behaviors, and reward employees for following proper procedures.
By properly educating employees – and getting them to care about food safety – we can reduce foodborne illness incidents and risks.