Tag Archives: education

Ibidun Layi-Ojo, Prometric
FST Soapbox

Effective Testing: Developing Rigorous, Reliable and Relatable Questions

By Ibidun Layi-Ojo
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Ibidun Layi-Ojo, Prometric

Success Factor 2: Develop rigorous, reliable and relatable exam questions (items) that are developed, tested and continuously evaluated to correlate with market needs and trends.

My previous column in Food Safety Tech outlined the single most important factor in ensuring that all employees have the proven ability to keep the public safe from foodborne illness: Education. Only rigorous, continually evaluated exams, designed for a company’s particular industry segment, can give employers the assurance that employees have the skills they need to make food safe.

Constructing and administering those exams starts with partnering with the right food safety assessment provider. Once that provider has been chosen, the next step is to develop questions—and ultimately an exam that exemplifies the three R’s: Rigorous, reliable and relatable.

Rigorousness begins with the process by which questions are created. This process must be a step-by-step effort to ensure that the final exam asks the right questions, based on the industry segment and the skills needed to be measured, and that the questions meet or exceed current industry standards. The ultimate aim is to give employees the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, which results in a sense of empowerment that makes them effective stewards of food safety every day.

To meet these goals, a company must work closely with its food safety assessment provider throughout the test development process, which begins with an analysis of the job (or jobs) for which the exam is being created (i.e., what are employees’ important tasks for which performance must be measured?). This analysis informs the development of precise specifications for the exam, and with those specifications established, the food safety assessment provider can begin collaborations with subject matter experts to formulate questions for the exam. Every question on the exam should dovetail with needs and trends in the marketplace, with emphasis on the client’s position in the marketplace.

The next step in the process—item review (question validation) —is key to making sure the exam is comprehensive. In effect, this is a ‘test of the test’ and should address the following:

  • Does the exam ask all the right questions?
  • Are the questions free of ambiguity that could lead to an inaccurate measurement of knowledge?
  • Are the questions in line with current industry standards?

Once every question has been subjected to validation, a passing score for the exam is set concurrent with best practice guidelines for making scoring decisions. Next the food safety assessment provider and the client collaborate on the best way to administer the examination (e.g., whether on paper or online, taken at work or home).
Only then is the test ready to be given, scored and analyzed.

It might seem, at this point, that the exam-creation cycle has been completed. On the contrary, the cycle must be a continuous process, with results from the initial test administration serving as a baseline for ongoing test maintenance and fine-tuning.

This continuity is critical, because standards and practices for food safety are always evolving. FSMA gave the FDA broad authority to prevent contamination of food in every step of the supply chain. In the seven years since then, regulations at the federal, state and local levels have been constantly amended and updated across the entire spectrum of the food industry, from growers, manufacturers and processors to grocers, retailers and even culinary schools. Only ongoing test maintenance—including the development and validation of new test items—can ensure that exams stay in lockstep with the FDA food code and safety guidelines.

Exam questions also must be aligned with the accreditation guidelines of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the private, nonprofit organization that, since 1918, has been the overseer of U.S. standards for consumer protection.

Developing and maintaining accurate, reliable food-safety exam content is complex and challenging, requiring a commitment to continuous validation and “testing of the test” to meet the needs of the marketplace and the requirements of federal, state and local regulators. Partnering with the right food safety assessment provider is crucial in meeting those needs and requirements, protecting the public, and ensuring a company’s reputation for providing safe, wholesome food.

Look for Part 3 of this series to learn more about how to create food safety exams that factor in a best-practices approach to properly assess the workforce.

Chelle Hartzer, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Minimize the Risk of Pests by Maximizing Your Staff

By Chelle Hartzer
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Chelle Hartzer, Orkin

If you were given the option to run a long-distance relay race, would you select four runners to split up the distance or would you choose to run it alone? That’s a no-brainer—you’d pick four runners to give yourself the best chance of success every time!

Apply the same mentality to your food safety program, and (by extension) your pest management program. The only way you’re going to be able to effectively monitor an entire facility is by establishing a team to help. Otherwise, that’s a lot of ground for just one person to cover.

