Tag Archives: food safety training

Melanie Neumann
Women in Food Safety

Feeling “Meh” About One More Training? Try Coaching

By Melanie Neumann, JD, MS
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Melanie Neumann

“Meh.”  Ever felt that way about anything? Nothing is wrong, but you notice a general indifference or lack of enthusiasm. Confession: This is how I felt about my own training and development journey, especially after the pandemic, which gave us all an unlimited opportunity to experience death by Zoom meetings and webinar trainings.

By no means am I discrediting training. There is a time and place for it that we simply cannot and should not attempt to work around. It is an effective means to deliver information to ensure calibrated understanding of a topic which clearly benefits attendees and their respective companies. Our food safety industry has built entire businesses around training and education, which have been a saving grace to help our sector comply with regulations and ensure effective knowledge transfer of vital information.

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Rather, I am a firm believer in continuous professional development, as evidenced by 10 years of post-graduate education, two advanced degrees, many certifications, and attendance in countless training and education sessions. Because I am curious by nature, I committed myself to exploring the reason behind my “meh” feeling about training and discovered a powerful addition to the classic training and education model: coaching.

In this article, I will explain what coaching is, how it differs from training, some key benefits and evidence of its effectiveness for the gamut of food industry professionals—from product developers, R&D and food engineers to food scientists and food safety professionals.

What is Coaching and How does it Differ from Training?

Training and coaching are often used interchangeably. However, there are key differences between the two.

Training is designed to increase knowledge and skills, and is used for topics such as new employee training, refresher GMP training, and new regulatory requirements.[i] It focuses on organizational goals and is typically delivered to groups. When using a “push/pull” analogy, training is a “push” approach of providing information from an instructor to participants. The goal of training is knowledge transfer.

Coaching is designed to increase self-awareness about choices, values, attitudes, behaviors, and personal/professional development needs.[ii] It focuses on the individual, is almost always delivered 1:1, and is unique to each individual based on their self-identified development goals and objectives. It is the “pull” approach—extracting information from the individual to help them identify, understand and own their desired outcomes, whether professional or personal. The goal of coaching is behavioral change.[iii]

How does this distinction apply to and benefit food safety? Key benefits are addressed below. However, let me pose a question as food for thought:  our industry is keenly focused on developing mature, strong food safety cultures. Rightly so. We have developed maturity models, audit standards and training modules to enhance food safety culture inside our companies. Yet many of us haven’t seen the changes we desire. Why?

Consider the definition of food safety culture (of which there are admittedly several, but let’s use the GFSI definition here); that is, the “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mind- set and behavior toward food safety in, across and throughout an organization.”[iv] The definition itself speaks to values, attitude and behavior—just like the definition of coaching. Starting to see the promise of coaching?

What are the Benefits of Coaching?

Professional coaching can have a profound impact on individuals in their professional lives. Yet the benefits do not end in the workplace. Because we bring our whole selves to work—and to coaching sessions—our personal lives benefit as well. Since coaching is designed to be transformational rather than transactional, the benefits are often immediate yet continue to add value over the course of a career and a lifetime.

Key benefits of coaching include:

Personal Responsibility: Coaching asks you, the person being coached, to do the work. You identify your desired goals (e.g., promotion, obtaining a new job in another company), areas for development and ultimate desired outcomes. Coaching helps you grasp how your own actions or inactions either support or sabotage your overall professional goals and the goals your company may have for you. This approach results in individuals taking greater responsibility and accountability for their own actions, commitments and desired outcomes.

Collaboration: Coaching provides tools to help individuals work more easily and productively with coworkers and/or superiors. Coaching provides a unique forum where different learning styles and approaches to decision-making and conflict resolution are explored. This results in more effective and open collaboration.

Communication: Effective communication is critical to professional success. It aids us in expressing our ideas, building trusting relationships and advocating for ourselves, our teams, and our companies. Coaching helps us identify and break through our own barriers, whether they be social anxiety, lack of confidence, or inability to offer candid feedback to our direct reports (e.g., due to fear that we will hurt their feelings, so we don’t say anything), and learn to communicate more effectively, which benefits the individual and the company.

