Episode 12 of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series features a discussion on how food safety professionals can bridge the gap between the C-Suite and Food Safety. The presentation is given by food safety attorney Shawn Stevens of Food Industry Counsel, LLC, and followed by a TechTalk from Michael Alderson of STOP Alliance.
As part of a special offering, Episode 12 been made available for viewing on demand for free. Register to view the on-demand recording.
The pandemic has heightened the need for a new hygiene standard at food manufacturing sites. On August 19, OSHA and FDA released a health and hygiene checklist for food manufacturers to increase employee safety and help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at sites. This checklist reinforces the importance of elevating hygiene standards, but it can be difficult to know where to start—especially for food manufacturers aiming to maintain productivity while maximizing hygiene compliance and safety.
For food manufacturers seeking to navigate OSHA and FDA’s new guide, it’s important to remember that no matter the environment, the basics of hygiene remain true. You can kick-start your updated hygiene plan by implementing simple hygiene best practices and establishing comprehensive and clear protocols to achieve compliance on the road ahead. Remember, employee health and productivity begins with a safety-first mindset. Start by establishing a strong foundation with these tips that will help you maintain your food manufacturing site’s hygiene checklist amid COVID-19 and beyond.
Achieve Hand Hygiene Compliance
Hands are the most exposed part of the body to pathogens. Therefore, hand hygiene is considered one of the most important and effective measures to avoid the transmission of harmful pathogens, viruses and diseases. Given this, consistent and proper handwashing is a fundamental aspect of any hygiene plan, especially in food manufacturing sites where employees frequently touch common surfaces (e.g., door handles, technical equipment, etc.) . People often (and unknowingly) touch their eyes, nose and mouth after touching contaminated surfaces, which contributes to potential transmission.
Hand hygiene is proven to be a primary line of defense in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens, but only when conducted properly. To maintain hand hygiene compliance, the CDC advises that employees thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water, under warm or cold water for at least 20 seconds, before properly drying their hands with a paper towel. All too often, people forget the importance of hand drying in the handwashing process, but it’s very significant as hand drying can help remove any remaining germs from the skin. In addition, germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands, which makes hand drying critical after a thorough handwashing.
Utilize Signage as Visual Cues
While many are familiar with the importance of hand hygiene, it can be difficult to put into practice when employees are busy on the job and forging ahead on production lines. Keep hand hygiene top of mind by utilizing visual cues, such as signage, to remind employees about when, where and how to wash their hands properly. Signage serves as visual reminders to achieve proper hand hygiene compliance and is an important part of establishing a site’s hygiene standard and foundation.
Opt for signage that includes a direct call to action for employees. Using the word “you” can also increase efficacy by calling directly upon the person reading the sign to participate in hand hygiene compliance. Additionally, signage should be updated frequently to keep employees engaged and hand hygiene top of mind. New and fresh reminders on the importance of handwashing will help keep employees attentive, but if you don’t have the time or resources to continually update on-site signage, leverage free tools available online to help you get started.
Establish Surface Cleaning Protocols without Sacrificing Productivity
COVID-19 can spread from surface-to-person contact. This can happen when an employee carrying the virus touches technical equipment on a production line that is not properly wiped down before the next employee’s shift. With this in mind, it’s critical to establish effective surface cleaning protocols that mitigate instances of cross-contamination and don’t create downtime in production or processing.
To create an efficient surface hygiene plan, assess high-touch areas, and develop a list based on where you observe high-touch surfaces to ensure these areas are properly sanitized ahead of shift changes. Provide employees with the surface cleaning checklist that enables them to effectively sanitize surfaces prior to departing their shift. The checklist should include key areas that must be disinfected, as well as tips to properly disinfect surfaces.
When disinfecting surfaces, use an approved disinfectant and a disposable cloth, which ensures the surface is being wiped down with a non-contaminated wiper each time. If using an alcohol-based product, use one with a minimum of 70% alcohol (i.e., Ethanol or Isopropyl alcohol), and always follow the manufacturer’s application guidelines.
Optimize Sanitization Stations and Dispenser Placement
Think strategically and practically about dispenser placement in food manufacturing sites because where sanitizer dispensers are placed makes a difference in whether they are used by employees. Similar to establishing surface cleaning protocols, start by observing where high-traffic areas are on site, and consider critical entry and exit points that would benefit from a dispenser. Dispensers should also be placed in clear view, so they are easily accessible for employees. Consider pairing signage with dispensers as a helpful reminder to utilize these stations and provide instruction on best practices to sanitize effectively.