As a food processing facility, you probably already have an integrated pest management (IPM) program in place. But does your staff know the telltale signs of rodents or stored product pests? Would they be able to spot cockroaches crawling around in your facility’s storage area? The earlier you can spot a pest problem, the quicker it can be resolved before it turns into a major issue that could prove costly.

Staff training is the best way to get everybody on the same page when it comes to pest management, because pests are great at hiding and living in hard-to-reach locations. It takes a trained eye to spot certain pests, and informed employees can be a great help to this.

Before you begin staff training, you will want to identify all of the areas both inside and outside of your building that are at high risk for pest issues. Schedule a meeting with your pest management provider and make note of the high-risk areas and the most common pests your facility may be prone to. Once you’ve determined these high-risk areas and the best tactics to protect against them, employee training is a logical next step.

The bigger your facility, the tougher it is to manage all of the different potential hot spots. Everybody knows this, but few consider what this means for their pest management programs. Creating an educational pest program for employees is critical to protecting your facility. The employees are on the ground level and are often the most likely spot the early signs of a pest problem.

Step 1: Start with the Basics

When beginning staff training, make sure employees understand the IPM program in place and how it works in your facility. Many pest control providers offer complimentary employee training, so reach out to your provider about on-site training sessions. As employees learn more about what each tactic does to prevent pest issues, they’ll get a better understanding of why pests get into the facility in the first place. Once informed, they can use this knowledge to help reduce potential risk factors such as standing water from a leak, food waste in processing areas and waste removal.

Here are a few telltale signs of some common pests:

  • Stored product pests: Though generally tough to spot, there are some common telltale signs you can spot on products like webbing, larvae, live adults—some of which can look like grain products—and, of course, damaged packaging.
  • Flies: If you see larvae (maggots), especially around drains and in other damp or wet areas, it’s time to act fast. Flies reproduce quickly, so small problems can escalate rapidly.
  • Cockroaches: They can be found behind or under equipment, wall voids, or any other protected area. Cockroaches will take advantage of nearly any food source!
  • Rodents: These pests leave droppings constantly, so watch out for tiny pellets. Rodents are constantly gnawing, so if you see any products with gnaw marks, that’s a good indication that rodents may be present.

A pest management provider can identify what challenges are unique to your facility and which areas are most likely to experience pest activity. Employees are going to be a crucial part of this process, so they will need to know where to look.

Step 2: Designate Roles

Employees are the eyes and ears of your business. Whether it’s pest problems or any other issues at your facility, your staff is probably going to notice issues before management does. Once they know the pests to look out for, they can also keep an eye on:

• Cracks and openings: Any opening that leads from the inside to the outside may allow pests in.
• Sanitation issues: From large bins of food waste, to break room trash cans, let them know to report when these are overflowing or need to be cleaned.

The key is once employees know what to look for, they need to know how and who to report it to. Make sure there is a pest sighting log and employees know where it is and what information to record.

Step 3: Emphasize Communication

Communication is key. We all know that. Which is why it’s so important to encourage the age-old adage when it comes to potential pest problems: “If you see something, say something!” The longer a pest issue persists, the more likely it is to turn into a costly, potentially hazardous infestation.

Consistent communication between employees, management and pest control providers benefits all parties. It ensures employees are in-the-know about important information and new initiatives while making it easier for managers and pest control professionals to stay a step ahead of invading pests. Designate a point person that employees should go to if they have something they want to talk about and make sure to utilize that pest sighting log!

Open dialogue makes it clear to employees that they are a contributing part of your IPM program. Your employees serve as the first line of defense against pests, so if they see pest activity, it’s incredibly important they feel comfortable escalating it immediately. Tell employees you want and need their input in order for your pest management efforts to be most effective. And don’t forget to solicit feedback—they might even have ideas on how to make the program better!

Step 4: Establish a Pest-Sighting Protocol

There needs to be a clear course of action for any employee who notices a pest or evidence of pests within your facility. You’re in the business of protecting your products, and many pests spread dangerous pathogens everywhere they go.

