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Food Safety Survey
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Global Food Safety Survey Reveals Challenges and Opportunities in Employee Training Practices

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Survey

Intertek Alchemy, which offers training for manufacturing and food processing industries, has released the findings of its seventh annual Global Food Safety Training Survey, developed to assess food safety training practices

More than 2,000 industry professionals representing more than 3,000 food production facilities worldwide responded to the survey. Their responses highlighted some of the significant challenges and contradictions of current food safety training practices, and provided insight into strategies to help overcome these challenges.

For example, 88% of respondents believe that their companies provide adequate levels of food safety training to drive consistent and appropriate food safety behaviors. Yet only 40% of their employees follow food safety programs on the manufacturing floor.

Additional key findings from the survey include:

  • 81% of respondents agreed that their companies understand what it takes to build and sustain a strong food safety culture, and 40% of companies use a food safety culture audit/assessment to measure sustained food safety behaviors. But, only 22% of respondents strongly agree that their employees have the authority to take action when food safety is compromised.
  • 80% of respondents believe they would be more productive if their employees consistently adhered to their training programs. However, only 19% of companies are increasing their budget for food safety training and only 18% plan to add new training technologies next year.

When looking at practices that improve food safety outcomes, responses revealed that:

  • Tailoring training to specific job roles increases the likelihood from 22% to 82% that a frontline employee will halt production when necessary to prevent a food safety incident
  • Highly motivated employees are over two times more likely to consistently adhere to food safety protocols on the floor.
  • 78% of companies with a mature upskilling programs reported having highly motivated employees, compared to 43% for companies without an upskilling program.

When asked to share, “What are you organization’s biggest food safety training challenges?” nearly 50% cited scheduling time for training, followed by staff turnover and bad practices or misinformation passed from one employee to another.

One of the most significant changes in this year’s survey was how food safety training is delivered. The use of e-learning tools nearly doubled in the past two years (37% in 2020 to 63% in 2022).

“This year’s Global Food Safety Training Report presents some eye-catching findings, providing a comprehensive look into what food manufacturers can do to improve food safety training outcomes,” said Intertek Alchemy President Darrin Harkness. “We’re proud to sponsor the research that provides clear, data-driven answers on how they can make their food safety programs even stronger. Together we can work to ensure a safe and sustainable global food supply with a shared goal of reducing foodborne illnesses and eliminating costly recalls.”

The Global Food Safety Training Survey is sponsored by Intertek Alchemy and Campden BRI, in partnership with BRCGS, BSI, Cultivate, SGS, Safe Quality Food Institute and TSI.

A complimentary copy of the research paper, “Why Some Training Programs Succeed Where Others Fail,” is available for download here.

 

 

 

Vanessa Coffman, Ph.D.

How To Implement a Strong Food Safety Culture

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Vanessa Coffman, Ph.D.

Creating a company culture that embraces food safety is paramount to protecting your business and end users. But, developing a strong food safety culture takes time, effort and a buy-in from leadership.

We spoke with Vanessa Coffman, Ph.D., director of the Alliance to STOP Foodborne Illness, to discuss what it takes to create a company culture committed to food safety and what is holding companies and employees back from speaking up and taking action when safety concerns are identified.

Food Safety Tech (FST): How do companies get started in implementing a strong food safety culture?

Dr. Coffman: I think it’s really important to remember that every company in the food space already has a food safety culture. They may just not know it. So, a good first step is to assess your current food safety culture. What’s going right? What’s going wrong? From there, outline where you would like to go.

FST: How do you assess your current food safety culture?

Dr. Coffman: Talking with your employees and asking questions is a good start. There are some questionnaires available online to help you assess your current culture. It’s hard, though, because a lot of them are not scientifically validated, largely because food safety culture is amorphous and it’s also new.

We have a number of resources available on our website, including a Food Safety Culture Toolkit for businesses.

FST: How do company leaders motivate employees to play an active role in ensuring safe food processing and handling?

Dr. Coffman: That is really, really important. You can incentivize people through a rewards and recognition program, which is what a lot of our Alliance member-companies are doing.

I also think that getting into the heart and not just the mind of the employee is important. We have a lot of video resources and stories from foodborne illness survivors and people who have lost loved ones to foodborne illness. These are good motivators to help your team understand what can happen and how important every single person’s role is in the the production of safe food.

FST: How are companies incentivizing their employees to embrace food safety practices?

Dr. Coffman: It can be as simple as recognizing an employee of the month—a food safety culture employee of the month—and having a parking spot dedicated to that person or putting their name in the company newsletter.

Sometimes those big outward shows of recognition aren’t the best for every employee, and maybe somebody would rather get a little monetary bonus. Some businesses have taken employees or teams that have done really well out to lunch with the executives or someone who is well respected in the company. Getting an hour off from work may be a really great reward.

There are a lot of example of ways you can incentivize folks to do the right thing, but ultimately you want a culture of people wanting to do the right thing. That’s the most important aspect of a good food safety culture. You’re not doing it because you’re going to win a prize, but because it’s the right thing to do.

