Tag Archives: employee training

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
FST Soapbox

Effective Testing: Developing Rigorous, Reliable and Relatable Questions

By Ibidun Layi-Ojo
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Ibidun Layi-Ojo, Prometric

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chelle Hartzer, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Minimize the Risk of Pests by Maximizing Your Staff

By Chelle Hartzer
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Chelle Hartzer, Orkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Start with the Basics

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

Here are a few telltale signs of some common pests:

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

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

Step 2: Designate Roles

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

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

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

Step 3: Emphasize Communication

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

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

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

Step 4: Establish a Pest-Sighting Protocol

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

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

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

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

Step 5: Ongoing Education

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

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

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

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

Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies
FST Soapbox

Six Best Practices To Make Audits Stress-Free

By Steven Burton
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Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies

Your next audit is already on its way. Now that many regulatory bodies and certification agencies are no longer required to give you a heads-up about upcoming audits, it’s completely up to you to stay on top of compliance, recordkeeping, and a myriad of other tasks on a day-to-day basis. And without that buffer of warning from auditors, falling behind can be more detrimental than ever.

Let’s walk through some effective practices that keep you ready for an audit at a moment’s notice, make the process go smoothly once the auditor arrives, and get rid of some unnecessary stress all along the way.

Connect All Departments to an Online Database

When it comes to collecting and moving data from one department to another, there’s nothing as inefficient as disconnected documents. Not only are they a strain to keep organized in big filing cabinets or file folders, but they take a long time to create, share and edit. It seems cliche to harp on this point in 2018; yet, many food safety coordinators have a purely manual system.

By connecting your entire company to an online database, you enable different departments to organize, share and update documents in seconds, rather than minutes. This level of connectivity can shave time off dozens of tasks per day, which ultimately leads to hours or days of extra productivity over the course of a year. When you adopt a system that updates connected documents in real time, you won’t have to make manual changes to multiple documents for small changes.
If you want to get extra efficient, the real trick to this best practice is to find software that you can incorporate into every department. Then, as people go about their normal jobs, the information they collect is automatically uploaded to the central database.

Utilize the Internet Of Things to Streamline Data Collection

These days, it’s possible to connect almost every piece of equipment to the Internet of Things. Even if your machinery doesn’t have measurement tools built-in, there are almost certainly additional tools you can install to create that functionality.

Having your equipment feed data directly into your central database is faster than manually collecting information and eliminates the risk of human error when it comes to data entry. Thanks to that simple degree of automation, already standard in large parts of the global economy, you can also use system dashboards and alerts that let you know when something’s off, like the temperature in the freezer or the production speed of equipment on the floor.

Don’t Settle for Uninspired Internal Audits

Many food safety coordinators are so focused on specific issues that they forget to take steps back to look at the situation from a bird’s eye view. When the time for an internal audit comes around, they do it with one eye on the audit and one eye on the next fire that needs putting out.

Lazy internal audits are not only noticeable to external auditors, they keep you in the dark about what’s really happening in your facility. Here are a few ways you can ensure your internal audit empowers you rather than slows you down:

  • Schedule the internal audit ahead and make it immovable
  • Plan out your scope, objectives and process to establish momentum and direction
  • Dedicate your full attention to running the audit and managing relevant staff
  • Report your findings in detail and discuss with necessary employees
  • Schedule and verify corrective actions

A well-performed internal audit is a powerful way to regroup, refresh goals and stay on track.

Train All Employees for Go-Time

Do you know which employees an auditor is allowed to interview? Any of them. No person is disqualified from interviews, which means every employee needs to be well trained on food safety procedures. While most facilities only train employees until they know the basics of food safety for their department, going above and beyond here can have some major gains.

Consider the perspective of the auditor. When they are asking your employees questions, they’re not just trying to complete a basic inspection. They want to see signs that you haven’t done the bare minimum, but that your employees are immersed in a food safety culture, that they have been receiving training long-term, and that food safety is a fundamental value of your company.

When auditors get the sense that your employees are up-to-speed, things tend to go a little smoother, stress levels lower, and the auditor becomes less suspicious.

Give Food Safety Coordinators the Appropriate Authority (and Budget)

One issue that many facilities run into is an unempowered food safety coordinator. When that person discovers ways to improve or correct operations or employees that are not following protocol, he or she is often unable to take the appropriate action.

Hazards aren’t the only things that need corrective actions from time to time. Sometimes employees need to face consequences for compromising the production area with food or for haphazardly completing safety-related tasks. Other times, employees don’t have the necessary software or equipment to perform their job well and even though their managers may be aware, they don’t allocate the appropriate budget to improve the situation. In order for any company to thrive, standards must be enforced by relevant leaders; and there’s no one better to call the shots on food safety than the designated coordinator.

Establish a Company-Wide Food Safety Culture

When it comes down to it, companies that value food safety thrive. Companies that consider food safety an annoying task to check off the list—they’re the ones that run into extra trouble.

Building food safety into your company’s system of values starts at the very beginning with how you train your new hires. It continues on into how you provide ongoing training even to experienced employees. It’s not an item on the list of meeting topics; it’s a value that underscores the entire agenda.

In order for this approach to be successful, it has to start at the top. Facility owners and managers that value food safety will organically pass that on to the people below them. But when the upper levels can’t be bothered with food safety, the entire organization struggles to hold onto it as a value.

Some of these best practices you can start working on tomorrow; others will take time to implement. Embedding these into your company can be a long road, so keep your eye on the prize: A safe, efficient food safety program that impresses auditors and keeps things running smoothly.

Lack of Resources, Negative Attitudes Barriers in Training

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

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

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

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

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

Go Beyond the Classroom to Improve Employee Performance

By Maria Fontanazza
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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.

In part II of this Q&A series, Nelson shares her insights on training strategies based on employee demographics.