Establishing a protocol for reporting pests will keep things simple for both employee and manager, as it ensures pest problems are documented and action steps are clear. Should a pest be spotted, make sure employees know to do the following:

  • Capture pest(s) for identification if possible. Take pictures if you can’t. The better a pest management professional can see a pest, the more accurately they’ll be able to prescribe a solution.
  • Fill out a pest-sighting log and note when, where and how many pests were seen. Imagine this as a crime scene, and your pest management professional is the crime scene investigator.
  • Contact management if the issue is severe and needs immediate attention, at which point management should contact their pest management professional. The sooner everyone is on the same page, the quicker you can implement a solution to help prevent pests from compromising your products.

Even the best IPM program can’t keep out every pest trying to get into your facility, which is why it’s so important to establish a pest-sighting protocol. It might also be worth forming an IPM committee to meet on a monthly basis. It’s best if this committee includes members from each department and, if possible, the pest management professional in order to promote ongoing improvements.

Step 5: Ongoing Education

Once you’ve taught your employees the basics of how to spot pests, pest evidence, and how to proceed once they see any, training should not stop there.

Although pests stay relatively the same year to year, your facility won’t. Staying up to date with the latest information can help you proactively prevent pests before they become a threat to your operations. Review monitoring reports with your pest management professional to determine if changes need to occur to focus on new areas, or redouble efforts at a hot spot that hasn’t been resolved yet. Remember: Many pest issues take time to completely manage.

Ask your pest management partner for tip sheets, checklists and other educational materials to stay current, and share them with your employees. Also, keep in mind that different pests thrive in different weather conditions, so adjust your tips for employees seasonally so they know what to look for.

With all staff members consistently armed with the necessary information to help identify hot spots and minimize the risk of pests, you’ll be in great shape for your next audit. Just make sure to document everything being done to help proactively protect products. You’ve got to have proof of your efforts!

Food Safety Tech

Enhancing Education, Chicago Section of IFT and Innovative Publishing Enter Event Agreement

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Tech

The Chicago Section of the Institute of Food Technologists (CSIFT) and Innovative Publishing, LLC, publisher of Food Safety Tech and organizer of the annual Food Safety Consortium, have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in support of each organization’s key industry events at the end of this year.

CSIFT will be holding its Annual Suppliers’ Night on Wednesday, November 1 at the Donald E. Stephens Center in Rosemont, IL. More than 500 organizations exhibit at the event, which is free to attend. “The Chicago Section IFT is the oldest and largest of the IFT sections. We are proud to host the largest regional suppliers night that draws over 3500 professionals to the Chicagoland area from around the country,” says Joy Dell’Aringa, business development manager at bioMérieux Food Pathogen and Quality Indicator Solutions. “This year, in addition to the Suppliers Night Expo, we are also hosting valuable scientific and professional development pre-show sessions.”

Food Safety Consortium, Stephen Ostroff
Attendees listen to Stephen Ostroff, M.D., deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at FDA, give the keynote presentation at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium.

CSIFT members will receive 10% off registration to the 2017 Food Safety Consortium, which will be held at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center in Schaumburg, IL from November 29–December 1. The conference begins with a plenary presentation by Stephen Ostroff, M.D., deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at FDA, followed by a town hall.

Pre-conference workshops begin on Tuesday, November 28 and run through the morning of Wednesday, November 29. Educational courses include the Certified in Comprehensive Food Safety Credential Exam Review Course, a FSVP workshop, a food defense workshop, a PCQI human food blended workshop (FSPCA curriculum) and SQF Information Day.

“The Food Safety Consortium was launched in the Chicago area for multiple reasons, and we consider Chicago our home,” says Rick Biros, conference director and president of Innovative Publishing. “The Chicago Section of the Institute of Food Technologists represents a large group of local food safety professionals and this partnership provides CSIFT members benefits to a focused food safety event. The ‘Consortium’ is a collaboration of multiple organizations, and we are honored to have the CSIFT as part of the team. This partnership commits the Food Safety Consortium to the Chicago area for the foreseeable future.”