Cascade effect: Growth that occurs through coaching causes a positive ripple effect to our direct reports, peers and others around us. When a manager receives professional coaching, it cascades to their team members who then also benefit from the mentoring, leadership development, and coaching culture the manager brings back into the organization. This is amplified because part of coaching often is to teach us how to be an effective coach to others.

Does Coaching Work?

The benefits of coaching are many; 80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. What’s more, 86% of companies report that they recouped or exceeded their investment on coaching.[v]

I personally can attest to the power of professional coaching. I am a recipient and obtained myriad valuable insights, so much so that I invested in a Master Certified Professional Coaching Certification (M.C.P.C.) from an institution accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). The more I explore the coaching model, the more I see a powerful mechanism to not only transform myself and those I lead but also a tool that can take our industry to another level.



[i] https://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to/growth-strategies/2014/04/know-the-difference-between-training-and-coaching.html

[ii] https://blog.peoplefirstps.com/connect2lead/whats-the-difference-between-training-and-coaching#:~:text=Training%20is%20designed%20to%20increase,%2C%20choices%2C%20and%20development%20needs.

[iii] Id.

[iv] https://mygfsi.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/GFSI-Food-Safety-Culture-Full.pdf

[v] International Coaching Federation 2009 survey.

Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.
FST Soapbox

Change Is Scary But Necessary, Especially When Lives Are At Stake

By Francine L. Shaw
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Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.

When I began my career in the industry several decades ago, we used NCR (National Cash Register) cash registers and there were no point of sale (POS) systems. This meant we had to know the price of every single item on the menu and had to memorize the tax chart. And every cashier could make change without a calculator.

I can still recall the panic in my team’s eyes, years later, when our tech system would go down and they would have to break out the emergency kit with price lists, tax charts, calculators, pencils and paper to take orders from anxiously waiting guests. Things had definitely changed, and not having the security of that technology terrified them. Technology had arrived, and we had become completely dependent on it.

In 1985, a New York Times article written by technology columnist Erik Sandberg-Diment predicted the laptop would soon die off as it was just a “fad.” Of course, at the time, they were very heavy, inconvenient and expensive, and the Internet did not yet exist. Can you even imagine living in a world without Google?

He was wrong. Technology is here to stay, and it becomes more diverse, creative, necessary and economical every day. Those laptops I mentioned earlier used to cost nearly $8,000 before purchasing additional software. Today we can purchase one for several hundred dollars.

Even with all these technical advances over the past few decades, the food service industry is still hesitant to move away from pencil and paper. Change is scary and uncomfortable, therefore, many try to avoid it. But change is necessary, especially when lives are at stake. In the food service industry, training, education and technology are all imperative to protecting human life.

Employee training and certification are crucial. Without the proper training and education, employees could unintentionally make costly mistakes that could lead to foodborne illness outbreaks that could sicken (or even kill) customers. These foodborne illnesses could also lead to decreased revenues, hefty legal fees, lawsuits, diminished customer loyalty, loss of employees and a damaged reputation that could permanently shut your doors.

These costly and damaging food safety breaches often occur in restaurants and other food service areas due to a lack of (or inconsistent) employee training and certification. The CDC reports that 48 million Americans become sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases yearly. Food safety breaches are expensive ($55.5 billion annually in the U.S. alone).

Therefore, investing in food safety training is one of the smartest things a brand can do to protect its business.

The CDC recommends that restaurants require kitchen manager food-safety certification from high-quality training programs. Studies show that restaurants with kitchen managers certified in food safety were less likely to have foodborne illness outbreaks. Providing employees with this basic knowledge is doing your due diligence as a business owner.

Employee turnover is higher than usual since the COVID pandemic, and hourly employee (crew, kitchen manager, service manager) turnover is around 194% in our industry. Tracking the training for all these employees as they come and go is virtually impossible unless you have a reliable system. Pencil and paper will not suffice. Accurate, reliable tracking requires digital technology. It is not humanly possible to accomplish everything necessary in today’s world without it, especially with the global labor shortages that continue to plague food businesses.

