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.
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.
Employee training continues to be a hot topic as companies in the food industry gear up for FSMA compliance. Many are working with a much leaner staff and have several different generations of employees, many of whom absorb information in very different ways.
In a Q&A series with Food Safety Tech, Laura Nelson, vice president of business development at Alchemy Systems, discusses how training programs that may have historically been successful are no longer an effective means to educate today’s employees. “A vast majority of employees are doing what we ask and are doing it consistently. But the reality is that we have a subset of folks [who] aren’t doing that,” says Nelson. “I don’t think you can classroom train them to the point that they get it—I think some need that coaching and demonstration; they’re the kinesthetic learners that need to see you do it and then you watch them do it.”
Food Safety Tech: Where are the gaps in how food companies conduct employee education and training today?
Laura Nelson: It can be summarized in three areas.
1. Recognizing that the legacy training programs that food companies have is not effective. Companies are acknowledging that their historical training programs are not entirely effective in driving consistent behaviors. In [a recent] global food safety training [survey], we asked: “Despite our efforts in food safety classroom training, we still have employees not following our food safety program on the plant floor”. Over 60% said they agreed—yes, we still have employees not following our food safety programs. The survey involved 1200+ food safety professionals, so that’s a large number of folks acknowledging that their food safety training programs—largely classroom training—is not delivering the desired results and reducing inherent food safety risks.
There are so many things challenging the food industry and everyone is trying to manage these expanding expectations with their lean teams. The industry is changing dramatically—[from the perspective of] employee demographics, the business itself, pervasiveness of social media and exposure that it brings, and the different regulations—so a static food safety program established two, five or ten plus years ago is not going to address these changes. But who has the time and resources to continually update content, embrace technology and apply the latest behavioral science to the instructional design of new training content? Because of the lack of resources and time challenges, many in the industry are still trying to operate on their legacy training program. It might be old DVDs, PowerPoints, etc. —trainers are covering food safety, workplace safety and operational topics via PowerPoints in all-day sessions, sending around a sign-up sheet and ticking off their training compliance checkbox. Training has to be improved and enhanced for many key reasons—whether it’s considering different cultures, updating languages, engaging millennials or focusing on those critical employee behaviors that present a risk to an individual operation.
2. Understanding that training expands beyond the classroom. The industry as a whole continues to think that classroom training is their training program and that once the classroom training is complete and [the employee is] on the operations floor, that the training and education job is done. The reality is, it’s not. There’s lots more training happening beyond the classroom. Understanding that we need to formalize the extension of the classroom training and manage the ‘plant floor’ training aspect is really important. The industry is starting to embrace this [concept]. Anywhere from formal coaching and mentoring by frontline supervisors to posters and digital signage and short reminders to monthly campaigns on key critical items around food safety. Companies are starting to embrace the power of this holistic approach to training, leveraging new and emerging technology and tools to optimize employee behaviors.
3. Most people are not making the connection between training effectiveness and the ROI, the return on the investment. They think they don’t have the time to make improvements—yet, if they carved out time routinely to assess and evaluate best training practices to make training more effective and implemented these new and proven strategies, then all of a sudden the time and resource question becomes less of an issue because now you’re delivering on things like a decrease in food quality issues or reducing [employees] turnover, decreased downtime, reduced GMP non compliances, etc. It takes some time to establish those related training metrics, but once you’ve done that and have ensured that your holistic training program is current and behaviors are being exhibited consistently, you start to have fewer operational issues, enhanced customer satisfaction and motivated, engaged employees.
A new industry survey is highlighting several issues facing food safety and quality assurance professionals, from employee retention to understanding the final FSMA rules. The 2016 Annual TraceGains Food Safety & Quality Assurance (FSQA) Professional Survey digs into the top priorities (FSMA compliance, audit readiness, supplier relationship management, etc.) of professionals and sheds light on some of the current challenges that companies are facing, especially in the area of compliance, FSMA readiness and supplier documentation.