“The CSIFT is pleased to partner with the Food Safety Consortium. This will bring value not just to our membership base, but to the food safety community as a whole,” says Dell’Aringa. “We hope this partnership leads to increased collaborations and engagement between our shared member base and the food science community.”

Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Telling the Story of Foodborne Illness

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness

If you are looking for someone who has been ill or has had family members who were ill or died from a foodborne illness to come and speak at your food safety training, give Stanley Rutledge or myself a call, or send us an email. Individuals want to tell their stories, they want to make a difference, and they want to have an impact.   The stories are powerful and their stories are “the why” behind food safety. People who have attended the trainings tell us they never forget the people they meet and the stories told—they think about them everyday in their work and especially when making decisions that impact food and public safety.

Tauxe, STOP Foodborne Illness
Deirdre Schlunegger of STOP Foodborne Illness presents the Advancing Science for Food Safety Award to Robert Tauxe, M.D., MPH, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

In the fall, I was on a phone call with a man from Smithfield Foods. We, along with a few others from the company, were planning an upcoming training and speaking engagement. He said that he would never forget listening to Nancy Donley talk about her son, Alex. Dr. Robert Tauxe told me a similar story about hearing Nancy in a public forum talk about her son. Rylee Gustafson, recently through STOP Foodborne Illness, spoke at The Partnership for Food Safety Education and told her story. Now a college student, she spoke about the long-term impacts of her illness—the diabetes, the damaged pancreas, the voice and vision problems, and the high blood pressure. The room was silent and so many people came up to her afterwards to thank her for sharing.

These stories illustrate that this is real: It does happen and when the person who was involved is standing before you reliving their story, you Will remember! Of course, we have fact sheets and a lot of other information on our website for your use, but there is nothing that is more direct, thought provoking and memorable than listening. If you want to read some of the stories, visit our website.  You can contact Stanley at srutledge@stopfoodborneillness.org or me at dschlunegger@stopfoodborneillness.org

Thanks for all that you do for food safety!

8 Food Industry Trends Fueled by FSMA

By Lori Carlson
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FSMA is fostering a surge in technology solutions, analytical tools and training products marketed to the food industry in the name of achieving FSMA compliance. And while many of these products were available pre-FSMA (especially in other industries like the life sciences), FSMA’s momentum has fueled the adaptation of solutions to meet the specific needs of the food industry for achieving and maintaining regulatory compliance. This article is a summary of emerging trends in food safety management by producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers through the application of technology, educational tools, monitoring and detection systems, and other support mechanisms.

Want to learn more about FSMA trends and compliance? Attend the 2016 Food Safety Consortium in Schaumburg, IL | December 7–8 | LEARN MOREWhether by the spark of FSMA or because it makes practical sense (and most likely, a bit of both), businesses are integrating their food safety programs with enterprise initiatives and systems for managing compliance and risk to achieve increased visibility and harmonization across the organization.  The most popular trends fueled by FSMA largely reflect technology solutions to achieve this integration.

Subsequently, solutions that support risk assessment, supply chain management, real-time monitoring, corrective action, self-assessment, traceability, and training management are most attractive and lucrative from an ROI perspective. And while it may be hard to find a one-size-fits-all technology solution depending upon the needs of the organization, technology service providers are quickly raising the bar to meet these growing needs as organizations strive to reduce risk and increase compliance. Other top trends at the periphery of technology solutions include the mobilization of food safety personnel and increased availability of on-demand training and detection tools to bring the FSMA movement full circle.

1. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) technology solutions quickly gained a following in the food industry in recent years to achieve an automated food safety and quality management system (FSQMS) solution.

The substantial management components and recordkeeping requirements of the FSMA rules has accelerated the food industry’s need for automated solutions to document program management, queue workflows and distribute notifications for corrective and preventive action (CAPA). Understanding this need, many SaaS providers evolved with FSMA to provide functionality that dovetails with new regulatory requirements.

2. Increased availability of risk and vulnerability assessment tools is of significant importance in meeting many requirements of FSMA’s rules.

The regulatory language of all FSMA rules is steeped in risk analysis to support the prevention of food safety hazards and threats. This creates a demand for user-friendly tools and training courses to help food businesses analyze and update their management systems within the context of these new requirements. Risk and vulnerability assessment tools currently available to the food industry are diverse in functionality and vary in scope and cost.

