Tag Archives: training

Empower Employees to Make Decisions

By Maria Fontanazza
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At this year’s IAFP 2015 conference, there was a lot of buzz surrounding food safety culture and employee behavior. Laura Nelson, vice president of business development at Alchemy, shares her insights on the importance of empowering employees. This is achieved through providing training that gives them the confidence to make immediate decisions on the facility floor.

“We have to own the fact that employees are the key. They are exposed to the product and they’re really the ones touching our food every day,” says Nelson. “And yet, we don’t do a really good job at training and measuring that effectiveness in their execution of the behaviors that we train them on, on the plant floor.”

In the following video, Nelson talks about what industry is doing right in food safety culture, and the areas in which improvement is needed moving forward.

Maria Fontanazza, Editor-in-Chief, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC
From the Editor’s Desk

Who Will Carry the Food Safety Torch?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Maria Fontanazza, Editor-in-Chief, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC

Each and every business in the food industry is facing a growing and daunting task: not just succession planning but also preparing for what could be an absence of qualified millennials entering the food safety profession.

At this year’s IAFP conference, the concern over professional development in this industry was at the forefront. “If we’re going to fill our shoes, where are the shoes walking?” asked Brian Bedard, executive director of the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Science and Education Foundation. “How do we get young people excited about this profession? What are the programs we can get involved in to expose young people to this at a very young age?”

The question of how we are going to find passionate people to work in the food safety space, especially regarding the recruitment and training of millennials, is a big one. We need to make sure we are prepared to have the resources that will help build future success in food safety. In order to recruit those resources, we need to create more enthusiasm surrounding the field and make it a profession that people aspire to be a part of when they “grow up”.

“If we’re talking about the future…we need to get to the core of where people are making their life decisions and not waiting,” said Bedard. Yes, we need people with a Masters of Science degree in food science or nutrition, or expertise in microbiology and the like, but we also need people who know how a manufacturing or processing plant operates; we need people with knowledge about sanitary engineering and sanitary design, pointed out Bedard. With the changing landscape that we will experience with FSMA implementation, do you think we are armed with the resources to handle this paradigm shift as we look to the future?

Are we being proactive enough? How is your company working to invigorate the younger generation to become involved in this industry?  

The Accountability Factor in Food Safety Culture

By Maria Fontanazza
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To build an organizational culture that embraces true food safety preventive controls, give employees the autonomy to make critical decisions.

Strengthening food safety culture within a company goes beyond the quality function in raising the banner for food safety: Engagement across an organization, from human resources to maintenance to operations are essential. In a recent Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Laura Nelson, vice president of business development and professional services at Alchemy Systems, discusses how companies can train employees working on the plant floor to help them attain a level of empowerment to take an active, preventative role in food safety, as well as how to engage executive leadership in sharing and evaluating metrics.

Food Safety Tech: How does the accountability of employees play into FSMA implementation?

Laura Nelson: FSMA is going to be additive to what [companies] are doing now in some ways. When you look at FSMA, I think about formalized programs for some companies that may not have a full-blown environmental program that is managed as a preventive control. There’s a lot of training [involved], not only in executing the environmental program, but also in how you maintain your environment to prevent those microbial niches. You start to drill back from the actual protocol of environmental monitoring, and what you do when you receive a positive listeria. How can we start educating employees to be able to recognize the niche? [For example,] is it a cramped pushcart, or damage to [something] holding product where it can’t be properly cleaned? You start educating employees at the level that they can play a more preventative role [in recognizing] they need to take equipment out of commission or send it to maintenance because it can’t be cleaned. This is when we start to see a real change in the culture of a plant. People move beyond these SOPs and requirements to a much more facilitative and educational role to drive the support of some of the FSMA requirements.

The other thing I see is record keeping: There’s a big criticality in maintaining records. People maintain a lot of data now, and there’s a lot of ancillary information included. We just haven’t had the scrutiny on record keeping. The auditors will look through it and find the information they need, but it will be a different [level of] scrutiny when FDA inspectors start to look at the data out there. I think that provides a big opportunity for industry to look at how they maintain records, what they use, and how to capture it. Again, it rolls down to employees—educating them on what is a proper record.

FST: Is facilitating employee awareness and training a challenge faced by more smaller companies versus larger organizations?

Nelson: I think large and small companies face the same challenge, and that is to elevate the knowledge of their employees (they are the eyes and ears) to help them maintain your food safety programs. It goes beyond an SOP on how to clean a piece of equipment or wash their hands. It’s more of understanding the “whys” behind it so they can be line-of-sight. They’re [on the floor] 24/7; they’re the ones who see equipment getting damaged, or drips and leaks. For them to understand and recognize what kind of risk that introduces into a plant [enables them] to raise their hand to prompt some corrective action.

There are food companies out there that are looking to achieve that level of autonomy of giving employees the ability to stop a line because there’s a food safety issue. These are hourly workers that have the autonomy to do that. That’s a huge thing. If you’re able to do that, you’ve far surpassed the basic compliance of any kind of training or education. You’re really looking at an organizational culture that has embraced true food safety preventative controls program.