Restaurants and other food businesses should leverage a digital software program that can track employee hire dates, active employment dates, regulatory compliance certifications, in-house training certificates, and expiration dates, and keep copies of the certificates on file. These systems can save hours of employee labor, keep all the appropriate data in one location, allow uploading data from spreadsheets, lower food costs, increase accuracy, and more. With the FDA’s emphasis on digital technology in the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, these platforms are exactly what you need to improve morale, confidence, food safety culture and your overall operations.

Food safety training and education have never been more critical to the food service industry than they are today. It’s the wisest investment a food service establishment can make, protecting their communities, customers, employees and brand. Without investing in this training, it’s not a matter of if, but when, disaster will strike and what the damage will be. No one is immune; some of the biggest names in the industry have been impacted by foodborne illness outbreaks. Don’t let it happen to you; invest wisely.






Ceci Snyder, FoodChain ID
FST Soapbox

Food Safety Training Research: What You’ve Missed in the Last Year

By Ceci Snyder
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Ceci Snyder, FoodChain ID

While many food safety professionals can point to specific professional challenges of the past year, one obstacle exists no matter what the year: How can I keep up on newly published training research?

For this common professional dilemma, I have a solution. With input from my colleagues, I’ve summarized a selection of the Top 5 Food Safety Training Articles in last year, with a link to the abstract or paper.

Any top papers you think we missed? Feel free to reach out and make a suggestion through the contact information listed below.

1. Computer-Based Training Proves Equally Valuable

A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Food Safety and Hygiene Training on Food Handlers1

The paper reviews research on the effects of training interventions for food safety knowledge, attitude, and practices among food handlers at different stages of the food supply chain.

The authors concluded, “practical demonstration and continuous support might increase positive attitudes towards food safety and hygiene practices among food handlers, with the ultimate goal of minimizing the incidence and prevalence of foodborne hazards. Effective food safety training should be relevant to the situation, promote active learning, increase risk perception, and consider the work environment.” Computer-based training outcomes did not differ from face-to-face training.

The authors also identified positive results when food safety training was supported by resources, commitment, leadership, and a receptive management culture.

2. Produce Growers: An Important Target for Food Safety Education

Produce Growers’ On-Farm Food Safety Education: A Review2

The review summarizes findings by researchers who assessed the food safety knowledge and attitudes of produce growers, and the effectiveness of food safety educational programs. Study selection criteria included publication between 2000 and 2019, and a focus on one of six topics: “Handling of agricultural water, soil amendments, domesticated animal and wildlife management, worker health and hygiene, food safety plans and record-keeping, and cleaning and sanitation…Handling of agricultural water and soil amendments were the two topics least understood by growers, whereas worker health and hygiene as the best understood.” The majority of the studies involved in-person workshops and self-reported pre- and post-intervention knowledge assessments. They also reported increased knowledge, improved attitudes and perceived behavioral control; four of the studies reported behavioral changes.

3. Consider New Technologies in Food Safety Training (and Still Wash Those Hands)

An Integrative Review of Hygiene Practice Studies in the Food Service Sector3

The article reviews studies relevant to food safety practices of food service workers published between 2014 to 2019. For the assessment of hygiene practices, hand washing observation was the most frequently used method. The article looks at new technologies in training, such as multimedia case studies, cognitive word association, behavior-focused training, wearable technology and simulation games. The paper emphasizes the importance of variables such as food handlers’ knowledge, attitude, risk perception, self-efficacy and optimistic bias.

4. New Ideas to Connect Food Safety Knowledge Sources to Effective Implementation

A New Approach to Food Safety Training: A Review of a Six-Step Knowledge Sharing Model4

This paper argues that training context and the implementation context often differ, creating challenges for the food handler to transfer learning into practice. “Understanding the connection between knowledge, the organization, and its environment is critical to knowledge implementation.” The review described a six-step knowledge-sharing model in order to change a practice or behavior. The authors organized their model based on knowledge transfer between researcher to educator, then educator and food handler. The paper provided suggested actions at each step of the knowledge sharing process.