For example, FDA’s free online tool, FDA-iRISK 2.0, assesses chemical and microbiological hazards in foods through process models, which quantify risk across scenarios and predict the effectiveness of control strategies.  Commercially available food hazard assessment tools based on HACCP/ HARPC principles include Safefood 360° and EtQ, which provide risk assessment modules as a part of their SaaS platform.

Universities, trade associations, and commercial risk management and consulting firms came together to produce two very different food fraud vulnerability tools to support the industry. SSAFE by the University of Wageningen RIKILT, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is a free online tool and mobile app, which guides users through a decision tree and assessment questionnaire to determine fraud opportunities, motivators and gaps in existing controls. EMAlert by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Battelle is a subscription-based online tool to assess vulnerability from economically motivated adulterants (EMA’s). Individuals conducting vulnerability assessments are recommended to periodically access food risk databases such as the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention’s (USP) food fraud database to stay informed of historical and emerging threats to the supply chain.

And in support of FSMA’s Food Defense rule, the FDA developed a free food defense software tool, Food Defense Plan Builder (FDPB), to help food businesses identify vulnerability to intentional adulterants and terrorist attacks on the food supply chain.

3. SaaS platforms, app-friendly assessment tools and FSMA recordkeeping requirements are creating a natural pathway for the increased use of mobile devices and electronic recordkeeping and verification.

From supply chain management to effective traceability to regulatory compliance, efficient document management and on-demand data retrieval is a must have of the modern FSQMS. Food businesses recognize the inherent obstacles of paper-based systems and increasingly trend towards rugged mobile devices and electronic recordkeeping to make better use of personnel resources, technology solutions and data. FSMA is helping leverage this trend two-fold through increased requirements for documentation and verification of food safety management activities and by not requiring electronic records to additionally meet the provisions of 21 CFR part 11 (electronic recordkeeping).

4. An increased demand for more effective, frequent and accessible training must be met across an organization to maintain an adequately trained workforce responsible for implementing FSMA.

To keep up with this demand—as well as the training demand imparted by GFSI schemes and fact that a company’s FSQMS is only as good as those who develop and operate it—food businesses are turning to online and blended learning courses to increase training frequency and effectiveness. In Campden BRI’s 2016 Global Food Safety Training Survey, 70% of food processors and manufacturers responded that they received training deficiencies during audits as the result of a lack of refresher training and/or lack of employee understanding.

In an effort to help close this gap and meet new implementation requirements of FSMA, food safety training providers are increasing offerings of eLearning courses, which provide targeted content in shorter duration to meet users’ needs in an interactive (and often multilingual) format. Shorter and more frequent targeted training is proven to increase knowledge retention and job performance. E-Learning training solutions can be found through dedicated training service providers as well as universities, trade associations, regulatory agencies, scheme owners, certification bodies, and other compliance organizations.

Depending upon the training provider, online training may be distributed through a learning management system (LMS) to provide additional training tools, assess training effectiveness and manage the training activities and competencies of all participants.

5. Targeted monitoring and verification activities such as product testing, environmental monitoring or water quality testing are helping to increase the demand for pathogen testing and push the frontier of improved rapid pathogen detection methods.

In a recent Food Safety Tech article, Strategic Consulting, Inc. noted more than a 13% annual increase in pathogen testing by contract food laboratories as determined by a recent industry study conducted by the group. The study additionally identified turn-around-time as the second most important factor for suppliers when choosing a contract lab. Increased access to rapid pathogen testing—and in particular, detection without time-dependent cultural enrichment—are primary needs of food businesses as regulators and customers push for enhanced monitoring and verification via testing mechanisms.

Currently, there are numerous rapid methods based on DNA, immunological or biosensor techniques. These methods can detect foodborne pathogens in relatively short amounts of time ranging from a few minutes to a few hours. But they often require pre-processing strategies to reduce matrix interference or concentrate pathogens to meet the level of detection (LOD) of the assay.1 These strategies increase the overall time of the assay and are largely the next hurdle for improved rapid detection.