“We’re seeing a recipe for stress in the food and beverage industry: Take one-part low margins, blend in one-part increased government regulation, one-part unannounced audits, one-part increasing customer demands, and one-part manual paperwork,” says Gary Nowacki, CEO of TraceGains. “Mix well, bake on high, then spread thinly with a limited pool of FSQA professionals.”
Nearly 500 FSQA professionals participated in the survey. In a two-part Q&A with TraceGains, Anthony Arocha (customer success consultant), Rajan Gupta (vice president of customer success), and Jason Ulrich (customer success manager) explain what the results mean in to the broader industry.
Food Safety Tech: Were there any surprises with this year’s survey?
Anthony Arocha: FSMA compliance is across the board a top priority with staffing/training as one of the biggest obstacles to overcome. I would say this is a huge opportunity for automation to help reduce the risk and long-term costs incurred by the increasing demand for accurate documentation.
Rajan Gupta: I do not think there are any surprises but a very strong restatement that FSQA staff is difficult to hire/retain due to limited individual growth, low salaries, inadequate training, incentives, etc. All of these lead to the fact that most food companies look at food safety and quality as a nuisance that they must deal with versus as a function that is a necessity or a requirement with adequate funding.
FST: With FSMA being a top priority among survey respondents, are you finding that companies are concerned about any of the rules in particular?
Arocha: Honestly, it seems that most folks are trying very hard to get a handle on all the new rules and what their responsibility is for compliance. Not sure they have gotten to the point of having just one or two main concerns yet. There is more emphasis on creating strong relationships with the downstream and upstream customers and suppliers than ever before. Some of the rules seem vague, which will require an operation to be prepared to support how they meet a particular requirement or may be potentially exempt from it. These have been some of the concerns that seem to be popping up most.
Gupta: The main theme that we hear from our customers is that there is confusion. Companies have had to deal with many requirements in the past, some of which conflict each other. I think lack of a thorough understanding of food safety within an organization is a key limiting factor to truly determine what is needed at each organization to meet FSMA guidelines.
Jason Ulrich: Companies are concerned about FSMA. Most are concerned with FSMA as a whole. Many have taken steps to educate themselves, but the law is vague, especially for companies that are in multiple areas of food manufacturing.
The Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule goes into effect June 6, 2016. Large businesses must comply by April 6, 2017; small businesses must comply by April 6, 2018. The rule governs the protection of food during transport, including the sanitation of transport vehicles and equipment, refrigeration of food for safety, and proper cleaning of bulk transport vehicles between loads. So you’ll need a game plan…but what should your game plan include?
Read the rule—every word of it—to understand the reasoning behind the decisions made in crafting it and to get a glimpse into how it will be regulated and enforced.
Review all of your processes, protocols, procedures, and contracts to ensure compliance with the rule, and outline responsibility for how you’ll manage the safe transportation of food.
Close any gaps in your current programs to ensure you’ll meet the regulations well in advance of the compliance date.
Kick the tires by conducting mock inspections. Find non-compliances and give yourself time to correct them, rather than wait for bad news during a real inspection.
Confirm the accuracy of all your documentation on a regular basis. Documentation can be the difference between success and failure when it comes to proving that you’re doing the right things.
Get all stakeholders on board to empower employees at all levels and drive culture change.
Use Driver Training to Prepare
Drivers are the conductors of the food supply chain. They literally have loads of responsibilities, including maintaining the cold chain, meeting delivery requirements, practicing safe driving always, and meeting all Department of Transportation regulations and requirements. Whether transporting raw materials, packaging, work-in-progress, or finished goods, drivers are the people that keep food safe in transit. So how can you take advantage of your driver training program to ensure compliance with the Sanitary Transport rule?
A blended learning strategy, combining online and instructor-led training, has been shown to provide the best food safety training outcomes.
Use online lessons to introduce and reinforce knowledge of new FSMA regulations and food safety awareness topics. Digital lessons are economical, learner-paced, provide consistent messaging, and are accessible 24/7.