5. Behavior-Based Food Safety Education is Most Effective

Improving Food Safety Practices in the Foodservice Industry5

With the volume of food consumed away from home, the foodservice industry plays a significant role in avoiding foodborne illness and protecting consumers’ health. This study explains how “behavior-based strategies improve food safety practices in the foodservice industry. This study highlighted the role of a proactive food safety culture and improved environment promoting behavior changes”. The authors conclude that organizational and environmental aspects affecting food safety are critical to improving food safety.


  1. Insfran-Rivarola, A., et al. (August 25, 2020). “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Food Safety and Hygiene Training on Food Handlers”. Foods. 9(9):1169. doi: 10.3390/foods9091169.
  2. Chen, H., et al. (April 1, 2021). “Produce Growers’ On-Farm Food Safety Education: A Review”. Journal of Food Protection. 84(4):704-716. doi: 10.4315/JFP-20-320.
  3. Lee, J.H. and Seo, K.H. (December 1, 2020). “An Integrative Review of Hygiene Practice Studies in the Food Service Sector”. Journal of Food Protection. 83(12):2147-2157. doi: 10.4315/JFP-19-488.
  4. Yeargin, T.A., Gibson, K.E., Fraser, A. (2021). “A New Approach to Food Safety Training: A Review of a Six-Step Knowledge Sharing Model”. Journal of Food Protection. doi: https://doi.org/10.4315/JFP-21-146.
  5. Thimoteoda da Cunha, D. (December 2021). “Improving food safety practices in the foodservice industry”. Current Opinion in Food Science. 42: 127-133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cofs.2021.05.010.
Gary Smith, Eurofins’ Food Safety Systems

Why Food Safety Training Fails, and What Can be Done?

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Gary Smith, Eurofins’ Food Safety Systems

The food industry has multiple levels of people involved, ranging from leadership and supervisors, all the way to line and front-end workers. Training, thus, has to not just give directions, but also provide better understanding of why we do what we are supposed to, says Gary Smith at Eurofins.

Smith, who leads the strategic development and oversight of Eurofins’ Food Safety Systems division, including auditing, certification, and training programs, says that “training for supervisors and leadership usually works well. But training workers is fraught with challenges. General training is focused more on giving directions, but not so much on providing understanding. People often skirt this rationale with the line workers, or it’s lost in translation, or missed out due to time constraints, turnover, vacation days etc. That’s where training fails.”

What would happen if we don’t spend this time address the ‘why’ behind training? People then get busy, and then miss out on steps and processes, and that causes problems, Smith replies. “It’s also critical to aim to strike a balance, for instance with line workers training – you have to ensure they understand the importance of what you are training them on, but at the same time, you cannot go too deep into the training, that would be either unnecessary or redundant.”

So what kind of training will continue to be the focus for the industry? The usual ones will continue to be important, according to Smith: Regulatory requirements for seafood, specific HACCP requirements for meat, HACCP training for employees directly responsible for food safety and quality, standards training; training for audits… For line workers, training also needs to cover specifics of their jobs, employee hygiene practices (for instance, why it’s important to wear gloves, hairnets etc.), and how to handle customer complaints.

Proposed rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act are having a positive impact on training needs, says Smith. “Everyone is now waiting for the final set of rules to be announced and implemented. A lot of good things are coming out of it, such focus on risk management and process control, understanding which products are high risk and low risk. FSMA has brought back HACCP for those industries that haven’t really had strict regulatory requirements for food safety – such as seafood, fresh produce, juice etc., or ready-to-eat products that may have escaped regulatory scrutiny in the past, such as fresh produce, and bakery products. Now the industry as a whole needs to focus on FSMA implementation, by companies helping its employees understand where the food safety risks are, how to manage them, document them, and mitigate them.