FST: Who, ultimately, is responsible for spearheading and developing a company’s food safety culture?

Dr. Coffman: That’s a really complicated question. Everybody needs to be a part of it and everybody needs to buy in to building a positive food safety culture at a company. That includes frontline workers, maintenance workers and the top executives.

We have been doing a webinar series in partnership with the FDA, and we have gotten a lot of questions about who should be leading these efforts. While it is the front-line workers that have the ability to stop the line, note a problem or report a safety issue, if you do not have buy in from your executives, there is no motivation for the people on the front line to do the right thing. So, getting the company leaders—the C-suite and the middle management people—involved is critical.

FST: Do you have any tips or recommendations on how to speak to the people in the C-suite to help them understand the importance of food safety?

Dr. Coffman: A lot of times people who are not involved in food safety day-to-day are incentivized by different things or see things a little bit differently. Some of things we have found that people who are in the C-suite respond to or are concerned with include the cost of a recall, the cost of getting sued and the cost of brand damage. Those things are really, really important for business leaders to understand. But, as with other employees, you also need reach their hearts.

Join us at the Food Safety Consortium in Parsippany, NJ, October 19-21 and take part in our panel discussion, “Communicating to the C-Suite.”

Everybody has a family, everybody has friends, everybody has people they love and they would never want to see those people get hurt by something that they fed them or by something that their company created. So, really tapping into the hearts is important in addition to presenting those cold, hard numbers, which you do sometimes need.

FST: What prevents employees from being proactive about food safety or raising safety concerns?

Dr. Coffman: Termination. Getting in trouble. A lot of the companies within the Alliance have said that every single employee in their organization is allowed to stop the line. Their employees know that you will never get in trouble for stopping something if you see a problem. Unfortunately, that is not as commonplace as it should be. People who are whistleblowers get in trouble. People who bring up problems to their bosses get in trouble. And when we’re talking about food safety, if you let things slip you are putting people in danger

FST: What is the biggest misconception about food safety culture?

Dr. Coffman: That this is a linear task. That this is something that you can just do and then it’s fixed and in place. It takes a lot of planning, a lot of energy and a lot of time.

Food safety culture is not something you have to do to meet an auditing requirement. The components are not going to be black and white, yes or no. This might seem frustrating at first to those who are used to following detailed checklists and written procedures, but once a positive, mature food safety culture is established, problem areas on your checklist will likely diminish.

Dallas Henderson, RizePoint

Five Food Safety Changes That Are Here to Stay

By Dallas Henderson
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Dallas Henderson, RizePoint

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused monumental disruption and chaos for the food industry, the silver lining is that it resulted in five positive (and permanent) changes as we move forward in our “new normal.” A common denominator for all these changes is technology, which is driving more informed decisions, additional transparency, training support, auditing improvements and increased collaboration.

1. Technology Is Making us Safer and Smarter

The pandemic led to increased use of and comfort with technology, and tech tools are game changers when it comes to elevating safety and quality. Food businesses are increasingly using digital tools for critical tasks, such as inspections and line checks, and tech solutions make these efforts faster, easier and more accurate than manual processes. Tech solutions can provide comprehensive views of a business—by location or across an enterprise—helping operators identify and resolve issues quickly and completely.

Many operators are relying on tech tools and software to review and analyze real-time data so they can make more informed business decisions. For instance, they can easily access historical sales patterns to help improve a variety of operational decisions, from staffing decisions to re-order quantities.

Digital solutions allow brands to streamline operations, improve safety and quality management, manage (or cut) costs and improve inventory, scheduling and ordering.

2. A More Effective Approach to Audits

Historically, food businesses relied on annual or semi-annual in-person inspections but, as it turns out, these traditional audits were not an ideal approach. Many food business employees dreaded these inspections, viewing independent auditors with trepidation. Employees worried they would be punished for any violations that the auditor found. The auditors looked for infractions but didn’t help teams correct areas of noncompliance or educate them on how to mitigate risks. There was no collaboration or education associated with the inspections, and the audits felt punitive and demoralizing.

During the pandemic, travel restrictions meant that food businesses had to figure out new ways to inspect their facilities. As a result, employees had to collaborate to identify (and fix) issues and improve compliance through more frequent self-inspections. More organizations used a remote auditing approach, which allowed employees to interact with auditors, ask questions, get immediate feedback and learn more about the process.

When employees were involved in the inspections, they became more invested, engaged and empowered. They started to feel responsible for their organizations’ safety and quality successes, rather than feeling accountable for mistakes. Once they better understood what to look for, they could watch for safety and quality infractions during their daily shifts and correct any issues immediately.

This combination approach (traditional, remote and self-audits) provides significant benefits, including greater oversight and data collection, more frequent inspections and more employee engagement. Moving forward, many brands will use all three auditing methods and enjoy many benefits of doing so.

3. Collaborative Cultures Are the New Norm

The rise of collaborative coaching is a very exciting and positive development that has evolved over the past few years. As mentioned above, food businesses are moving towards a continuous quality model with more frequent self-assessments and collaborative coaching in addition to traditional onsite audits. Additionally, many brands are hiring safety and quality coaches, who work with locations to teach their teams more about proper protocols, empowering them to take more responsibility for these efforts.