Use hands-on direct instruction for refreshers or for topics like proper vehicle inspections, reefer unit checks, cargo securement, etc.
Subject matter experts should conduct any instructor-led training using a skills check-off approach to document driver’s abilities and to ensure that drivers perform to standard.
Group and prioritize drivers for training based on their compliance history.
Use online lessons and safety messaging proactively to sustain driver compliance and performance.
Use online training at least quarterly, but use safety messaging monthly. Drivers, like all learners, need regular reminders in order to break old habits and form new ones. Communications programs can provide multi-touchpoints to reinforce new knowledge, shift behaviors, and help ensure compliance.
Put Your Game Plan Into Action
The Sanitary Transport Rule is a reality. Now is the time to put written procedures and protocols in place and make sure all stakeholders have a clear understanding of them. Determine precisely who has responsibility for compliance throughout the distribution channels. A blend of online and face-to-face training will ensure compliance, increase performance, and protect foods during transportation operations. The benefits far outweigh the cost.
Yiannas also touches on how learning through the mistakes of others can be an effective teaching tool.
“I think we have to teach food safety the wrong way sometimes to teach it the right way,” said Yiannas. “I think a lot of food safety professionals create curriculum and modules that are teaching it the right way…when the research is clear—teaching the wrong way can be pretty good.”
Across the board, increased employee awareness and training has become a big issue in food safety. The foodborne illness outbreaks that hit Chipotle Mexican Grill has put retail and restaurant establishments on high alert, yet this is just another example of the reactive culture in which we operate, according to Matt Schiering, vice president and general manager at Sani Professional.
Food Safety Tech recently hit the road with Schiering and John Caton, regional sales manager at Sani Professional, to experience first hand how one company is communicating its message to customers. Breaking with tradition has been an important part of promoting cleaner technology: The use of the rag and bucket as a means to clean both the front of the house (tables, chairs, counters, etc.) as well as the back of restaurants and retail establishments, while still fairly common, has outlived its effectiveness, and frankly, says Schiering, “screams unclean”. Caton and Schiering continued the conversation with their customers about how using disposable wipes for cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection helps prevent the spread of contamination, along with the cost savings associated with using such products. The company takes a multi-prong approach to promoting awareness among its current and potential clients, from deploying a sales force that directly interacts with quality assurance and food safety professionals in establishments to offering how advances in sustainable technology can help them stay ahead of the curve to driving consumer advocacy.
Food Safety Tech: How is Sani Professional raising the level awareness of the disadvantages of the traditional cleaning method (the rag and bucket method) in the retail environment?
Matt Schiering: There are a few ways to raise the level of awareness. The first and foremost is “feet on the street”. We’ve deliberately moved toward a direct-to-customer sales force, which gives us the opportunity to interface directly with QA, food safety and operations to show them a simpler, more efficient, more effective, and guest appealing way versus the traditional rag and bucket. The first win is one for the user (the employees of a given establishment), because associates have shown us time and time again that they do not like the mixing and measuring, and the errors that are often associated with that process. They don’t like the dirty rag itself—having to fish it out of the bowl and then present it or be seen with it in the front of the establishment. It’s a win for the operator (the manager), because with our system, there’s no longer any heightened heart rate when the health inspector shows up. One of the most common violations is the water in the buckets being out of spec or the rags themselves not being inside the bucket per regulation. And perhaps most importantly, it’s a win for the guest. Think about your own restaurant experiences. Guests don’t want to see or be confronted with a greyish brown rag [that is used to] wipe a table, then wipe a seat, then wipe an adjacent table. It just screams unclean.
As we talk about the evolution in perception, away from traditional methods, we believe that speaking directly to the consumer has to play a role. There has to be a degree of consumer-driven advocacy for a better way. – Matt Schiering
FST: Regarding employee training, how should retailers be more proactive in ensuring their employees are engaging in proper food safety practices and aren’t spreading foodborne illnesses?