Optimizing dispenser placement doesn’t stop with implementation. Once dispensers are in place, continue to monitor where dispensers are most frequently used, and assess other areas prime for dispensers. Remember: Employee hygiene and safety is a priority, and optimally placing dispensers and hygiene solutions where they are needed to encourage use is key to creating a safer environment. Place dispensers in areas such as common spaces, near production lines, in locker rooms, and at entrances and exits in order to encourage regular surface cleaning and hand washing. Flexible mounting solutions and portable solutions can facilitate access in harsher environments. The availability of hygiene products encourages their use, so be sure to keep dispensers fully stocked.
Promote Awareness among Employees and Instill Confidence
It’s more important than ever to build employee trust and confidence. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Communicate frequently with employees and distribute guidelines around COVID-19 so that they understand the measures being introduced and how you will continually monitor your environment. Consider implementing COVID-19-specific training and education sessions that empower employees to ask questions about hygiene and safety measures on site, and provide essential instruction on COVID-19 and what to do if a case is confirmed among employees. These sessions can also be used to provide further education and emphasis on how individuals can maintain hygiene compliance for the greater good of the manufacturing site and their colleagues.
In the current environment, it’s clear that food manufacturers must secure a new hygiene standard to maintain employee health and safety and continue to deliver essential products. But with ongoing shifts, changes and uncertainty, it can be challenging to juggle operations and hygiene compliance—while instilling trust and confidence among employees. Whether a site is continuing, resuming or re-evaluating operations amid the current pandemic, it is critical to maintain a strong foundation for hygiene, so that employees are safe and essential production moves ahead.
Navigating the murky waters that COVID-19 presents has been no easy task for food companies. Being part of America’s critical infrastructure has meant that adapting to the pandemic has been unavoidable, and the industry has directly taken on the challenges to ensure the nation has a reliable food supply. But what about the frontline workers, their safety and how this ties into operational continuity as a whole? During last week’s episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, an expert panel discussed the practices that food companies have put in place during the pandemic and offered advice on managing the entire scope of COVID-19 challenges including screening employees and preventing infection transmission, safeguarding workers and the facility, administrative and engineering controls, education and training, and risk management.
“No doubt that it is a concert of controls and interventions that have allowed our industry to effectively combat this over the past several months,” said Sanjay Gummalla, senior vice president of scientific affairs at the American Frozen Foods Institute. “By and large, the industry has taken charge of this situation in a way that could not have been predicted.” Gummalla was joined by Trish Wester, founder of the Association for Food Safety Auditing Professionals and Melanie Neumann, executive vice president and general counsel for Matrix Sciences International.
First up, the COVID Czar—what is it and does your company have one? According to Neumann, this is a designated person, located both within a production facility as well as at the corporate location, who manages the bulk of the requirements and precautions that companies should be undertaking to address the pandemic. “We’re not trained in people safety—we’re trained in food safety,” said Neumann. “And it’s a lot to ask, especially on top of having to manage food safety.”
Some of the takeaways during the discussion include:
- Administrative controls that must be managed: Appropriate cleaning, disinfection and sanitation; PPE; employee hygiene; shift management; and surveillance mechanisms
- PPE: “It’s really clear now that face masks and coverings are critical in managing source control—it prevents the spread and protects other employees,” said Gummalla. “All employees wearing masks present the highest level of protection.” When the attendees were polled about whether face coverings are mandatory where they work, 91% answered ‘yes’.
- Engineering controls within facility: Physical distancing measures such as plexiglass barriers, six-foot distance markings, traffic movement, limited employees, and hand sanitizer stations. “Engineering controls in a facility involve isolation from the virus,” said Gummalla. “In this case, controlling [and] reducing the exposure to the virus without relying on specific worker behavior. This is where facilities have implemented a great amount of thoughtful intervention, probably at a high capital cost as well.” Companies should also consider airflow management, which can involving bringing in an outside professional with expertise in negative and positive air pressure, advised Wester.
- Verification activities and enterprise risk management: Neumann emphasized the importance of documentation as well as advising companies to apply a maturity model (similar to a food safety culture maturity model) to a COVID control program. The goal is to ensure that employees are following certain behaviors when no one is watching. “We want to be able to go from ‘told’ to ‘habit’,” she said.
- Education and training: Using posters, infographics, brochures and videos, all of which are multilingual, to help emphasize that responsibility lies with every employee. “It is important to recognize the transmission is predominately is person to person,” said Gummalla. Do you have a daily huddle? Neumann suggests having a regular dialogue with employees about COVID.