6.  Food businesses are experiencing a wave of self-assessment followed by CAPA as organizations work to analyze and update their food safety systems and protocols within the context of applicable FSMA rules.

This trend has the potential to be the most beneficial to the supply chain and consumers as it provides a distinct opportunity for food businesses to reconsider previously overlooked hazards and vulnerabilities and upgrade food safety controls along with the management system. Seeing the FSQMS with fresh eyes—outside of the framework of a familiar standard—can lead to significant improvements in food safety management, product safety and quality, and even operational efficiency.

7.  For many food businesses, heightened regulation has spurned the need for dedicated staff to support compliance efforts.

Many food businesses are subject to multiple rules—some of which require a dedicated individual such as the Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) to assume responsibility for the implementation of various provisions. And food businesses are not exempt from the acute need for qualified individuals with a food safety skill set. Across the industry, from service providers to retailers and everyone in between or at the fringe, executives understand that it takes tireless leadership and knowledgeable staff to produce safe food.

8. More than any other trend, communication on FSMA, food safety and related topics is easily the most prevalent exhibiting exponential activity over the past five years.

Whether in support or contention with the proposed (now final) rules, FSMA promulgates constant dialogue about food safety, what it means and how it should be implemented. The constant flurry of communication provides both benefits and deterrents to understanding the new regulations and identifying effective solutions for compliance. This dichotomy creates a significant need for authoritative and easy-to-understand information from consolidated sources within the industry such as trade associations, risk management organizations and food safety schemes. The divide has also helped fuel the need for information hubs like the Global Food Safety Resource (GFSR) that aggregate critical regulatory information, food safety solutions and best practices to reach a global community.

Reference

  1. Wang, Y. and Salazar, J.K. Culture-Independent Rapid Detection Methods for Bacterial Pathogens and Toxins in Food Matrices. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 2016; 15(1): 183-205.
Imports

Industry Needs More Help Understanding Import Safety Under FSMA

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Imports

Need help understanding FSMA? Attend the 2016 Food Safety Consortium, December 7–8 in Schaumburg, IL | LEARN MORE In a 22-page report released last week, FDA outlined its findings from three public meetings held in June about the implementation of the FSMA import safety programs. The report, “Focus on Strategic Implementation of Prevention-Oriented Import Safety Programs”, reviews the questions asked to participants about challenges and understanding in complying with the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP), Accredited Third-Party Certification, and the Voluntary Qualified Importer Programs (VQIP) under FSMA. The agency analyzed data from 350 participants, and made the following conclusions:

Industry wants help in understanding what is required under the FSMA provisions, including clearer, concise information from the FDA

  • Industry may achieve faster compliance with FSVP if members are shown how it differs from existing food safety practices and compliance schemes
  • Organizing FSVP compliance information by commodity and sector may help in faster comprehension of rule
  • Small importers and food producers are at higher risk of failing to comply with FSVP
  • Generating case studies and other foreign supplier education mediums may aid in faster compliance with FSVP requirements
  • Importers will likely consider cost, return on investment and effort necessary to participant when deciding whether to sign up for VQIP, which will provide expedited clearance to qualified participants
  • Industry would benefit from FDA sharing information in a faster, clearer and more concise manner
  • FDA can use its existing facility registration database and existing relationships with industry to continue outreach efforts and elevate FSMA and FSVP compliance awareness

Lack of Resources, Negative Attitudes Barriers in Training

By Maria Fontanazza
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Part I of the Q&A: New Workers Means New StrategiesFood safety culture has been a part of several industry initiatives over the past year, from employee training in preparation of FSMA implementation to GFSI’s technical working group. In part three of a Q&A series with Food Safety Tech, Laura Nelson, vice president of business development at Alchemy Systems, shares some thoughts about current industry efforts surrounding employee education and food safety culture.

Food Safety Tech: How does employee education tie into instilling a food safety culture within a company?