Schiering: It varies by chain. Unfortunately, we live in a reactive culture—and that goes well beyond the restaurant industry.
Oftentimes a problem precedes a protocol or other means of addressing said problem. Chipotle is one example: They’ve taken an exhaustive look at restructuring their food safety protocols as a result of a myriad of foodborne illness-related issues that they suffered in the preceding months. The [retailers] who are doing it best are the ones who build it into their establishment in the first place where it’s not predicated by some sort of problem. That involves training materials, in-service lessons, and online training (i.e., ServSafe certifications). Waffle House, for example, has Waffle House University where food safety is a key component to that system.
We envision ourselves as part of that process. We take a microcosm—the notion of proper food handling, prevention of cross contamination related foodborne illness—and provide an innovative and easy-to-use solution, and all the training and collateral materials associated with the solution that explain the proper use. We also provide test kits so that if the health inspector wants an in-the-moment proof that our product is doing what the label says it does, [the retailer] can provide that at a moments notice. It becomes more of a service proposition than simply a product-driven solution.
FST: Where do you see sustainable products fitting into the space?
Schiering: This also boils down to education, because the perception of disposables is that they’re wasteful, when in fact they needn’t be any more costly than existing solutions.
If you’re using a linen service, there’s a cost associated with renting towels, but there’s a higher cost associated with wasting towels. So if a towel ends up in a gym bag or in the trash because of overuse and/or abuse, there’s a significant upcharge for not returning that towel to the rental agency. That’s what we call the hidden cost or the dirty little secret of rag and bucket sanitizing. When you factor that in, and everyone [retailers] experiences that type of loss, and you look at the fact that sanitizing wipes kill pathogens trapped in the wipe as well as whatever it is coming into contact with at the surface, thereby enabling it to be used on multiple surfaces without causing cross contamination—the cost aligns very closely. And of course it’s a more value-added guest experience than a dirty rag being used from table to table, which is not preventing cross contamination.
Speaking to the environmental piece: At the moment, we’re actually fairly well ahead of the industry. It varies chain to chain—some chains are doing a better job than others, because it’s part of their corporate culture. But by providing solutions that are leveraging either recyclable substrates or compostable substrates, we provide greater opportunity to reduce the environmental impact often associated with disposable products. If a retailer is working with a waste management partner that can handle industrial compostable products or non-solid state recyclables, we have solutions that are appropriate for those operations, so that we’re not just adding to landfills but rather essentially recycling and/or regenerating the products that are being used, and at no greater cost.
Most retailers haven’t gotten there yet. It speaks directly to corporate culture and corporate mission of the end user. We deliberately target customers who are a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to “green technology or “green behavior”. And so when the rest of the industry catches up, we’re more than ready to serve them with products that meet those needs.
FST: Where do consumers fit into the picture, especially has industry moves away from traditional methods in food safety?
Schiering: About a decade ago, consumers started demanding that retailers like Walmart, Target, and local grocers provide a means of sanitizing shopping carts when they walk into their local retail establishments. There were myriad news reports about the germs and potential for contamination and illness arising from the often used and rarely cleaned implements—these vehicles for placing your groceries. We answered the call a decade ago, and at one time it was a significant piece of our business. It continues to be a marketplace we serve, albeit a much commoditized one. But the rise in that solution would not have taken place if not for consumers advocating for a better way.
We’re starting to create a presence on Facebook and other social media outlets to remind consumers that it’s up to them in many cases to ask for, if not demand a more effective, more pleasing way of ensuring their safety in dining establishments. Unfortunately, incidents like what we saw at the large Mexican food service retailer do ultimately play a part in that consumer advocacy, albeit a negative one, because we are a reactive society. But by presenting a positive message and sharing alternatives in the absence of citing examples or shaming retailers through the problem, we believe that will be one of the keys to changing perceptions at the retail level.