These coaches don’t just lecture employees about the safety rules, they explain why the rules are so critical, helping teams understand the importance of compliance. They also make employees feel like part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. This effort helps build strong food safety cultures and environments of continuous learning, while also boosting compliance and reducing risk. The result is safer businesses, products and practices.

4. The Rise of Transparency

Guests and employees want transparency about how brands are keeping them safe and healthy. They want to see businesses taking new COVID-19-related protocols seriously, with regular monitoring of CDC recommendations, constant cleaning and sanitizing, regular handwashing, employee temperature checks, etc. During times of COVID spikes, they want to see employees wearing masks and practicing proper social distancing. Gone are the days of employees being expected to work while ill.

In addition to heightened safety transparency, many organizations are increasing data transparency to improve and streamline operations. Brands that use digital tools and software have better, more accurate and holistic views of data. They can use this information to boost efficiency, cut costs, schedule smarter, maintain accurate inventory and make more informed operational decisions, as opposed to relying on gut instinct.

5. Increased Need for Training and Cross-training

Food safety training was essential before the pandemic hit, and now ongoing training has become a top priority. Every employee should be educated about food safety rules, COVID-19 protocols and how to correctly use tech tools to maximize safety and minimize risks. Employers must make training part of each new employee’s onboarding process—especially as our industry experiences record high turnover—but don’t view it as a “one and done” endeavor. Training should be ongoing.

Food providers are using technology to push out reminders and updates directly to employees’ phones so that resources are available right at their fingertips and everyone gets consistent information. Due to COVID-19 and the ongoing worker shortage, we have also learned the importance of cross-training. Employees should be trained to handle multiple roles and responsibilities, so if someone is out sick (or quits), staff members can be deployed wherever they’re needed.

Employers and employees are moving away from viewing training as a chore and instead viewing it as an opportunity to improve knowledge and behaviors. The key to long-term improvement and compliance is ongoing training and a willingness to take immediate corrective actions if/when employees aren’t following protocols to ensure compliance.

There is no denying that the COVID pandemic has been tremendously disruptive to our industry. However, positive changes have emerged from the chaos. The food industry has shown incredible resiliency, flexibility and tenacity throughout this difficult time, and has adopted new protocols, leveraged innovative technologies, increased transparency and embraced collaboration. These changes will likely be permanent, which is good news for the health and safety of our guests, employees and businesses.

Michael Sperber, UL Everclean

Amid Labor Shortage, Restaurants and Grocery Stores Challenged to Focus on Sanitation and Employee Training

By Maria Fontanazza
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Michael Sperber, UL Everclean

The foodservice and retail industry has struggled to keep up with the curveballs thrown at it during this pandemic. “Whether reopening dining rooms after extended closures or finding their footing in a world of new omnichannel ordering, quick service restaurant and fast casual managers are grappling with evolving rules and regulations, changing diner preferences, while also welcoming an entirely new workforce,” says Michael Sperber, a global business manager for UL Everclean, a third-party retail food safety and sanitation audit program that helps retail foodservice businesses improve their food safety practices. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Sperber discussed the evolving challenges in the foodservice and retail space over the past 15 months.

Food Safety Tech: On the issue of sanitation and cleanliness, what hurdles do restaurants and grocery stores have in the face of the pandemic and the subsequent labor shortage?

Michael Sperber: Trust in the safety and cleanliness of restaurants and grocery stores is one of the bigger concerns that must be addressed as consumers continue to navigate the pandemic. Consumers now have a higher expectation for their own health and well being, and expect establishments they visit to meet their needs and [doing so] while embracing heightened health and safety protocols.

FST: What steps should they be taking to identify and reduce potential health and safety risks?

Michael Sperber, UL Everclean
Michael Sperber, global business manager for UL Everclean

Sperber: Amidst new challenges, guidelines and expectations, restaurants continue to have the critical responsibility of offering sanitary eating spaces and food preparation practices that help prevent diners from getting foodborne illnesses. There are several ways that restaurants can do this including:

  1. Leveraging technology to support food safety best practices.
    • Hand washing monitors help guide employees in proper handwashing techniques.
    • Internet of Things (IoT) temperature devices can monitor hot and cold food holding and service areas, instantly alerting managers when temperatures fall outside an acceptable range.
    • Touchless technologies like digital displays in the back of the house reduce transmission risk from employees handling food.
  2. Auditing every location of one branded store can account for differences in employees and managers. Left unverified, the rigor of food safety practices may simply rest on the personal conviction of a single location manager, rendering it completely inconsistent across locations. It is critical that management audit each individual store for compliance with food safety best practices.
    iii. Having an emergency plan, and then training for and rehearsing the plan, can help with proper mitigation of the threats of potential contamination.

FST: Discuss the role of employee training in this process, and how organizations should move forward.