- The future, 2021 and beyond: Does your company have a contingency, preparedness or recovery plan? “The next six months are going to be critical; in many parts of the world, the worse is not over yet,” said Gummalla. “There will be a lot more innovation in our industry, and communication will be at the heart of all of this.”
As part of a special offering, Episode 3 has been made available for viewing on demand for free. Register to view the on-demand recording.
I don’t have to tell you that COVID-19 is a crisis, and the consequences have been immediate and difficult. But as I speak to clients and look beyond the immediacy of the problems the food industry is facing, I am seeing positive insights that can help us now and in the future.
Food safety culture hasn’t always been clearly defined, nor has it been a “must” in many food safety systems. But the reality is that food safety culture—and the buy-in that needs to happen in your entire organization—is a direct and important element for staying up to date with new rules and being consistent and compliant at every location.
Join Kari Hensien for a complementary webinar, “4 Solvable Challenges for Enhancing Your Food Safety Culture 2020” | October 28 | Register NowWhat Does Food Safety Culture Mean Now?
The definition I have liked most is “food safety culture is what you’re doing when no one is watching.” But with the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is always watching, so the definition must expand.
Customers are carefully watching every employee at every location to gain a feeling of safety and trust at restaurants and eateries. And if employees aren’t up to speed or don’t have buy-in to your food safety culture, or even food safety in general, a single incident can turn away customers for good.
As an example, I recently visited a favorite taco joint. After the cashier rang me up, he put hand sanitizer on his gloves and proceeded to put handfuls of chips into my takeaway bag with those same “sanitized” gloves. I will not be going back.
So, food safety culture is still about what you do when no one is watching and when everyone is watching, making participation from every member of your organization critical.
What Can You Do Now to Enhance Food Safety Culture?
Practices that enhance food safety culture should initiate a shift in perspective before you implement more tangible activities. These shifts will be more challenging because they require your entire organization to be on board.
Perspective Shifts for Food Safety Culture
One or more paradigm shifts may be necessary to make enhancing your food safety culture successful. Sometimes initiatives like food safety culture can feel more like another addition to your to-do list rather than an asset that ultimately makes the job of a quality manager easier. So, consider these suggested shifts as you move forward.
- Food safety culture is part of your food safety system and your corporate social responsibility plans. With any crisis, not just the current pandemic, the values and expectations you instill in your employees can give you an immovable base, even if the surface is in constant fluctuation. And whether you’re dealing with an outbreak or a pandemic, showing you put customers and location employees first demonstrates good corporate citizenship.
- Location employees can be your biggest asset or your biggest liability. Employees perform better when they know the purpose behind what they’re doing rather than following rules that may seem arbitrary if they don’t have a clear understanding of why.
- Punitive systems encourage hiding problems; supportive systems encourage collaboration and trust. If employees feel safe reporting issues or problems at their location, the more likely they’ll catch small issues before they become huge liabilities.
- Food safety culture can be a huge asset. In other words, instead of looking at food safety culture as another chore in your already crowded list, see it as an asset that improves food safety and creates better work environments, which inherently decreases risk and protects your brand.
In-Practice Shifts for Food Safety Culture
The paradigm shifts suggested above help build a support perspective for a strong food safety culture. The following shifts I suggest can help you implement tangible actions that benefit every level of your organization.
- Take great care of location employees. These employees are in direct contact with customers the most, and they are truly your first line of defense. Which means they can be an incredible asset or the weakest link.
- Consider audit and checklist software over laminated or paper checklists. The right software or app can instantly push new policies or standards to every location and employee at the same time, so everyone is always on the same page. Choose software or other tools that 1) makes it easy for all employees to get the information they need; 2) helps them quickly build behaviors that serve your quality and safety programs; and 3) empowers them to confidently share issues that need to be corrected so you get a true view of the health of any location.
- Consider quality management system software. With a platform (there are many that include audit and checklist tools), you can collect data points more quickly and from more sources to create a single source of truth and deepen insights. Software can directly support food safety culture, helping you:
- Find new insights and continually improve your processes
- Systematically rollout new policies and procedures
- Drive adoption of new policies and “build muscle memory” so employees build good habits
- Validate that your policies and practices are followed in every location
- Identify locations or policies that need increased focus while you reward areas of successful performance.
- Look at your organization from a 30,000-foot perspective. This is not so easy to do if you are using manual processes such as paper, file cabinets or even spreadsheets. With those tools, you can see data points, but it takes a lot of work to build a big-picture view. Again, this is where software is invaluable. Many quality management system software options include built-in analytics and reporting, which means much of the work is done for you, saving you valuable time.