Training plays a huge role in the effective implementation of FSMA. The preventive controls for human food final rule calls out areas in which training is now obligatory, namely ensuring that employees involved in the manufacturing, processing, packaging and holding of food are properly educated on food safety and food hygiene (mandated under Current Good Manufacturing Practices). FDA has initiated an extensive training strategy, part of which includes establishing a National Coordination Center (the agency awarded a $600,000 grant to the International Food Protection Training Institute in October), along with several collaborative efforts with other federal agencies and industry partners.
Although many food companies have been conducting training as part of their standard procedures, preparing employees for the implementation phase of FSMA may be more complicated than they anticipated. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Gary Smith, director of food safety services at Eurofins Scientific, shares insights on some of the hurdles that industry is encountering (including manufacturers in the animal food arena) related to training and FSMA compliance.
Food Safety Tech: How has FSMA changed the landscape of employee training?
Gary Smith: There are a couple of updates that are very important to note for the industries as a whole. First, employee training is now mandatory for both human food facilities and, probably even more importantly, animal food facilities. Many of the human food folks may have been asked by customers or by other entities via corporate internal procedures to do training of employees and to have a training program in place. For a lot of the pet food and animal feed manufacturers, having a comprehensive training program for all employees is significantly different than what has been requested and expected of them in the past.
Second, the preventive controls rule for both human food and animal food specifically requires that animal food and human food manufacturers conduct training of all their employees on at least food safety and food hygiene topics. Now, what does that mean? We’re interpreting that to mean basic GMPs as well as common food safety hazards. Realistically, this will probably be a 30 to 60-minute training session in which everyone in the facility will have to attend, and FDA doesn’t state specifically that it has to be done more than at least once. There is no frequency for re-training. However, once the compliance dates are effective, it’s mandatory that the training has been completed. This is a new concept for the majority of industry who may have had corporate training programs or customer-driven training programs, but never a mandated regulatory requirement for training.
FST: What challenges do food companies face in ensuring that employees are prepared for the implementation phase?
Smith: There’s the challenge of putting together the training, which, in the big picture of FSMA, shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
Some of the biggest challenges companies face (especially in trying to get ahead of the game and be proactive) is the identification of the preventive controls qualified individual. Is it an internal person? Is it a consultant? Do they have to go through a specific training class? The answer is yes, they do. How do they deal with foreign suppliers? A lot of folks are really confused about the concept of the Foreign Supplier Verification Program rule and what it means. Do they need to audit [their suppliers]? Do they need to be GFSI certified? There are a lot of questions concerning the importation of ingredients from outside the United States—what’s the requirement? This is probably the biggest area in which people seek clarity.
Another [challenge] is internal supplier approval, because the new rule talks about supplier approval as one of the preventive controls that has to be in place. Again, who can do those audits? When do we have to conduct an audit? What does the audit have to cover? A lot of folks are struggling with this area as well.
The last challenge: A lot of folks have HACCP, whether they are human or animal food manufacturers, and this has been required or requested by customers for a while. But how do we transition from having a HACCP plan to a food safety plan that meets the preventive control requirements in addition to the HACCP requirements? How do I build in allergen management as a preventive control? How do I build in sanitation as a preventive control? How do I build in supplier approval as a preventive control? There are a lot of questions surrounding whether companies should scrap their HACCP plan and start over, or whether they have to add on to it.
FST: Eurofins offers an extensive training schedule for the first half of 2016. How do these offerings play into FSMA’s compliance requirements?
Smith: Eurofins is now offering the highly anticipated 2.5-day training created by the FDA’s Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA). The standardized curriculum is designed to meet the training requirements under Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations Part 117.115 for the “preventive control qualified individual” who conducts certain Food Safety Plan activities. In addition, Eurofins offers core courses such as Environmental Monitoring, Internal Food Safety Auditing and HACCP to help support the development and implementation of a company’s food safety plan.