How can training help companies towards certification? When training leaders that are going to be implementing the food safety standards within their facility, it’s important to be comprehensive about understanding the specific standard. There is also the opportunity to focus on common non-conformances and say ‘this is where others have struggled and this is what you can do to avoid those non-conformances.’ Training can provide lessons, solutions and ideas to address common problems to addresses non-conformances before an audit. It can help drive continuous improvement, and help secure management commitment.

What are some of the common training themes that have resonated with Smith? He says that mostly employees bring up the issue of getting management to understand the need to focus on food safety training and procedures. “People who have attended my classes are usually struggling with getting management commitment. They are often told they need to be certified to a particular standard by end of the year, and so figure it out, but there’s no skin in the game from management. I help these trainees walk through the various steps that they can take to secure that commitment, how to talking their language in terms of more efficient production, and higher dollar savings etc.,” Smith describes.

Some challenges that he has observed in his years of training? Smith says that often times the trainers are great auditors, but poor trainers. “They will quote standards, and regulations. They are too black and white, and objective. However, training can have successful outcomes only when it’s practical and linked to real situations and ideas.”

Holly Mockus, Product Manager, Alchemy Systems

Real Training Needs – Time and Resources

By Holly Mockus
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Holly Mockus, Product Manager, Alchemy Systems

With the announcement on September 19, 2014 of the released re-proposals to the main FSMA-related rules – Preventive Controls for both Human and Animal Food, the Produce Safety Rule, and the Foreign Supplier Verification Program – it is time to take another look at the real need within the food industry related to training and education.

The word ‘train’ in some form or format appears over 100 times in the Produce Safety rule and the Preventive Controls for Human Food documents. One Hundred Times! This is clear indication that it’s time to take another look at the training programs in place today.

When asked, managers and supervisors responsible for training today typically respond that their biggest challenges or needs are having the time and resources available to conduct meaningful training for the workforce. Gone are the days where a ‘good’ training program consisted of shoehorning a training session into a segment of line downtime and hoping for enough time to cover all the learning objectives. As regulatory and customer emphasis on employee empowerment and engagement continues to escalate – food industry training programs must grow and evolve.

Here are some basic areas that need the proper time and resource dedication for maximum impact:

  • An analysis to determine gaps in the current training program should be very robust. Don’t skimp on the resources needed to do an effective job here. The use of this data is the first steps on the training journey and becomes the cornerstone as you build employee expertise.
  • The development of content should not be under resourced at any step in the process. Content is critical in providing the ‘How’ and the ‘Why’ (Who, Where, and When too). Worry less about fitting the material into a specific time slot and more about the quality and applicability for the specific workforce audience.
  • Partnering with a Subject Matter Expert or a content provider is an investment that will pay dividends as employees soak in the knowledge and ask for more.
  • Delivering the content in an environment that is conducive to group training where there are now distractions, all questions and answers can be heard by the participants in another resource that is critical to the success of a robust and effective program. Learning labs for more one-on-one self-directed learners are another means of providing knowledge to the workforce without having to incur line downtime. An investment that will pay for itself in a relatively short period of time.
  • Coaching employees for success in one of the best gifts that a supervisor or manager can provide. Constructively correcting incorrect behaviors and positively reinforcing good behaviors may take good people skills and a little extra time. Making it a habit costs very little and will provide a clear concise roadmap throughout the training process.

Training is a journey, not a destination. Teaching ‘how’ starts the journey – ‘why’ builds the culture. Spending time and resources for training should be a no-brainer for the food industry today. Stop looking at training as time spent losing operational effectiveness and start looking at training as the best investment you can make in your people, products and brands!

Hear the author speak more on Food Safety training at the Food Safety Consortium, November 17-18, 2014, Schaumburg, IL. Click here for more details and to register.


Holly Mockus, Product Manager, Alchemy Systems

10 Training Concepts for an Effective, Engaged Workforce

By Holly Mockus
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Holly Mockus, Product Manager, Alchemy Systems

Effective training programs are the cornerstone of a high performing workplace. Providing the basic knowledge to workers and reinforcing the need to apply that learning in their daily activities are just two critically important facets of a well thought out training system.