I hope your main takeaway from this article is that surviving a crisis requires a strong food safety culture. It helps unify employees across your organization, so everyone knows what’s expected of them and how their work affects the big picture. I see strong evidence that enhancing your food safety culture is more than the “next thing on your to-do list.” It’s a tool that you can put to work to decrease risk, increase compliance, and find small issues before they become huge problems.
Many food retailers are dependent on outdated methods of recording product food temperature that include pen, paper and trust given to employees to remember to complete inspections. Unfortunately, this style of inspection completion can be an outlet for foodborne Illness outbreaks. As technologies advance to offer real-time reporting, managing such vital inspections and reports has never been so simple while drastically reducing risk and increasing consumer safety.
Food service management should be asking the following questions on a daily basis:
- What food items passed & failed the cooling/cooking process?
- Why did these items fail and what is the monetary value of product loss?
- Have safety & operational checklist logs been completed on time?
- What corrective actions were issued?
- Have temperature-controlled cases failed within the last 24 hours?
With recent breakthroughs in food safety technology, the answers to the above questions can be found in your email inbox, online dashboard or mobile application. There are technologies available that give food service providers the ability to efficiently track and manage their food safety efforts by digitizing any type of food safety, quality assurance and sanitation inspections. One such technology uses a dual infrared/probe Bluetooth thermometer and real-time temperature sensors to help complete food safety temperature checks as well as bringing automation to cooling, cooking, and “time as temp” logs. This kind of technology can be integrated into food safety and risk management tools such as sensor monitoring or location-driven inspection technology.
Sufficient inspection software is not just a format for checklist completion. Software developed for the food service industry is behavioral based, meaning the software will guide inspectors to their next question and corrective action; or it automates the processes all together. This includes reminding inspectors when inspections are due in addition to providing snap shots to management on the status of said inspections with the ability to easily pull all data from the cloud.
Automated Logs for Cooking, Cooling and ‘Time as Temp’
Before taking a closer look at how new technology is shaping cooling logs, cooking logs, and time as a public health control; the following are a few terms to remember:
- Cooling & Cooking Logs: Recording of food product temperatures during cooking & cooling cycles that meet both time and temperature constraints outlined by the FDA.
- Time as a Public Health Control: Food product whose holding compliance is measured not by temperature but by time spent in the range of 41° F – 135° F after either being cooled below 41° F or heated above 135° F, as outlined by the FDA.
- Strategy: What is being done with the food product? Is it being cooked, cooled or held for Time as a Public Health Control?
- Phase: Time and/or temperature constraints set within the strategy. For example, cooling product from 135° F to 70° F within two hours or cooking to 165° F before being served.
As one of the most groundbreaking forms of food safety inspections, automated cooling and cooking logs create the ability to customize strategies for such processes. Cooling and cooking logs are an important aspect of food safety for their ability to complete the product lifecycle that can often times be overlooked. Such logs also help to ensure food product is cooked to proper temperatures before it is served to customers. Cooling log strategies look for product to be cooled from 135° F to 70° F within two hours and from 70° F to 41° F within four hours. Cooking logs are built in similar fashion but may vary on the type of product.
Proactive technology allows food service personnel to automate the cooling and cooking process with sensors that record and save product temperatures during cooking and cooling strategies. Once temperature thresholds are succeeded or anticipated to be missed, customized alerts can notify employees that the food is either ready to be served or that action is needed to avoid product loss.
For example, cooling a batch of rotisserie chickens would typically require an employee to manually check the product temperature every 30 minutes to ensure the rotisserie chickens are being cooled properly. With new technology, this same employee can insert a food-grade sensor probe into one or more of the chickens and walk away. The employee can reference a mobile application and real-time push notifications to ensure the chickens are cooling from 135° F to 70° F within two hours and from 70° F to 41° F within four hours. If the software’s algorithms predict that the rotisserie chickens will not meet the conditions set in the phase, proactive push notifications will be sent to the employee for specific action to ensure proper cooling, which avoids product loss and consumer claims related to foodborne illness. Using this method also allows for overnight cooling logs in addition to saving labor hours, all while eliminating paper.
As demand for increased food safety practices continues to climb, so will the capabilities of behavioral based inspection technology. Equipped with industry leading software engineers along with dual purpose customer support and onboarding services, this space will expand on its software and hardware capabilities to replace all outdated methods of inspection processes.