Sperber: Training employees in food safety and customer interaction is a vital step in protecting employees and guests from foodborne illnesses. Employees who recently started at a restaurant when it reopened might not be aware of the dangers of foodborne illnesses or basic food safety protocols.

As restaurants reopen, when more and more guests have safety at the top of their mind, they should completely reboot their food safety programs, beginning with basics of safe food handling and foodborne illness. Repetition is a good way to reinforce the importance of food safety, and it may be beneficial to provide multiple training videos, pose questions on food safety during the interview and training process and include food safety on periodic employee reviews. Infractions among employees should result in retraining. This level of repetition communicates the importance of the issue.

A focus on employee training will help lead to a culture of food safety where everyone from the corporate CEO to the manager and janitorial staff feels accountable and can understand the consequences of failure to follow proper protocols.

James Davis, OSI Group
FST Soapbox

Applying Food Plant Sanitation Best Practices to Facility Janitorial Programs

By James T. Davis
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James Davis, OSI Group

The COVID-19 pandemic propelled food processors to scrutinize various aspects of their existing employee hygiene and environmental safety programs in an effort to protect facility workers’ health. Implementation of measures such as social distancing, illness screening, workspace barriers, additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and enhanced cleaning measures have aided the industry in reducing employee sickness and unplanned shutdowns.1 Of these actions, effective cleaning protocols in non-production areas, under the scope of facility janitorial programs, have been brought to heightened attention as a critical preventative measure for surface contamination of SARS-CoV-2.1 Through incorporation of the fundamental principles of sanitation programs utilized for food production zones, processors can elevate the effectiveness of their janitorial cleaning programs in non-production areas.

Scope of Janitorial Program

Food processing facilities should evaluate, using a risk-based assessment, all non-production areas that employees occupy on a routine basis, for inclusion into the janitorial cleaning program. Examples of areas that are routinely subject to high employee traffic and regular congregation include, but are not limited to, locker rooms, restrooms, break rooms, cafeterias, hallways, conference rooms and offices.

Additionally, specific surfaces within each of the identified non-production areas for inclusion into the program should also be evaluated in the risk-based assessment. Surfaces within these identified areas that are frequently touched, and present a greater likelihood of contamination to employees, would be considered higher-risk, and thus, command more focus during routine janitorial cleaning activities. Examples of such surfaces may include the following: Door handles, tables, desks, chairs, toilet and faucet handles, vending machines, phones, computers and other electronic devices.

Janitorial Best-Practice Examples

Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures
Sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs), or written cleaning instructions, should be developed for all janitorial cleaning tasks of selected employee and welfare areas, in a similar manner as those for production area equipment and infrastructure. These documents should contain pertinent information to effectively perform the desired janitorial tasks, such as the following: The individual(s) responsible for the task, appropriate chemicals, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety measures, frequency of cleaning, steps of cleaning execution and verification measures.

Chemical Selection & Use
Selection of chemicals for cleaning of employee and welfare areas is critically important in ensuring biological agents are effectively removed from surfaces during janitorial activities. Much like in production areas, the facility janitorial cleaning program should utilize an appropriate detergent suitable for removing residual surface soils as a base of the program. Inadequate removal of soils, such as grease or food debris in break rooms, will inhibit the effective removal of adverse biological agents.2 Additionally, the program should include an application of sanitizer or disinfectant to the target surface effective in neutralizing SARS-CoV-2.3

Cleaning Process & Frequency
An effective cleaning process for routine janitorial tasks can be modeled after the established Seven Steps of Sanitation commonly utilized in food production zones.4 Typical steps in this process applicable for janitorial cleaning should include: area preparation and dry cleaning, wiping surfaces with fresh water, application and wiping with detergent, removal of detergent with fresh water wiping, inspection verification activities and application of sanitizer or disinfectant to target surfaces for required dwell time (subsequent wiping of chemical after dwell time may be required). The frequency of cleaning and additional sanitizing activities should be validated and take into consideration times of employees breaks, level of non-production area occupancy and extent of employee contact with higher-risk surfaces. Additionally, individuals who performed the required cleaning tasks should ensure appropriate PPE is worn, not only to protect from chemicals utilized, but from biological agents that may be present on surfaces.

Master Sanitation Schedule
A master sanitation schedule, or MSS, encompassing janitorial cleaning activities that occur on a non-daily basis should be maintained either separately, or included in an existing sanitation schedule.

Sanitation, misting
Misting frequently touched surfaces with an additional disinfectant chemical approved to inactivate SARS-Cov-2. Image courtesy of OSI Group.

Examples of non-routine janitorial tasks may include:

  • Emptying and cleaning of personnel storage lockers
  • Cleaning of difficult-to-access surfaces for daily cleaning, such as ceilings, walls and around vending machines
  • Misting of frequently touched surfaces, or entire rooms, with an additional disinfectant chemical approved to inactivate SARS-Cov-2

The appropriate frequencies of these non-routine tasks should be validated through a risk-based assessment and continually verified to ensure effectiveness.

