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OJT Worker Training Can Aid or Thwart Food Safety Efforts

Food safety training, to at least some degree, has always been an inherent aspect of food production for any successful food business. And with FSMA’s Produce Safety Rule and Preventive Controls Rules bringing requirements for specific worker food safety training and documentation, both upon-hire and refresher training became mandatory. This became even more of a challenge recently with the rate of employee turnover and the greater use of temporary workers.

However, having training requirements, even with regulatory specifications, does not necessarily equate to successful food safety education. In fact, a recent Global Food Safety Training Survey, which surveyed industry professionals from more than 3,000 food production facilities, found that, while 88% of respondents believe their companies provide adequate food safety training, only 40% stated that their employees follow the food safety programs on the floor, with on-the-job (OJT) worker-to-worker training being of particular concern.

With September being National Food Safety Education Month, it is an appropriate time to provide our readers with some best practices in training and education and their importance in food safety culture.

According to the industry survey, facilities have found the greatest training challenges to be scheduling time for training, staff turnover, and bad practices/misinformation passed among employees. With on-the-job training being the top delivery method for respondents, this passing along of bad practices is a real issue.

In addition to simply providing data, the survey report included an analysis of the specific practices and characteristics by which some organizations were able to drive better results from their food safety training efforts – including OJT. Following are the report’s five best practices in food safety training (italicized), with added perspective from TAG:

  1. Provide frontline workers with at least 16 hours of food safety training annually, with 30+ hours preferred. What is not mentioned in this recommendation is that this cannot simply be OJT of one employee to another without ensuring that the trainer is fully educated and providing accurate training.
  2. Include site-specific examples in the training. Making training relevant to the facility and its particular products, equipment and operations enables workers to better relate to the training and understand its specific application.
  3. Tailor training to each employee’s role. In the same way, providing each employee and/or section with training specific to their job will help to ensure they understand their own role in food safety. This is an area where co-worker training could come in as long as the worker trainer fully understands the food safety aspects of the role.
  4. Utilize a learning management system (LMS). While an LMS can provide additional options for training and ensure consistency, there also is a bit of a bias in this recommendation based on the fact that the report states that “the analysis and conclusions reflect the perspective” of the LMS-providing sponsor.
  5. Motivate employees through upskilling opportunities. Providing workers with concrete opportunities for advancement can increase their motivation for learning and ensuring they are providing others with accurate training – which would show them to be desirous of and potentially ready for advancement. Additionally, the report’s statement, “A mature upskilling program will triple the likelihood that employees will prevent problems by stopping production when a food safety risk is comprised” provides a strong rationale for providing upward opportunities.

While this report focuses entirely on training, there is a distinct case to be made for educating rather than simply training. The difference is that training teaches the skills a person needs for their job while education adds the why, enabling workers to understand the reason behind what they are doing. As explained in an Indiana University instructional design paper, “When something is meaningfully understood, it is retained much longer, (and) can be built upon to acquire further understanding.”

It also is this understanding that adds a necessary component to training to aid in the building and retention of a food safety culture. Interestingly, the existence of a company-wide food safety culture will also aid in your training and education efforts, helping to ensure accurate OJT training by co-workers.

The current transient nature of food workers makes training even more of a challenge, and without incentives, there is little reason for a new worker to fully understand the training they are getting. It is not difficult to make a group sit in front of a presentation and answer some questions; but changing behavior and raising awareness around the criticality of what each worker does, while more challenging, is one of the keys to success.

TAG provides a range of services that can assist in your employee training, education, and food safety culture. Give us a call for information or assistance.


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