Safety is defined as controlling exposure for self and others. Going into 2020, the food industry battled safety concerns such as slips and falls, knife cuts, soft-tissue injuries, etc. As an “essential industry”, food-related organizations now face a unique challenge in controlling exposure to COVID-19. Not only must they keep their facilities clean and employees safe, they must also ensure they do not create additional exposures for their suppliers or customers.
These challenges increase at a time when employees may be distracted by stress, financial uncertainties, job insecurity, and worry for themselves and their families. Additionally, facilities may be understaffed, employees may be doing tasks they do not normally do, and we have swelling populations working from home.
While there is much we cannot control with COVID-19, there are specific behaviors that will reduce the risk of viral exposure for ourselves, our co-workers, and our communities. Decades of research show the power of behavioral science in increasing the consistency of safe behaviors. The spread of COVID-19 serves as an important reminder of what food-related organizations can gain by incorporating a behavioral component into a comprehensive exposure-reduction process.
Whether you have an existing behavior based safety process or not, follow these four steps.
Step 1: Pinpoint Critical COVID-19 Exposure Reduction Behaviors
It is critical to clearly pinpoint the behaviors you want to see occurring at a high rate. In the food industry, an organization must control exposure both within their facilities as well as during interactions with suppliers and customers. Controlling exposure within facilities will typically include those behaviors recommended by the CDC such as:
- Maintain six feet of separation at all times possible.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Minimize personal interactions to reduce exposure to transmit or receive pathogens.
- Frequent 20-second hand washing with soap and warm water.
- Make hand disinfectant available.
- Use alternatives to shaking hands.
- Frequently clean and disinfect common areas, such as meeting rooms, bathrooms, doorknobs, countertops, railings, and light switches.
- Sneeze and/or cough into elbow or use a tissue and immediately discard.
- Conduct meetings via conferencing rather than in person.
- If you are sick, stay home.
- If exposed to COVID-19, self-quarantine for precaution and protection of others.
Supplier/Customer exposure-reduction behaviors will vary depending upon your specific industry and may include pinpointing the critical behaviors for food preparation, loading dock delivery, customer home delivery, and customer pick up. When creating checklists to meet your unique exposures, be sure the behaviors you pinpoint are:
- Measurable: The behavior can be counted or quantified.
- Observable: The behavior can be seen or heard by an observer.
- Reliable: Two or more people agree that they observed the same thing.
- Active: If a dead man can do it, it is not behavior.
- Influenceable: Under the control of the performer.
Once you have drafted your checklists, ask yourself, “If everyone in my facility did all of these behaviors all the time, would we be certain that we were controlling exposure for each other, our suppliers, and our customers?” If yes, test your checklists for ease of use and clarity.
Step 2: Develop Your Observation Process
To do this, you will want to ask yourself:
- Who? Who will do observations? Can we leverage observer expertise from an existing process and have them focus on COVID-19 exposure reduction behaviors or should we create a new observer team?
- Where? Which specific locations, job types, and/or tasks should be monitored?
- When? When will observers conduct observations?
- Data: How will you manage the data obtained during the observations so that it can be used to identify obstacles to safe performance? Can the checklist items be entered into an existing database or will we need to create something new?
- Communication: What information needs to be communicated before we begin our COVID-19 Exposure Reduction process and over time? How will we communicate it?
Step 3: Conduct Your Observations and Provide Feedback
Starting the Observation
Your observers should explain that they are there to help reduce exposure to COVID-19 by providing feedback on performance.
Recording the Observation
Observers should note on the checklist which behaviors are occurring in a safe manner (protected) and which are increasing exposure to COVID-19 (exposed).
Feedback is given in the spirit of reducing exposure. It should be given as soon as possible after the observation to reinforce protected behaviors and give the person to opportunity to modify exposed behaviors.
Success feedback helps reinforce the behaviors you want occurring consistently. Effective success feedback includes:
- Context: The situation in which the behavior occurred.
- Action: The specific behaviors observed which reduce exposure to COVID-19.
- Result: The impact of those behaviors on themselves or others—in this case, reduced COVID-19 exposure for themselves, their families and community.
“I care about your safety and do not want to see you exposed to COVID-19. I saw you use hand sanitizer prior to putting on eye protection. By doing that, you reduced the likelihood of transferring anything that might have been on your hands to your face which keeps you safe from contracting COVID-19.”
Guidance feedback is given for exposed behaviors to transform that behavior into a protected one. Effective guidance feedback includes Context, Action, Result, but also:
- Alternative Action: The behavior that would have reduced their exposure to COVID-19.
