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Beyond the Norm: Taking Food Safety Training Further

Although food safety training is required by regulation for food businesses, food safety education will help to move your business beyond the norm, better enable your workers to absorb and retain the knowledge, and benefit your team as both workers and consumers. With September recognized as National Food Safety Education month, now is a great time to take your food safety training program to the next level.

What do we mean by this? Let’s start with some explanations:

  • Training plus Education: There is a basic difference between training and education in that training addresses the “what,” i.e., the how to. Education, on the other hand, addresses the “why,” i.e., the reason behind the how. While it is essential that workers are trained on the actions needed to keep your specific products safe, educating them with the reasons for those actions enables them to more fully understand, reason, and improve.
  • Worker and Consumer: While businesses know that their workers have lives outside the doors of their facilities, they don’t always recognize the impact that a person’s business and home lives can have on each other. Nor how that fits into food safety education.

The most obvious example of the impact of the home on the workplace is that of a worker’s culture, and a best practice in addressing such impacts is education. Not only might a worker not speak English, or speak it only as a second less-fluent language, their family’s cultural background can impact their food-handling practices. For example, some Asian cultures traditionally cut meats before cutting vegetables, using the same knife and board, and/or serve themselves from shared food bowls with the same utensil they eat with. Because these are normal, ingrained practices, training is needed for them to be seen as unsafe. But, taking it further, education will explain that raw meats harbor pathogens and detail how that can contaminate vegetables cut afterward. Similarly, education will explain how a tasting spoon put back into a bowl of say, deli salad, for a second taste, will transfer bacteria from the taster’s mouth to contaminate the ready-to-eat salad.

Another example is that of personal hygiene. While handwashing is generally included in the training of all food businesses, the importance of clean hair, body, and clothing is rarely as thoroughly addressed or explained. As noted by ServSafe, one of the primary places for pathogens to be found is the skin and hair, so a worker who is not clean can carry a high risk of contaminating food or work surfaces. This applies to clothing, as well, even if a work smock is worn over personal attire.

While training will tell workers that cleanliness is required, education will explain that pathogens cause food poisoning, and how these can be transferred to food or surfaces simply by a worker touching their clothing or hair then touching food – even if their hand is gloved. Such education also provides a consumer benefit, as your worker will now understand how food can be contaminated by unclean clothing, hair, etc., and can use this knowledge in their own home and with their family.

This brings up another critical aspect of both training and educating: ensuring you are meeting your workers where they are. That is, focusing on the inclusivity and accessibility of the tools – using examples and case studies that are culturally relevant, providing various modes of learning (i.e., text, graphics, video, etc.) in applicable language(s), and at an appropriate level (generally advised to be 7th to 8th grade).

Using your food safety training time to discuss some of the reasons behind today’s food safety challenges can also be helpful in your workers’ understanding of the importance of their role. For example, many ingredients in food products originate from foreign countries, so they could bring in microorganisms that are not native to the U.S. Additionally, new pathogens regularly emerge and known pathogens become resistant to treatment – all of which continually present new food safety challenges that need to be offset by increased food safety practices.

Continually educating your workers on various aspects of food safety, with both the how and the why, will help in the continuous building and maintaining of a mature food safety culture. But it all starts at the top. Are you committed to going beyond the norm?

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