Employee Training
All employees who are required to perform routine and non-routine janitorial tasks should be fully trained and records maintained. This should not only include adequate training knowledge of required practices and documentation, but also chemical selection and handling specific to janitorial activities. Retention of knowledge should be verified and included in existing facility training programs. Routine auditing of the cleaning practices by facility personnel will ensure continued acceptable outcomes of the program.

Documentation

Completion of all janitorial cleaning activities should be documented and records maintained following similar practices for sanitation in production areas. As a best practice, documentation, such as checklists, should be made visible to employees who utilize the welfare areas as a means to convey facility hygiene practices and ease potential health concerns.

Validation & Verification of Cleaning Effectiveness
To ensure an established janitorial cleaning program for non-production areas is effective in achieving appropriate hygiene outcomes, the facility must validate and routinely verify the process. Validating the effectiveness of janitorial programs can be undertaken in much the same manner as performed for the traditional sanitation process in food production zones. A combination of visual inspection, environmental sampling and other methods should be utilized both during the validation and subsequent routine verification process. Specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, several contract laboratories offer surface environmental testing for SARS-CoV-2 (via RT-qPCR) that should be incorporated into janitorial validation and verification protocols.2,5 Routine absence of the virus will assist in demonstrating effectiveness of the facility janitorial cleaning program.

Conclusion

With the increased scrutiny of employee welfare during the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining effective facility hygiene remains a critical goal of food processing facilities. Through incorporation of current sanitation best practices utilized in food production zones, facilities can elevate the outcomes of their janitorial cleaning programs, ensuring effective hygiene.

References

  1. North American Meat Institute. (November 12, 2020). Significant Events and Progress Involving the Meat and Poultry Industry during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  2. American Society for Microbiology. (October 8, 2020). Detecting SARS-CoV-2 in the Environment.
  3. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (November 25, 2020). List N: Disinfectants for Coronavirus (COVID-19).
  4. International Association of Food Protection. (December 7, 2017). Cleaning, Sanitizing and the Seven Steps of Sanitation [Webinar].
  5.  IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group. (December 2020). SARS CoV-2 Environmental Monitoring.
Checklist

2020 FSC Episode 6 Wrap: Lessons in Sanitation

By Maria Fontanazza
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Checklist

COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the importance of proper handwashing and overall hygiene. In addition to focusing on worker and operational safety, it has also pushed food manufacturers and processors to pay more attention to the location of high-touch areas and how they should be cleaned, sanitized, disinfected and sterilized. During last week’s Food Safety Consortium episode on sanitation, there was discussion about the need to have the right sanitation plan and properly trained people in place. “When it comes to food safety, who are the most important people in the plant? It’s the sanitation crew and employees. They are on the frontlines, ” said Shawn Stevens, founder of Food Industry Counsel, LLC. “If they don’t do their job or are not given the tools to do their jobs, that’s where the failures occur. We need to empower them. We have to invest in sanitation and not be complacent.”

Investing in a sanitation plan is where it all begins, said Elise Forward, president of Forward Food Solutions. Within the plan, companies need to include items such as PPE and sanitation equipment, along with what resources will be needed and what chemicals will be required. “What would it look like in our manufacturing facilities if we had a plan for the pandemic?” asked Forward. “There was so much scrambling: ‘How do we do this and what do we do’. We need to plan for these events.” Forward, along with David Shelep, microbiologist and consultant for Paramount Sciences and Bill Leverich, president of Microbiologics, Inc., offered a strong overview of the right components of a sanitation plan and the common products and technologies used in the process (quaternary ammoniums, sodium hypochlorite, ethyl alcohol, peracetic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and chlorine dioxide). They also provided insight on some of the products and technologies that are being explored in the face of COVID-19—UV-C and hypochlorous acid, which has applications in cleaning biofilms, hand sanitizing, fogging, and surface application (i.e., electrostatic spraying, mopping).

“Cleaning and sanitizing is setting up your production team(s) for success.” – Elise Forward, Forward Food Solutions

View the list of EPA-registered COVID-19 disinfectants.

Beyond sanitation methods, companies need to invest in employee training and be committed to their safety. This means giving employees sick days and not incentivizing them to come to work when they are sick.

Rob Mommsen, senior director, global quality assurance and food safety for Sabra Dipping Company, shared a candid perspective on how Sabra developed an effective and validated Listeria environmental monitoring program (LEMP) following an FDA inspection that led to a swab-a-thon, findings of resident Listeria in the plant, and a huge product recall as a result of the Listeria contamination in the plant (Mommsen stated that Listeria was never found in product samples). “We had to severely alter the way we cleaned our plant,” he said. And the company did, with a number of changes that included taking the plant apart and cleaning it; removing all high pressure water nozzles; changing areas in the plant from low care to high care; keeping movable equipment to certain areas in the plant; changing employee and equipment traffic patterns; and retraining staff on GMPs. The company also changed its microbiological strategy, conducting daily swabbing in certain zones, increasing testing on samples, and implementing a weekly environmental meeting that was attended by senior and department managers. “Fast forward” to 2019: FDA conducted an unannounced audit and noted that Sabra’s environmental monitoring program was one of the best they’ve seen and that the company’s culture was clearly driven by food safety, according to Mommsen.