Here are 10 concepts that need to be implemented to bring training and education full circle and to provide forward momentum in the process of developing a fully engaged highly productive workforce.

  1. Set learning objectives – determine first what the key points or factors are that will be influenced by this knowledge exchange and how will the outcomes be measured.
  2. Create the content – tailor the message or training information to the specific audience for maximum absorption and comprehension.
  3. Deliver the content – ensure the set-up is conducive to learning. Keeping the message relevant to the workers level of comprehension and using real life examples that they can relate to is a best practice.
  4. Keep training top of mind – use awareness programs as visual and audio prompts that keep the topic out in front of the organization. When everyone walks the walk and talks the talk it makes it harder for the individual leaner to forget what needs to be done and how to do it.
  5. Verify comprehension – use testing, observation and constructive feedback to help employees apply what they have been taught. Be sure that feedback is constructive not punitive and is delivered in real time for maximum effectiveness and greater adoption by the worker.
  6. Track and trend using metrics – Measurement of desired outcomes should be used as a yardstick to help determine if the content, delivery and application of the training is on track or needs course correction.
  7. Never pass up an opportunity to train – refresher training on a regular basis is needed for any program to be effective. Retraining is also very impactful when used as a corrective action or as part of an investigative process.
  8. Keep it fun – capture the learner’s attention by using bright colorful presentations, games or game show formats, and some light humor. A little friendly competition between departments is a great way to engage the workforce while promoting the learning process.
  9. Use positive reinforcement – those that absorb and apply need to be recognized and reinforced. Don’t just say thank you. Recognize the positive impact of their good work habits and how their application of those work habits has resulted in good outcomes.
  10. Hold people accountable – employees that are unwilling to follow training principles need to be held accountable with appropriate consequences. Deciding in advance what the consequences are and hold all employees to the same level of accountability will drive continuous improvement and strengthen the overall training program.

These 10 basic training concepts will provide an excellent cornerstone to support programs across an organization and drive consistency, accountability and employee engagement.

Hear the author speak more on food safety training at the Food Safety Consortium, November 17-18, 2014, Schaumburg, IL. Click here for more details and to register


Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

Food Safety Training: Trends and Gaps

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

With new regulations demanding more testing, consumer preferences and cost pressures creating global supply chains and markets demanding faster distribution, what are some of the demands on the food safety testing market? In this Q&A, 3M Food Safety Division’s Technical Service Director Nancy H. Eggink talks about trends and concerns when it comes to food safety testing and training. 

Food Safety Tech (FST): What are some big shifts/ trends in food safety testing that you are noticing?

Nancy Eggink: Not necessarily big shifts, but customers still are looking for easy to use tests that provide fast accurate results, The target lists are broadening (microorganisms & allergens), and the sample matrices more and more complex. Following R&D trends, nutraceuticals, unique flavors and novel processing are changing the foods, environments, and ultimately the testing needs. Currently available, and future tests must be able to accommodate these sample matrices and the innovations as they are commercialized.

FST: Given the evolving food safety regulations, how are educational and training needs for food labs managers and testing changing?

Eggink: When considering GFSI schemes and FSMA, the requirements indicate competencies and what constitutes a ‘qualified individual’. So now, it’s not just a requirement to have a training program and adhere to what the training program includes. It is a requirement to lay out competencies that an individual must have after training. This indicates the training should be developed to ensure it’s effective in delivering the appropriate content in a way the learner will develop a competency, and also it should be verified through an assessment process to ensure the competency was developed.

FST: What are some of the gaps in food safety testing that need to be addressed?

Eggink: Food industry leaders are looking for ways to ensure that they have fast accurate information to make the best possible decision at each step in the process. Without compromising accuracy and reliability, opportunities are those that make testing easier to use, provide faster results and improve productivity.

FST: What are areas of training that clients are seeking out the most? And why?

Eggink: With all the guidance and requirements available, it’s easy to get consumed with keeping up on the changes happening constantly. Our customers are looking to 3M Food Safety for training on how to effectively use our solutions so to ensure they have fast accurate information to make the best possible decisions. Our customers are seeking effective and efficient ways of staying current in their professional life that fits into their work demands, and we have a key initiative to provide them with access to high quality educational content and scientific information. This educational content will be offered in the form of hands-on product training, live seminars, on-line self-study and webinars to help them with their current and potential future challenges.