Part II of the Q&A: Go Beyond the Classroom to Improve Training PerformanceLaura Nelson: In the global food safety training survey we conduct with Campden [BRI] and other industry leaders—for the fourth year in row, food safety professionals confirmed that the number one goal for food safety training is to improve their food safety culture. Effective employee training is foundational to a robust food safety culture.  And yet we have feedback on why we as an industry are challenged to achieve this goal—lack of resources is identified as the biggest challenge for almost half of the total survey respondents. Additional challenges identified include negative employee attitudes, lack of effective communication, the multicultural workforce, high turnover, and just complete lack of awareness of culture. The good news is that more awareness and best practices are emerging to help organizations improve their food safety culture. As a member of the GFSI Food Safety Culture Technical Working Group, we are actively working on guidance to help meet the identified needs of the industry. The focus on the importance of food safety culture to an organization is growing. We know that FDA investigators are going through food safety culture training to better recognize companies that have an effective food safety culture and those that may not have an effective one. GFSI is shining a light with its working group. BRC is introducing their voluntary “Culture Excellence:  Food Safety Culture Module” to help companies assess their food safety culture.  Research is ongoing with the development of new food safety culture assessments and best practices. All of these efforts are in agreement that effective employee training is a key factor in developing and maintaining a robust food safety culture.

Maria Fontanazza and Laura Nelson discuss food safety culture and employee empowerment at IAFP 2015.
Maria Fontanazza and Laura Nelson discuss food safety culture and employee empowerment at IAFP 2015. WATCH THE VIDEO

Given that employee training is so important to a healthy food safety culture, we need to resource this effort accordingly. We asked survey respondents to tell us how many hours of food safety training they’re conducting for employees. The responses ranged from less than four hours (a little more than 20%) to more than 35 hours annually. In that wide continuum, there’s a large disparity between the focus on food safety for those employees receiving less than four hours of food safety training versus those employees receiving over 35 hours of food safety training. Our business is complex and recruiting and training new employees on our critical operational programs is challenging. Those companies who are still utilizing their legacy classroom-only food safety training program will continue to struggle to mature their food safety culture. Innovative companies are finding new ways to overcome time and resource limitations. We asked: How are you keeping food safety top of mind? The innovative companies who are using digital signage, newsletters, email communications, posters, team meetings, huddle talks, etc., those who are trying to immerse their employees into their food safety culture using all the different touch points are having more success in making food safety top of mind.

Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Motivating the Culture Shift

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness

At the 2016 Food Safety Consortium, STOP Foodborne Illness will have a fundraiser to honor heroes in food safety. |December  6, 2016, 7–9 pm | LEARN MOREIn 2012 STOP Foodborne Illness established a relationship, which evolved into a partnership, with the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (LGMA) organization. On my first visit to LGMA, I met key staff members and observed a mock audit. We had good initial conversations. Scott Horsfall, CEO of LGMA, and I continued to talk and a second visit ensued, this time with individuals who had been ill with E-Coli from Leafy Greens. Everyone was a bit nervous, but it was a productive and even healing experience. We visited farms and processing plants, heard from farmers and shared a lovely meal outdoors with the farmers. On the last day, we sat in a room with tables configured in a large square and each person took turns introducing themselves, talking about why they were at the table, what roles they had in the leafy green business, and the visitors shared personal heart wrenching stories of illness and death from foodborne illness.  There was not a dry eye in the room during and after this encounter. Every farmer vowed to do everything possible to prevent pathogens from making their way into the market place. This was a profound experience for everyone involved.

The following year, Scott proposed that STOP Foodborne Illness and LGMA jointly create a video for training purposes. That project came to life in the summer of 2014. It is a video and a project that LGMA and STOP Foodborne Illness professionals are deeply proud of and love to share with others (the video comes in several versions and is available in Spanish). Scott and I continue to speak about the partnership and look for additional ways to collaborate.

Food safety is about collaboration and finding solutions and preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens. This week I spoke with a mother whose daughter died a year ago from foodborne illness (not from produce). I told her that I so badly wish that we could have prevented her beautiful daughter’s death and vowed to continue this important work. We are not there yet: Each of us must be completely committed to getting to a place where we don’t hear these stories.  And we will get there by keeping the “why” at the forefront and continuing to develop critical strategies that reduce and work to eliminate the problem. Thank you to all who are dedicated to creating and sustaining a safe food supply and a special thanks to LGMA. You can see the LGMA video, “Video: The Why Behind Food Safety”, on our homepage.