FST: Food Safety Culture makes the connection between employee behavior and accountability, and establishing metrics. What are your thoughts on Food Safety Culture moving forward?

Nelson: It’s very hard to monitor behaviors. It’s easier to do classroom training and check that box. [It’s the] “how-to”: How do you do that? How do you mature your food safety culture to a point where you get to that autonomy point? We know that you need to go beyond letting employees read SOPs and sign-in [sheets], and say they understand it and move on. You have to move beyond classroom training where you’re giving employees what they need to know and telling them the requirements. You have to connect those behaviors, and then monitor and observe those behaviors, and validate that you’re executing on them. Then it’s applied onto the plant floor.

Embrace the culture of helping each other. Once you’ve achieved this: if your employees are executing when you’re not looking, that’s culture. It’s integrated and something that people embrace.

We did some research on the topic and developed an iPad coaching tool that allows people to systematically gather the data, to capture and automate it. We found that supervisors appreciated it because they had something that was clear and gives them dialogue on what to say in the event that something was missed.

FST: Where should companies focus when training and educating employees to reach a stage of empowerment?

Nelson: The training needs to be at the [appropriate] education level; it needs to be in the language they that understand. [For example,] companies may be able to do a lot more with pictures to accommodate non-English speaking folks in their plant.

Employees need to be challenged and quizzed to make sure they understand the information. The training itself needs to be tied to metrics:  What are you trying to achieve as a plant and therefore [need] to train people on? This should be tied into factors such as customer complaints, quality issues, and what has a direct impact on what employees are doing or not doing, as this [leads to] much more accountability. That’s where the role of the frontline supervisor is critical. That position is absolutely key to the success of driving food safety program compliance. We have to recognize that our frontline supervisors need the skills to motivate employees and communicate effectively with them, including discussing the challenges in conflict resolution.

Elevating food safety so employees as are aware. Awareness programs have a documented advance to people trying to drive specific requirements. We’ve seen a lot of people develop awareness programs around food safety and provide the focus in the plant on key elements that people struggle with. That way, they’re able to have multiple touch points (posters, digital signage, huddle guides). This is absolutely key as we move forward: not just training, but ongoing awareness.

FST: How can companies further educate management to understand the value of food safety culture and reach a point of alignment?

Nelson: There is and can be a pretty big disconnect between executive leadership and what is going on related to food safety. When you talk about the collaboration of the team and those within the plant, you have to include your executive management team. They should understand the different activities and efforts that go into driving a food safety program in a plant. When talking about metrics and evaluating effectiveness, that data should be shared with the executive team on a routine basis so that everyone is clear on what is happening in the plant as well as the results. If the results aren’t where we want them to be, and we’re not in a continuous improvement mode, then what is it going to take to get there? That dialogue should be had.

If you don’t continue to educate your executive team on what issues you’re seeing, then you start creating a divide within the organization. That’s part of what stems from people struggling with a lack of resources and time; this disproportionate disconnect is between other activities within a plant. Communication needs to be routine; people need to be held accountable for metrics so that you’re actually tracking to them. And if you need [more] resources, it’s the perfect way to start building a case for getting additional sales, technology, programs or procedures.

Food Safety Tech’s Food Safety Culture Series

Embed Food Safety Culture. There’s No On/Off Switch

Food Safety Culture: Measure What You Treasure

Embed Food Safety Culture. There’s No On/Off Switch

By Maria Fontanazza
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Experts cited management buy-in, employee satisfaction, and information sharing as the critical factors for success.

Food safety culture is not a program that is implemented at a company. It’s a living organism that’s either strengthened or weakened by the actions taken by an organization. “There’s no on/off switch,” said Lone Jespersen, director, Food Safety and Operations Learning at Maple Leaf Foods, at the GMA Science Forum held this week in National Harbor, MD.

Product safety and quality is a shared responsibility. However, fostering a positive environment in which employees embrace accountability starts at the top. “You need to have management commitment; then employee buy-in follows,” said Joseph Levitt, partner at Hogan Lovells US, LLP. “It’s a message people want to embrace.”

At Land O’Lakes, the company took a four-pronged approach to its food safety culture, focusing on a clear quality message and mindset, employee education and training, active leadership alignment and participation, and establishing effective metrics and objectives. Most significant to the company’s success was its ability to involve senior management and get their commitment to taking a product safety 101 course. Sara Mortimore, vice president, Product Safety, QA & Regulatory Affairs at Land O’ Lakes, advised the audience to take a one-on-one tactic when talking to senior management versus putting everyone together in the boardroom. Having that individual interaction with management members forces each person to commit to sharing perspectives.

Companies must focus on monitoring employee behavior and ensuring that employees feel motivated to have a positive impact on product safety and quality. It involves having a continuous improvement mindset versus complacency. Jespersen cited the antecedent-behavior-consequences model as a means to establish goals and metrics, define critical behaviors, and determine positive or negative consequences. Most important to the process is that a company keeps it foot on the pedal when improvements are being made, as a lack of consistency is what causes lapses in progress forward. She also pointed to the Food Maturity Model, a method she developed with industry stakeholders, as a guide for companies to measure employee behavior as it relates to food safety culture across an organization.

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.”

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.