- Alternative Result: The impact of that alternative behavior, such as reduced COVID-19 exposure for themselves, their families, and community.
“I care about your safety and do not want to see you exposed to COVID-19. I saw that you touched your face while putting on eye protection. By doing that, you increased the likelihood of transferring anything on your hand to your face which increases your risk of exposure to COVID-19. What could you have done to reduce that exposure?”
When giving guidance feedback, it is important to have a meaningful conversation about what prevented them from doing the safe alternative. Note these obstacles on the checklist.
Step 4: Use Your Data to Remove Obstacles to Safe Practices.
Create a COVID-19 exposure reduction team to analyze observation data. This team will identify systemic or organizational obstacles to safe behavior and develop plans to remove those obstacles. This is critical! When an organization knows that many people are doing the same exposed behavior, it is imperative that they not blame the employees but instead analyze what is going on in the organization that may inadvertently be encouraging these at-risk behaviors.
For example, we know handwashing and/or sanitizing is an important COVID-19 exposure reduction behavior. However, if your employees do not have access to sinks or hand sanitizer, it is not possible for them to reduce their exposure.
Similarly, the CDC recommends that people who are sick not come to work. However, if your organization does not have an adequate sick leave policy, people will come to work sick and expose their co-workers, customers and suppliers to their illness.
Your COVID-19 exposure reduction team should develop plans to remove obstacles to safe behavior using the hierarchy of controls.
Consistently executing critical behaviors is key to reducing exposure to COVID-19 as flattening the curve is imperative in the worldwide fight against this pandemic. Regardless of the type of behavior or the outcome that the behavior impacts, Behavior based safety systems work by providing feedback during the observations and then using the information obtained during the feedback conversation to remove obstacles to safe practices.
By using these tips, you can add a proven and powerful tool to your arsenal in the fight against COVID-19 and help keep your employees, their families, and your community safe.
Going digital is a hot topic in the food industry, but making the investment can be a tough choice for organizations. Jeremy Schneider, business development director, food safety and quality assurance at Controlant, reviews some of the factors that food companies should consider when making the decision, along with the value that digital technologies can bring from the perspective of ROI and improving food safety culture.
Food Safety Tech: For businesses that have been historically paper-driven, where do they start on the technology adoption journey?
Schneider: There are a number of questions that firms, both small and large, should consider when deciding to move to a paperless operation. Have you considered what moving away from a paper-based system would mean for your enterprise? What are the perceived challenges to making this move? Or perhaps, what are the risks of not moving to digital? How would utilizing systems provide your organization with the ability to access data in transformative ways?
For organizations that are making the transition from paper documentation to digital, it is critical to develop a roadmap with tangible milestones and objectives. Although there are a variety of reasons to make the switch to digital, what is most important for your organization will determine what those are, as they will play a critical role in developing a roadmap of priorities. We often find that organizations identify a ‘’pain-point’’ in their current process, and this is a leading driver to wanting to make a change in their process. Perhaps this is the inability to easily access information in a timely manner, or the challenges with making sense of the data that you are currently collecting. Whatever your challenges may be, begin by developing a plan, and prioritize this, as it will provide you with early positive results that will keep you working towards the goal. As you experience these early benefits from going digital, you will begin to see the value that this will bring your organization at scale.
One significant issue that many organizations face when beginning this journey is not bringing the appropriate stakeholders into a program early enough. It is critical for the success of new supply chain programs to make sure you bring in members of purchasing, logistics, quality, finance, IT, and others as early as possible so that any questions or concerns are properly vetted early in the process. In addition to this, getting buy-in from these teams at the earliest phase of a project will allow others to vet the system in their own way, potentially helping them solve challenges they have been
FST: Talk about measuring the success of a technology: How do the metrics translate into ROI?
Schneider: A question that is often raised is how to measure the success of the technology. Simply put, does the program make your life easier and solve the problem you set out to, or not? Does it meet the concise objectives that you outlined in the beginning of the process, or does it fall short in some way? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, and it does meet the objectives, then you are well on your way to defining success of your program.
Read Food Safety Tech’s previous discussion with Schneider, Using Technology for Traceability Adds Dimension to Supply Chain, Promises ROIIt is critical that programs are able to show their value through their return on investment, but how do you measure this? If you have recently implemented a real-time supply chain temperature monitoring program, for instance, you may want to consider metrics such as reduced loss, spoilage, shortages, or restaurant-level outages as metrics of success. Or perhaps you would want to translate this into a dollar figure. For instance, in the previous year, your organization counted 10 rejected shipments due to suspected temperature abuse, at a loss of $500,000. In the year following your implementation, your new system was able to help the organization intervene and minimize that loss to just one rejected shipment at a cost of $50,000, thus leading to a reduced loss rate of $450,000.