The food industry is becoming increasingly fast-paced. Regulations are changing, the supply chain is becoming more transparent, and resources are harder to access. To meet the needs of an ever-changing industry, digital learning is becoming the go-to solution for training managers and frontline food handlers alike, as it can be done quickly and efficiently. Now that most people have smartphones and mobile devices, there are multiple ways to make learning accessible.
The “Mind of the Food Worker” study conducted by the Center for Research and Public Policy (CRPP) points out that food workers have developed a preference for digital training over traditional classroom or instructor-conducted training. There are many new approaches to learning, including web-based eLearning, kiosk, gamification/competition, social media, digital signage, and coordinated communication programs. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
eLearning is no longer about reading through a PowerPoint presentation or watching a pre-recorded video. The number of companies offering eLearning continues to increase, as do the topics, content and format of the content. In addition, eLearning carries the added benefit of being affordable. For many companies, saving on the cost of travel when an individual attends a workshop provides an attractive incentive.
The ability to learn at one’s own pace at the time and place of one’s choosing has special appeal for today’s learners. The availability of eLearning via mobile devices is meeting that desire. It can be seen everywhere—people glued to their mobile devices while waiting in line, taking a lunch break, or in the evenings on their own time. This is multitasking at its finest.
The ability to take a device to a quiet environment helps with concentration and efficiency in training. Kiosks can be set up in an area that is conducive to learning with no traffic, noise or other distractions and are popping up at workplaces more and more. Learners can come and go at their convenience. A learning lab set up in a manufacturing facility will pay for itself very quickly. Sending workers to the lab one at a time is much more cost effective than shutting down a line or area of the plant for group or classroom training.
Gamification, the use of interactive tools in conjunction with learning, is a term being used more often in training industry vocabulary. For example, it can involve the addition of a word and a definition-matching exercise in conjunction with a training module to encourage learners to retain what they have just learned. It also makes the education process more fun—and it seems to be working.
Gone are the days of sitting through hours and hours of dry lectures or reading textbooks that simply do not resonate. This method has always been especially difficult for employees working in a food plant. Sitting in a warm darkened room listening to a droning presentation is an invitation to sleep. Gamification eliminates the droning, and requires attention and participation.
The Association for Psychological Science has confirmed that competition engages learners, drives retention, and leads to higher test scores. Got a boring topic for training? Get your game on! A great example of gamified learning that is readily available is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day. Sign up for free and receive a daily email with a new word, along with its pronunciation, definition(s), use and history. The email also links to several great games that provide word calisthenics for the brain.
Leveraging social media helps to expand and continuously improve training programs. This mode of technology will ensure that every employee in a company has timely, consistent answers to questions. Using private company social media provides a safe environment for posting questions and answers while complementing a training program and filling any knowledge gaps. The CRPP study points out that 80% of workers regularly use public social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
Companies can take full advantage of this familiarity with social media by providing an internal forum that encourages open discussion and group learning. This approach enables the workforce to engage in an interactive learning path that is continually up to date. Internal social media also encourages networking, which fosters a sense of camaraderie between individuals, along with company loyalty. One major food company that has used this approach has seen employee questions flourish from 3,000 entries in the first year to more than 15,000 the following year. What an incredible way to keep the workforce updated minute by minute with appropriate, relevant answers to their inquiries.
Today the Center for Research and Public Policy (CRPP) released a survey that highlights several key findings related to how frontline food workers operate and approach their jobs. Commissioned by Alchemy Systems, the annual “Mind of the Food Worker” survey revealed enthusiasm on the part of these employees to continue to grow and move up the ranks within their organizations while also underscoring what has become an increasing problem across all U.S. industries—the fact that employees still show up to work when they’re ill.
“Leadership doesn’t believe that people go to work when they’re sick,” Holly Mockus, product manager at Alchemy, told Food Safety Tech. “If people are sick, they should stay home. Not only are we talking about [infecting] people who you’re working with, but we’re also talking about foodborne illnesses that can be transmitted into food.” Employees go into work when they’re sick for a variety of reasons: They don’t want to let their fellow coworkers down (46% provided this response in the survey); they feel peer pressure as a result of staff shortage; or they feel they simply don’t have a choice due to attendance policies and can’t afford to lose pay (more than 45% of respondents gave this answer). “As an industry we have to take a look at the policies and procedures, along with the way that we’re staffing, and see what we can do to alleviate this [issue]”, says Mockus.