Fast forward again to 2020 and the pandemic: With work-from-home orders in place and other frontline workers staying home for various reasons, the company saw a change GMP adherence, employee training and the frequency of environmental monitoring, said Mommsen. So Sabra had some work to do once again to re-right the ship, and Mommsen presented it as a lessons learned for folks in the food industry: In addition to employee safety, food safety must be the number one priority, and having the support of senior management is critical; the turnaround time for environmental swabs is also critical and an effective LEMP should consist of both conventional testing as well as rapid detection technology; and an environmental monitoring program requires persistence—it is not self sustaining and there are no shortcuts.

The watch the presentations discussed in this article, register for the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, and view the session on demand.

Carla Zarazir, Lebanese University
FST Soapbox

Coronavirus and Food Security

By Carla Zarazir
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Carla Zarazir, Lebanese University

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been quickly spreading across the globe, which triggered most affected countries to officially declare a state of public health emergency. The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled this rather fast outbreak as pandemic. Food companies were urged to apply proper hygiene practices such as regular handwashing and surface cleaning to keep the risk of contagion at its lowest level.1 At the moment, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments for COVID-19 but no specific vaccine or medicine have been publicly made available, as of this writing.

COVID-19 belongs to a family of viruses that cause respiratory issues and can be passed on directly through contact with an infected person’s body fluids (i.e, cough or sneeze discharge) and indirectly, through contact with contaminated surfaces.2 But can the virus be transmitted through edible goods?

Coronavirus Transmission through Food
According to the CDC, there is no current indication to support the transmission of COVID-19 through food since, in general, it needs a living host on which to grow. However, sharing food and beverages, especially in public places, is discouraged. Moreover, good food safety practices are highly recommended, including refrigerating, keeping raw and cooked goods separated and heating food at suitable temperature (around 75 ̊ C).3

If the consumed food is hypothetically contaminated with the virus, the stomach acid (due to its acidic nature) will immediately inactivate it. In addition, COVID-19 cannot affect the body internally via the intestines. One rare exception to the previous statement occurs when the virus gets in contact with a specific type of respiratory cells.

According to food safety experts, foodborne illnesses are generally caused by bacterial cells that have the ability to grow in food and multiply rapidly within a short amount of time. On the other hand, viruses are dormant particles floating around living cells; only when they successfully breaks into the aforementioned cells, the multiplication process can take place.1,3

General Food Safety Advice for Food Businesses

Food manufacturers must follow good hygiene and safety practices to help ensure the consistent quality and safety of their products:4,5,6

  • Purchase raw material from reputable sources
  • Cook food thoroughly and maintain safe holding temperatures
  • Clean and sanitize surfaces (such as cooking boards, refrigerators handles, etc.) and equipment
  • Properly train staff in taking extreme hygiene measures
  • Employees showing signs of infectious illness must not attend work
  • Implement appropriate risk management strategies (e.g,. encourage social distancing and endorse online meetings when applicable)
  • Number of staff in a kitchen or food preparation area should be kept to a bare minimum
  • Space out workstations and food preparation areas, when possible

References

  1. World Health Organization. (2020). Coronavirus disease: advice for the public.
  2. Food Standards Australia & New Zealand. (2020). Novel Coronavirus and Food Safety.
  3. CDC. 2020. Food Safety and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
  4. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. (2020). Coronavirus Resource Center.
  5. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). 2020. Coronavirus: no evidence that food is a source or transmission route.
  6. USDA.(2020). Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).
Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

How Will AR and VR Improve Safety in the Food Industry?

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

The food and beverage sector is a huge presence in the U.S. economy. As of 2017, the industry employed 1.46 million people across 27,000 different establishments. Total food and beverage sales stand at around $1.4 trillion and add $164 billion in value to the economy as a whole.1 This presents significant opportunities and risks alike. Companies that trade in food products are held to some of the highest regulatory standards. With globalization ongoing and a higher demand than ever for variety and niche products, companies find they need to expand the mobility of their services. They must also broaden their product choices without missing a beat when it comes to quality.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have emerged as unlikely allies in that quest. These technologies are already having a positive impact on food and worker safety in the industry.

Improves New Employee Training

Onboarding and training new employees is a costly and time-consuming endeavor in any industry. Moreover, failure by companies to impart the necessary skills, and failure by employees to retain them, can have ghastly consequences. Errors on assembly lines may result in faulty products, recalls, worker and customer injuries, and worse.

The stakes in the food and beverage sector are just as high as they are in other labor- and detail-oriented industries. VR provides an entirely new kind of training experience for employees, whether they’re working on mastering their pizza cutting technique or brewing the perfect cappuccino. Other times, “getting it right” is about much more than aesthetic appeal and immediate customer satisfaction.

Animal slaughtering and processing facilities represent some of the more extreme examples of potentially dangerous workplaces in the larger food and beverage industry. Between 2011 and 2015, this U.S. sector experienced 73 fatal workplace injuries. Excepting poultry processing, 2015 saw 9,800 recordable incidents in animal processing, or 7.2 cases for every 100 full-time employees.