In collaboration with other stakeholders in your organization, you may be able to identify additional metrics, such as reduced freight rates from optimized shipping lanes, reduced insurance premiums from reduced losses, or reduced quantities of on-hand inventories as you are able to truly manage a just-in-time supply chain. If your organization actively measures your Cost to Serve, savings within your supply chain would likely be an important data point to consider.
Beyond the identifiable money savings, consider some of the soft ROI attributes, such as enhanced collaboration with supply chain and supplier partners, improved customer loyalty, brand protection generally, and sustainability initiatives. Does your organization have goals to reduce food waste? If so, perhaps waste minimization is an important attribute to measure. When evaluated holistically, significant savings can be realized.
FST: How does technology facilitate a more effective food safety culture?
Schneider: Building an effective food safety culture is a process that requires commitment from every level of your organization. The ways that we promote food safety culture within each organization differs, from rewarding team members when they identify an unsafe practice, to actively promoting food safety throughout the organization, to encouraging quality assurance teams to identify state-of-the-art technologies and implementing them to improve the systems, programs, and processes throughout the company.
As food safety professionals, our toolboxes are filled with a variety of tools for the job, and technology as a tool is no exception. Technology should enable our organizations to be more efficient, allowing them to focus their attention on high-priority projects while minimizing work that can be automated. An example of this is setting parameters to allow organizations to work based on exception instead of requiring a review of all documentation.
As we enter the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, and the tenants of it being people-led, technology-enabled, and FSMA-based, we have a mandate to try new technologies to help solve previously unsolvable supply chain challenges. Organizations are actively pursuing real-time supply chain temperature monitoring as a way to provide insights into their cold chain and allowing them to move from reaction to a position of prevention.
Organizations are finding that investments in food safety technologies pay dividends in customer commitment over the long term. It is no longer acceptable to only meet regulatory standards. It is now an expectation that companies do anything possible within their power to assure customer safety and, per the FDA’s new mandate, to help create a more digital, traceable, and safer food system.
Food safety professionals are underappreciated. This statement was met with a round of applause last week at the seventh annual Food Safety Consortium. It was made by Bob Pudlock, president of Gulf Stream Search, who has heard the remark from folks working in this demanding field many times, as his firm works to place them in food safety and quality positions within the industry. Pudlock shared his advice on how you, the food safety professional, can better market yourself and earn the respect of peers and higher-ups, as well as how those who are doing the hiring should approach the process.
Read Bob Pudlock’s insights on recruiting in the food safety and quality field in his column series, Architect the Perfect Food Safety TeamCompany cultures change, the popularity of products (and their safety) ebbs and flows, company leadership fluctuates and a company may even move its corporate headquarters. Amidst all of these changes, the only things that a professional can control are his or her reputation, professional acumen, and enhancing one’s education, said Pudlock. “Focus your energy on improving parts of you. Invest in your brand,” he said. “You never know how you’re being perceived and who’s out there in the crowd.” He added that it’s important to take a moment to do some deep digging and ask questions that can help draw out greater meaning:
- What do you want to be when you “grow up”?
- Where are you in your career today?
- What do you aspire to?
- What are the obstacles? What’s keeping you from getting there?
“Get yourself in a position where you’re personally responsible for getting yourself in the right lane,” said Pudlock, emphasizing the importance of accountability. He also advises that professionals take a moment each day to work through organizational issues via journaling. Writing serves as a cathartic exercise and can help as one is going through the problem-solving process. “Work through your overwhelm with journaling,” he said.
On Earning Respect
On the final day of the Food Safety Consortium, Pudlock led a panel of industry stakeholders who shared their insights on how to remain motivated and earn the respect of peers and superiors in the industry.
Pudlock: As a food safety professional, what has contributed to your ability earn respect from the peers who you’ve worked with over the years?
Jorge Hernandez, vice president, quality assurance at The Wendy’s Company
“What I’ve learned throughout my career is the fact that you have to understand why you are doing this. You have to reach inside and figure out for yourself, and then build your brand around that. It has to be honest; it has to be true to you. Why are you doing this? Is it to get a paycheck? Is it to get away from the kids? There are multiple reasons. There will be times in this field that you have to make the tough decisions. As you build your career, try to figure out why you really want to do this.”
