Employee Food Safety Training - The Foundation of a Food Safety Culture

Retailers face a number of food safety challenges: supply chains are becoming more and more complex; regulatory requirements are increasing; consumer preferences are changing; prepared foods offered at retail are expanding; and our workforce is changing. The growing number of industry challenges magnifies the importance of managing risk when it comes to public health and food retailers' brands.

To maximize the capacity for food handlers to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, it is crucial for each company to create a culture of food safety. Starting at the top, it must be known that food safety is a top propriety with programs and incentives put in place that reinforce employee's knowledge, attitudes and behaviors that reflect food safety best practices. Making food safety a priority can play huge role in reducing the risk of foodborne illness, but unless food safety is considered a top priority within an organization with top-down support, employees' knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors may not reflect food safety best practices. We can all name examples of when food safety was not considered to be a top priority and negative consequences ensued.

Food safety culture is an organization's shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices on food safety which includes, but is not limited to, suppliers, purchasing, cleaning and sanitizing, storage and preparation, as well as serving customers. Most companies agree on the importance of food safety, but the difference lies in a company's ability to create a culture that promotes food safety. Components of a food safety culture are dependent on an organization's priorities, leadership, the perception of risk and food safety procedures, employee ownership in food safety, and employee communication. A company's ability to adopt a culture of food safety is dependent on their ability to take a holistic approach to manage food safety risk and incorporate all components of a food safety culture

More than 80 percent of respondents to the 2014 Global Food Safety Training Survey, conducted by Campden BRI and Alchemy in partnership with SGS, SQF and the BRC, reported that improved food safety culture was the leading benefit of effective employee training. Additional benefits identified include improved quality and fewer mistakes, fewer food safety incidents, and fewer customer complaints.

Still, obstacles to creating a more dynamic food safety culture exist, especially since today's retail associates are pressed for time. A recent 2014 Global Food Safety Training Survey identified time and workplace organization as the leading barriers preventing employees from performing safe food handling behaviors. Additionally, nearly 80 percent of respondents reported that time is the biggest training challenge.

With an increasingly diverse workforce that is pressed for time, Laura Dunn Nelson, vice president of technical services and business development at Alchemy Systems, believes that in order "to address the evolving workforce – diverse generations, ages, culture, languages – companies realize that their training materials need to evolve by incorporating sound instruction design and delivering the training in a manner that drives comprehension."

For this reason, FMI chose Alchemy Systems to develop and provide online training courses for FMI's SafeMark food safety programs for retail associates. Alchemy has leveraged the latest research to promote learning and sustain food safety behaviors by developing an innovative and highly effective training experience for both retail food handlers and managers.

Ultimately, through leadership and training, clear communication by management, from top to bottom, is key to improving food safety behaviors with employees, ensuring awareness of proper food safety practices, and creating a positive workplace environment and culture that promotes food safety.

Hilary Thesmar, PhD, RD, is FMI vice president of food safety programs. Reach her at [email protected].