FST: What impact will lab accreditation have on food safety testing and methodology?

Eggink: Lab accreditation is similar to the GFSI schemes and FSMA in the sense it is development and implementation of a quality system within the laboratory operation to ensure predictable outcomes. Specifically, minimize the variation between the technology, processes, samples, technicians, tools, environment and ensure safety. Standardization of training & education is a critical component within that quality system to ensure consistency within that system.

FST: Specifically about 3M Food safety – what are your focus areas in terms of new products, testing solutions?

Eggink: Global regulations are changing and Microbiology labs are faced with considerable challenges including but not limited to rapid results, increasing volume of work, cost constraints and increasing customer, media and regulatory scrutiny. Our focus is to provide solutions in the food diagnostics testing market to address these needs at all levels and penetrate local markets and geographies. Pathogens are a real threat to public health, and we have recently launched an additional assay to our Molecular Detection System (Listeria monocytogenes), while working to ensure all assays have third party certifications against reference methods such as AOAC and AFNOR.

We also continue to innovate with Petrifilm™ Plates. Petrifilm™ Salmonella Express System provides a qualitative confirmed Salmonella result in as little as 44 hours which is two times faster than agar methods. The newest solution is Petrifilm™ Rapid Yeast and Mold Plate that provides quantitative Yeast and Mold counts at 48 hours. As customers ask for easy to use, faster results that don’t compromise accuracy and reliability, we will continue to innovate to meet those needs.

Training in the Food Safety Industry

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Dr. John Surak food safety trainer and Warren Hojnaki of SGS talk about trends they see in food safety training, areas of focus, how to keep training relevant and useful, and what they are expecting to see in the future.

FDA, FSMA, FSMS, HACCP, GFSI, BRC, SQF, IFS, FSSC… The food safety sector is a cornucopia of new regulations, abbreviations and standards. Helping navigate this maze are food safety training courses and the instructors. However, the success of training programs depends on how applicable these courses and the curriculum are to the industry and the specific client, and how experienced and knowledgeable the instructor is in understanding current regulations, specifications of standards, hazard profiles and compliance requirements of that client. 

In an interview with FoodSafetyTech.com, Dr. John Surak, food safety trainer, and Warren Hojnaki of SGS, talk about trends they see in food safety training, areas of focus, how to keep training relevant and useful, and what they are expecting to see in the future.

John Surak, Ph.D., is principal of Surak and Associates, a full service food safety and quality consulting service. He works with the food processing industry in developing food safety and quality management systems, designing and implementing process control systems, and implementing Six Sigma and business analytics systems. Warren Hojnacki is Training Manager, for SGS North America. His department delivers training services for North American clients. 

FoodSafetyTech.com: What are some broad trends in food safety training that you are noticing?
Hojnacki: What we are seeing is a lot of clients needing foundational training. For instance, our most popular training programs are still HACCP, implementation for FSSC 22000, SQF etc. On the other side, clients are still very confused about what they should do regarding new and proposed food safety regulations. While they are following the directives that they receive from their customers, currently there still is a wait-and-see mentality. 

Dr. Surak: I notice the focus on food safety moving up the food chain. About 5 to 7 years ago, our primary clients for food safety training programs were food processing companies. Now our clients are suppliers to these companies as food companies are pushing the requirement for training on them. These supplier companies then need to make decisions on what schemes they want to be certified under. Most of the time, the customer accepts any GFSI-recognized scheme, but sometimes the customer names a specific scheme. Different GFSI schemes have different sweet spots and advantages. They all assume different knowledge about food safety and some are more prescriptive than the others. Clients have to figure out which scheme would be the best fit for them. 