Some adopters of VR-based employee training claim that virtual reality yields up to an 80% retention rate one year after an employee has been trained. This compares extremely favorably to the estimated 20% retention rate of traditional training techniques.

Training via VR headset can help companies get new hires up to speed faster in a safe, detailed and immersive environment. Food processing and service are high-turnover employment sectors. The right training technology can help workers feel better prepared and more engaged with their work, potentially reducing employee churn.

Helps Eliminate Errors in Food Processing

Augmented reality is already demonstrating great promise in manufacturing, maintenance and other sectors. For instance, an AR headset can give an assembly line worker in an automotive plant detailed, step-by-step breakdowns of their task in their peripheral vision through a digital overlay.

The same goes for food and beverage manufacturing. AR headsets can superimpose a list of inspection or processing tasks for workers to follow as they prepare food items in a manufacturing or distribution facility.

In 2018, there was an estimated 382 recalls involving food products. Augmented reality alone won’t bring that number down to zero. However, it does help reduce instances of line workers and inspectors missing critical steps in processing or packaging that might result in contamination or spoilage.

Eases the Learning Curve in Food Preparation

There are lots of food products in the culinary world that are downright dangerous if they’re not prepared properly and by following specific steps. Elderberries, various species of fish, multiple root vegetables, and even cashews and kidney beans can all induce illness and even death if the right steps aren’t taken to make them fit for consumption.

In early 2019, inspectors descended on a Michelin-starred and highly respected restaurant in Valencia, Spain. The problem? A total of 30 patrons reported falling ill after eating at El País, one of whom lost her life. Everyone reported symptoms similar to food poisoning.

The common element in each case appeared to be morel mushrooms. These are considered a luxury food item, but failure to cook them properly can result in gastric problems and worse. Augmented reality could greatly reduce the likelihood of incidents like this in the future by providing ongoing guidance and reminders to new and veteran chefs alike, without taking the bulk of their attention away from work.

Brings New Efficiencies to Warehousing and Pick-and-Pack

Consumers around the globe are getting used to ordering even highly perishable foodstuffs over the internet—and there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle. Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods is an indicator of what’s to come: Hundreds of freezer-equipped and climate-controlled warehouses located within a stone’s throw from a majority of the American population.

Ensuring smooth operations in perishable food and beverage supply chains is a major and ongoing struggle. It’s not just a practical headache for companies—it’s something of a moral imperative, too. The World Health Organization finds that around 600 million individuals worldwide fall ill each year due to foodborne illnesses.

Augmented reality won’t completely solve this problem, but it may greatly reduce a major source of potential spoilage and contamination: Inefficiencies in picking and packing operations. Order pickers equipped with AR headsets can:

  • Receive visual prompts to quickly find their way to designated stow locations in refrigerated warehouses after receiving refrigerated freight.
  • Locate pick locations more efficiently while retrieving single items or when they already have a partial order of perishable goods picked.

In both cases, the visual cues provided by AR help employees navigate warehousing locations much more quickly and efficiently. This substantially lowers the likelihood that food products are stuck in limbo in unrefrigerated areas, potentially coming into contact with noncompliant temperatures or pathogens. The FDA recognizes mispackaged and mislabeled food products as a major public health risk.

For food and beverage companies, AR should be a welcome development and a worthy investment. FSMA recognized that 48 million Americans get sick each year from compromised foods. The act required these entities to be much more proactive in drawing up prevention plans for known sources of contamination and to be more deliberate in standardizing their processes for safety’s sake.

AR and VR Boost Food, Worker and Customer Safety

Augmented and virtual reality may seem like an unusual ally in an industry where most consumers are primarily focused on the aesthetic and sensory aspects of the experience. However, there’s a whole world that lives and dies according to the speed and attention to detail of employees and decision-makers alike. Augmented realities, and entirely new ones, point the way forward.

Reference

  1. Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board. (March 2017). “Economic Contribution of the Food and Beverage Industry. Retrieved from https://www.ced.org/pdf/Economic_Contribution_of_the_Food_and_Beverage_Industry.pdf.
Laura Nelson, Alchemy

Changing Consumer Preferences and Employee Compliance Training Driving Industry Evolution

By Maria Fontanazza
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Laura Nelson, Alchemy

The food industry is undergoing considerable change, especially as consumers become increasingly more vocal about their preferences and concerns, and as technology improvement and adoption plays a larger role in the conversation. In a recent Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Laura Dunn Nelson, vice president of food safety at Alchemy, shares her thoughts about current industry trends and how they are impacting food companies, where more help is needed, as well as ways in which companies can help advance food safety culture internally.

Food Safety Tech: The food industry is rapidly evolving. What are some of the trends you’re seeing and are these posing different challenges to food manufacturers?

Laura Dunn Nelson: The food industry is rapidly evolving in three key areas: Who produces our food, the variety of our food, and how consumers access our food.