Michelle Jones, Shake Shack
Retail Food Safety Forum

Simple Food Safety Training Combats Turnover

By Michelle Jones
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Michelle Jones, Shake Shack

Retail food establishments face many challenges, and employee retention is one of the major concerns. Employee retention affects scheduling, hiring, and the overall effectiveness of training.  Food safety training usually suffers when turnover occurs.

The safety of customers is dependent on an employee’s knowledge and execution of the food safety standards that are in place.

The biggest challenge in training in the retail/hospitality industry is the risk that the employee may leave within the first year (or less) of employment. According to Restaurant.org, the average turnover rate for the restaurant/hospitality sector was 66.3% in 2014.1 This turnover rate creates a challenge for maintaining a solid food safety culture.

Restaurants can take proactive steps to create and maintain a food safety culture that is always visible to new and current employees by adopting various techniques.

Signage Is Your Friend

Signage throughout your restaurant is a great way to continuously relay a food safety message without confining employees to a computer or module-based system.  This signage should be simple, sometimes playful and right to the point. An employee or manager takes roughly 30 seconds, on average, to read a message, so the shorter the better.

Visual signage is always a great tool to use in the back of house to relay food safety standards (e.g., proper cooking temperatures, order of storing food in coolers, etc.).  Signage (photos specifically) may also assist employees who may not communicate in English proficiently.  A picture is worth a thousand words, so utilize photos, cartoons or captions in order to relay the message.

Target the Leader

A quality assurance/food safety team should focus its training on the leaders of a region and/or district. Managers have more incentive to stay with companies longer; therefore, food safety training will be retained for a longer period. They may also visit their locations more frequently than the food safety professional, which gives them additional contact with the restaurant-level staff.

To assist these managers in their communication and verification of standards, compose a customized checklist for them to complete during a restaurant visit. The checklist should fulfill the following:

  1. Highlight the top opportunities they seek out (hand washing, sanitizer concentration, etc.)
  2. Provide the proper corrective action to eliminate the opportunities
  3. Considers their time.  A manager does not have the ability to complete a five-page checklist. Keep it simple—just the facts!

If these managers are well versed on food safety and sanitation and procedures, they will be able to hold their restaurants to a higher level of compliance.  So provide them with all of the tools they need to communicate to their employees.

Informed Employees Are Powerful Employees

Creating newsletters or publications serve as a great tool to keep employees informed of food safety policies. These articles can highlight trends in your company and new products available for use (i.e., chemicals, thermometers, etc.).

By law, every restaurant must have an area where employee information is listed (minimum wage, disability rights, etc.).  This board is the perfect place to post your publication.

In conclusion, keeping employees trained on proper food safety standards is the best way to ensure your customers are safe and your brand is protected. Implementing various forms of communication of these standards will create a strong foundation for an excellent food safety culture to exist.

Reference

  1. National Restaurant Association. Hospitality employee turnover rose in 2014.  March 11, 2015.
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FDA Makes FSMA Education and Training Available

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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As part of FDA’s FSMA training vision, the agency has announced two funding opportunities aimed at providing outreach, education and training on the FSMA preventive controls rules.

The Native American Tribes Outreach, Education and Training cooperative agreement will provide up to $750,000 annually for three years. “FDA anticipates that federally recognized tribes will need food safety education and training that addresses the regulatory requirements of the applicable FSMA rules and also encompasses specific cultural practices associated with produce farming and food manufacturing/processing within tribes relevant to their status as sovereign nations,” according to an FDA release.

The Local Food Producer Outreach, Education, and Training agreement will award local food producers $1.5 million this fiscal year with the potential for two more years if federal funds are available. It aims to assist small and mid-size producers/processors with particular practices related to their scale of production and management practices. The agreement will focus on those involved in local food systems while considering “account diversified, sustainable, organic and identity-preserved agricultural production and processing.”