April Bishop, senior director of food safety at TreeHouse Foods/Bay Valley Foods
“The ‘why’ is for those around me: We [speak] a lot of scientific jargon, and we know what we’re talking about. But the folks on the other side—in sanitation [for example], doing the most miserable job at the worst hours and in the worst condition, [for them] I need to translate all the way to the top on why we need so much time to clean the plants. Simplify the scientific jargon down to the facts that people can understand. Sell them on the ‘why’ of what they’re doing.
Marcus Burgess, senior food safety and quality systems specialist at The Cheesecake Factory
“A lot of it is communication and being able to relate at all levels from [in the field] to the top. It’s the 30-second conversation with the server or the dishwasher about why food safety is important. Being able to connect with the front line employees goes a long way. Approach the job with professionalism and sincerity. Have integrity and know the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s easy to see the pot of gold. Be selfless and know that ultimately our obligations is to customers.”
Success Factor 3: Create exams that properly assess the workforce.
Food safety exams give employers the peace of mind that the employees they hire can do the job they were trained to do and help prevent food safety incidents from happening. Equipped with the right training and assessment developed by responsible and qualified companies, employees in the field―ranging from food handlers to food managers―are the first line of defense to uphold the highest of food safety and security standards.
My previous two columns in Food Safety Tech explained important factors that employers need to consider when developing a food safety assessment program. Working with a quality-driven food safety assessment provider to develop the exam is a critical first step. Equally important is the practice of using exams with rigorous, reliable and relatable questions that are developed, tested and continuously evaluated to correlate with market needs and trends.
This article focuses on another key factor that should not be overlooked. In order to properly assess the workforce, exams must reflect best practices for test taking and learning, and be in sync with how the workforce operates and processes information. It is not enough for food safety assessment providers to merely develop questions and exams. A comprehensive exam creation process that takes into consideration technical and human factors allows for a fair assessment of workers’ knowledge and skills, while also providing feedback on exam performance that can be used to adapt exams in an ever-changing industry.
What should employers look for to help ensure that exams can properly assess the food safety workforce?
First, food safety exams should test what a food safety worker needs to know, and quality-driven assessment providers should solicit input from the industry during the exam creation process. Test developers should use surveys, conduct interviews and facilitate panel-based meetings to gather information. They also should invest in close collaboration with industry-leading subject matter experts (SMEs), as well as food handlers, managers and regulators in order to create questions and exams that are relevant. By engaging SMEs during the question writing and exam creation process, qualified food safety assessment providers can pinpoint the important information to be developed into questions and implemented in the exams.
In addition to incorporating industry stakeholder input, it is important for assessment providers to have a comprehensive understanding of the various assessment modalities —from selected response item types, such as multiple choice assessments, to performance-based, interactive scenarios that mirror real-life situations—and select the appropriate modality to maintain test fidelity.
An assessment provider with this level of proficiency can leverage the combination of its expertise and industry awareness to determine the best modality for the food safety workforce. For example, progressive assessment providers are actively investing in interactive, animated, scenario-based assesments because they believe this type of testing might better assess the skills and knowledge required to successfully perform in the workplace while providing:
- High candidate engagement levels—with real-life scenarios being more relatable.
- A safe environment for candidates to practice and understand the consequences of their actions.
Another critical component in creating effective exams is for the assessment provider to continuously review the content and incorporate quantitative and qualitative feedback from data and test takers respectively. By reviewing feedback regularly, asssessment providers can enhance the exams and adjust accordingly—keeping the exam relevant to the workforce and the industry. As the workforce and the industry change, so should food safety exam and certification programs. A feedback loop is essential to help ensure that the exam stays relevant to those who work in the food service industry as they seek to prove that they have mastered the necessary principles and skills to protect the public against food incidents. If a food safety exam does not properly assess the workforce, the consequences can be significant, not only to public health and safety, but also to the companies preparing, handling and serving food that could experience loss of reputation, revenue and the business.
Quality-driven food safety assessment providers follow a best-practices approach for creating exams and certificate/certification programs. They demonstrate a thorough understanding of behavioral learning, the necesary job skills and regulatory compliance requirements. A food safety exam that properly assesses the workforce will:
- Solicit industry input.
- Incorporate interactive scenarios that mirror real-life situations.
- Create a feedback loop and adaptable exams that can easily be modified to stay abreast with the ever-changing industry.
While food handlers may be one of the biggest vulnerabilities in a safe food supply and delivery chain, they also represent one of the greatest opportunities to guard against food safety issues. Developing an effective food safety assessment program as part of a preventative strategy will help ensure both public health and corporate long-term business success.