FST: What kind of training courses are most popular, most asked for?
Hojnacki: When clients and companies decide on getting audited or certified against a particular food safety standard, training for that standard is a common requirement. Auditors specifically want to be trained to build their skill level, whether it’s getting trained for HACCP or FSSC 22000. A number of our clients also come to us saying that when they have a 3rd party audit, the most common non-conformances pertain to a less than robust internal audit system, so auditor training is a critical area that our clients ask for. 

Dr Surak: One of the biggest aspects of training that I try to focus on is lead auditor training. This course is designed to help an individual get certified in a particular audit scheme. We cover the same information for internal auditor training. However, the difference in this case is that for the internal auditor, the goal is to get his company certified. If a company has a strong internal auditor, they can reap substantial benefits. We also focus on, as part of our training, doing mock audits. This is more than going into a course or workshop and giving a lecture. For mock audits, you are put into a spot where you have to make real decisions on the floor. When we conduct such practice audits with our clients, in addition to our regular food safety training courses, we find a high level of involvement and interaction from the attendees and appreciation from the client. 

FST: What are some of the gaps in the training that you notice?
Hojnacki: What we see in general is people not covering the topic in-depth enough. Many training courses (outside those offered by SGS) seem to cover the topic in a very superficial manner and this doesn’t help. 

Dr. Surak: Many of the attendees who come to an audit training class have never taken the time to familiarize themselves with the standard. So what you are doing in that time is teaching them the standard and then teaching them how to audit. If the participants already know the standard, then you focus on just reviewing the standard and cover how to go about doing the audit. 

FST: What are some common questions attendees ask at ‘implementation/auditor’ training?
Hojnacki: Attendees very much want to know application to their respective situation. As an auditor, you need to know the right open-ended questions to ask when you are conducting an internal audit, and in our training, we provide examples for that. 

Dr. Surak: Our training focuses on enabling auditors to get the participant in a conversation and be able to answer questions during an audit. We are not in the business of writing traffic tickets, we are out to assess if the food safety system meets the standard, and also to identify the areas where it needs to be strengthened. Things that participants typically want to know are, going into a 3rd party audit, what is the auditor going to do? How is he going to react? And how can they present themselves in the best possible way to have a good audit? Also the instructor or auditor needs to understand the differences in the standards and the different hazards. There are unique challenges for different suppliers – or where along the supply chain they are, for instance are they a retailer, a supplier or a processor. It’s not a one size fits all situation. If you are looking at ingredient suppliers, the hazards are very different than what a retailer would be looking at, for instance. 

FST: How do you identify the best training company or program for you?
Hojnacki: We go through this everyday with every client call and we understand that we are not the only resource, our clients have several options. We first evaluate the trainer to understand what’s their educational and work experience background? Does it correlate to the industry you are in? Are they practitioners or just theorists? Food industry is a very big growth area right now, and we are seeing a proliferation of tutors coming into this field. Some of them have varied backgrounds, such as in automobile or aerospace industry. Often times, clients will make a decision based on prices quoted, and then realize that it didn’t work out the way they had anticipated. We (SGS) have often had to go to that client and redo things. Today, more than ever, the decision to choose a trainer/ training vendor, needs to be based on their competence, experience, and skills. 

Dr. Surak: I was recently at a client where they had completed certification training. When I asked to see the materials and bios of the instructor, I noticed that he had no prior experience in the food industry. I wondered how you could teach internal auditing in a food processing industry if you did not know about food processing! It’s imperative that clients look at the trainer’s background and experience. 

FST: Food safety training in 2015 – what will change?
Hojnacki: Food safety training curriculum will have to increasingly show greater applicability to clients to meet their needs. It has to be a round peg and in a round hole type of situation. Especially with FSMA rules getting finalized, clients are going to expect more out of their training. They are going to expect their instructors to be a resource, and to be up to date on the respective regulations and be able to tell clients how these rules will apply to them, and what they need to do differently. 

Dr. Surak: Processors are going to ask questions such as ‘I am certified to a GFSI scheme, so now do I have to do anything additional to meet new requirements’ or ‘are there areas where we have done some basic groundwork, and we have to raise the bar higher because of new regulations,’ and trainers need to be able to answer these.