Good News on the Frontlines
When confronted with a food safety or product issue, 93% of respondents said they had the confidence to stop working. “The industry has made the paradigm shift that we’ve all been striving so hard to achieve over the last several years,” says Mockus. “The fact that [food workers] understand their role, food safety and workplace safety, and are willing to take responsibility to ensure they stop something that is going awry—that was a very positive thing to come out of the survey.”
The other area of optimism on the frontlines concerns the enthusiasm of workers in improving performance—67% of respondents expressed an interest in being involved in the development of training. This response indicates a movement towards more proactive employees who want to be part of the solution and make a difference. The key takeaway here is for corporate leadership to leverage the institutional knowledge that these in-house frontline workers have to further improve the business and how it operates.
“The food industry needs to take a step back and stop thinking about their workers as hourly workers and instead as an asset to the business,” says Tara Guthrie, communications at Alchemy. “Right now they’re not traditionally viewed as human capital in a corporate world, but they could be a big asset and have a big impact on the bottom line.”
How Employees Learn: A Shift in Mindset
Millennials and the reliance on technology have changed how employees learn and operate in the workplace. Within the leadership survey results, nearly 33% of respondents are making changes to adjust to how millennial employees learn. “Traditional management style doesn’t always work well with millennials,” says Mockus. This particular generation is also more in tune with using technology to communicate—even when they are sitting across from each other. Mockus indicates that leadership needs to clearly communicate to millennials the importance of understanding their role within their organizations, especially from a day-to-day operation level, as well as present information in a manner that captures their attention, allows them to retain the information, and enables them to put it into practice every day. This strategy should also extend to other generations of frontline workers. “I think all of us have become accustomed to having immediate information that is encapsulated and contained within a few words,” says Mockus. “We are so used to scanning information and moving on. We have to keep in mind that the way in which people are learning, retaining information and using it is changing. Companies that work toward accommodating those millennials will also be doing a good service for the rest of the adults in the workforce.”
The survey polled more than 1200 food employees working within production, processing, and distribution—from farms and ranches to slaughterhouses and food processing plants to commercial bakeries, retailers and distributors. It was conducted earlier this summer, and employees were located in the United States and Canada. One of the goals of the survey is to give the industry active takeaways to further drive safety in the food supply. “We are trying to understand the food workers because they’re such an important part of the whole supply chain,” says Mockus. “They are the most important ingredient in every product that is produced.”
Next month’s Food Safety Consortium conference will address issues related to employee training, Food Safety Culture, compliance and much more. Register here. The event takes place November 17-20 in Schaumburg, IL.
After receiving input from federal, state, and local regulatory officials, along with industry and trade associations, academia, and consumers, FDA issued its Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards last week. The standards address “what constitutes a highly effective and responsive retail food regulatory program,” according to the document.
The Retail Program Standards include:
Promoting the adoption of science-based guidelines from the FDA Food Code
Promoting improvement of training programs to ensure local, state, tribal, and territorial staff have the necessary skills, knowledge and abilities
Implementing risk-based inspection programs
Developing outbreak and food defense surveillance plans to enable systematic detection and response to foodborne illness or food contamination
The 2015 edition contains new worksheets that are intended to assist regulatory programs in looking at how their programs line up with the 2013 Food Code. This includes helping them assess the consistency and effectiveness of their enforcement activities, and a verification tool to help independent auditors with these self-assessments. Although jurisdictions can use the worksheets and other materials without enrolling in the Retail Program Standards, FDA encourages them to do so, as enrollment allows them to apply for FDA funding. The agency also lists the jurisdictions enrolled in the program here.