As consumers continue to shift their food preferences toward an increase in healthy ingredients, locally sourced products, and clean labels, companies in turn continue to innovate and reformulate. Mergers and acquisitions continue as larger companies look to partner with niche companies that are focused on products marketed to the health-conscious consumer. Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are expanding rapidly, reaching both vegans and meat eaters in the United States and expanding into international markets. Ever-changing consumer preferences create challenges for the industry to accelerate their research and development processes in order to remain competitive in the marketplace.

Changes in product formulas and increases in product lines create the need for new ingredient procurement, changes in production schedules, and new operating procedures. There has been a proliferation of start-up companies using CBD as an ingredient for food and beverages despite the lagging food safety regulations forcing some city and state regulators like New York City to create their own ban of CBD products. As the FDA explores future regulations, producers and consumers are left to determine the safety of these products.

Home delivery of food continues to be a hot trend as the market continues to grow for companies like UberEats, Grubhub, retailers and foodservice companies like Domino’s Pizza where you can Tweet your pizza order. The home delivery service area presents new considerations for food safety including monitoring appropriate product temperatures.

Finally, discussion around blockchain technology continues to gain prominence as companies work to develop transparency within their supply chain. For many companies, this will translate into a significant shift in technology adoption and a move away from disparate data sources and therefore an investment in not only the technology but in revising their procurement processes.

Laura Nelson, Alchemy
Laura Nelson is vice president of food safety at Alchemy and currently serves as the vice-chair of the Food Safety Culture Professional Development Group (PDG) for IAFP.

FST: What are the areas in which you feel companies need a bit more guidance?

Nelson: How we effectively train our employees to ensure learning and comprehension is paramount to our success in the future. IBM Institute for Business Value recently completed their study “The Enterprise Guide to Closing the Skills Gap,” and noted “120 million workers in the world’s biggest economies may need to be retrained as a result of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation in the workplace.” Reskilling will be the new norm as new technologies and automation of equipment disrupt the current state.

Deloitte noted that “reinventing the way people learn” was the number one trend in the 2019 Global Human Capital Trends Report. Many companies are focused almost exclusively on mandatory compliance training and conducting the training the same way they have for years. Typically, orientation food safety training is provided during the employee’s first week of work and annual refreshers are given every year. In the Global Food Safety Training Survey that Alchemy provides to the global industry with Campden BRI, we consistently find that 67% of responding QA managers report that employees do not follow their food safety programs, despite their food safety training. Unfortunately, the emphasis on food safety is often relegated to that one day a year of refresher training with little reinforcement the remaining 364 days of the year. The ‘noise’ of competing priorities of production and customer expectations often distracts employees from their food safety responsibilities.

Some companies still define training as classroom training when, in fact, employees are being trained each and every day by their supervisors and peers. Companies that put additional emphasis in not only their training but validation of training through observations of employees’ food safety behaviors achieve higher food safety compliance. The power of two-way conversations between the employee and the supervisor as a coach creates an environment of communication and trust.

Alchemy worked with independent researchers to determine the effect of active coaching with prescribed behavior feedback on the plant floor. The results were conclusive: every facility included in the study revealed a 38% improvement in aligned employee behaviors.

Ultimately, companies need to evaluate their current learning organization for effectiveness and focus on job competencies and their ongoing assessment of compliant employee behaviors.

FST: What maturity level are you seeing in the industry related to food safety culture and the related implementation of best practices?

Nelson: The food industry is still relatively new to the concept of a mature food safety culture, and even how to define that. The industry focus of this topic has largely been driven by efforts within the GFSI community, particularly with the publication of the position paper “A Culture of Food Safety.” Pioneers in food safety culture research, like Dr. Lone Jespersen, and emerging training assessment tools are working toward pushing these newer concepts to the mainstream of our industry.

As with many important constructs, the QA/QC team is typically tasked with introducing this concept to their organization, defining their company’s level of food safety culture maturity, and establishing a continuous improvement plan. This is a tough ask from individuals who typically have a technical education background with little experience in behavioral science. To address these challenges, there are a growing number of consultants, books, and resources to help define a company’s food safety culture maturity and establish improvement strategies.

To help frame the benefits of a mature culture, a recent publication by Lone Jespersen et al, “The Impact of Maturing Food Safety Culture and a Pathway to Economic Gain,” notes the value of a mature food safety culture in reducing the cost of poor quality and food safety risks. Research indicates that many companies are currently in mid-maturity of their food safety culture. Suggested best practices to help an organization mature their food safety culture include:

  1. Foster cross-company ownership of food safety.
  2. Move from compliance driven operations to risk reduction through continuous improvement.
  3. Improve engagement skills of technical staff.

The first step is an assessment to understand the company’s unique performance gaps, either through an internal review or an external assessment. Once the specific gaps are identified, companies can develop their food safety culture improvement plan and execute. It’s helpful to conduct a reassessment over time to ensure the established improvement strategies are successful.

The effort can be challenging but research confirms that a more mature food safety culture will deliver improved food safety performance of food safety behaviors, improved product quality, and a reduction in food safety risks.

Ibidun Layi-Ojo, Prometric
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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.