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Benchmark Your Food Safety Program

Posted by Laura Dunn Nelson

Mar 14 2018
Mar 14 2018

Imagine three frontline workers: Jack, Mary, and Joe. It’s Jack's first week on the job. He goes through a day of intense onboarding training that includes everything from bathroom locations, to HR policies, to safety training. He is overwhelmed and really doesn't have all the knowledge or confidence he needs, and so he is uninformed. If a food safety decision comes up, he doesn’t know the right decision. He needs more training, experience and coaching to become a food safety expert for his job responsibilities.

Mary, on the other hand, has been on the job a few weeks. While she knows her role in food safety, she still lacks the confidence to make those really hard decisions. She's doubtful, so when those moments of truth come up, she's likely to hesitate. She also needs more training and coaching.

Joe has been at the plant for five years. He's fairly confident in his job — including knowing all the off-script shortcuts he can take when it’s crunch time. Surprisingly, it’s Joe is who is the most dangerous employee because he has the confidence but not the proper knowledge to consistently apply the food safety program. Joe, too, is not an expert, and needs specific training and coaching to address those unacceptable shortcuts and bad habits.

All three worker types need to move to mastery level — and the right kind of training and coaching can get them there. 

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Status of Today’s Food Safety Programs
How effective are most food safety training programs? Companies often want to benchmark: How much is everyone else training — and how do we stack up? What do other companies train on? What tools or techniques do they use to ensure food safety compliance? To figure this out, we partnered with leading organizations like SQF, GMA, BRC, NSF, to conduct the annual Global Food Safety Training Survey.

This year’s findings were telling. The good news is food industry front line workers are genuinely motivated to do their job — and do it well. In fact, 64% agreed, "I am motivated," while 31% were neutral, and only 5% disagreed. In addition, food companies remain committed to food safety training, and their budgets also reflect this commitment. Seventy-one percent of the companies’ budgets were basically unchanged, while 23% reported increased budgets. This is all positive.

However, when asked, "Do you still have employees not consistently following food safety program on the floor, an astounding 67% of respondents — over half — answered, "Yes.” Frankly, this disturbing trend has been documented for each of the five years of this survey. Has this lack of alignment become our norm?

Why Don’t Employees Follow Food Safety?

Despite significant strides in food safety training, several companies still have employees not following the program on the floor. Unfortunately, this introduces more than just doubt — it invites serious risk. Just one small mistake can have an enormous negative impact on business and brand image.

Employees don’t follow food safety for several reasons. Some employees have bad habits they simply can't shake. Others thrive on routine, and prefer the old way of doing things, even if that method is outdated or unsafe. Still others follow other employees’ lead — and when the blind lead the blind, bad habits breed.

That’s not all the Global Food Safety Training Survey uncovered. Food companies face a few key challenges that seem to resonate across the board. Overall, the top three challenges to food safety training are:

  • Scheduling time for training
  • Verifying training occurred
  • Organizing “refresher” training

The question is how do we transform these challenges into opportunities? Or put another way: How do we provide our employees with the knowledge and confidence they need to make the right food safety decisions 100% of the time?
Food Safety Training Solutions
Scheduling time for training is always a challenge. Sixty-five percent of companies reported this was their number one challenge, and it has remained the biggest challenge each year of the survey. Incorporating best practices can go a long way toward combating this issue. One method is to break up onboarding training and offer it in chunks over a period of time, such as 30 days. Several companies still conduct training via the “firehose” method — showering workers with food safety information and hoping it sticks. But dispersing information in shorter bits over time has proven a more effective way to raise comprehension and knowledge retention.

Verifying training is another big challenge. If training isn’t verified, how is comprehension ensured? How can we identify those bad habits? A proven solution is incorporating on-the-floor observations. One study showed that providing classroom training raised behavioral compliance up to about 82%. But when employees were formally observed and coached by the supervisor three times, compliance went up to an average of 94% — a big improvement.

Another result of this formal program of consistent supervisor observations was a shift to more peer-to-peer guidance. As new employees were added to the line, employees didn't wait for the supervisor to come audit the new person. The other employees provided the feedback and coaching themselves, as they all wanted to score high on compliance. In this case self-regulation led to strengthening a culture of food safety.

A structured program of specific observations and formal coaching can be a powerful tool. First, it confirms training can be applied correctly on the floor. It also drives consistency across lines, shifts, and plants, because you're using a structured program with very specific observations and employee behaviors you're looking to verify that it's being applied on a consistent basis. Third, it provides employees two-way engagement with supervisors and the opportunity to get feedback and corrective actions. Fourth, it keeps food safety concepts top-of-mind. Technology tools are now available to facilitate these structured observations automating documentation easing the execution of these observations while ensuring accessible data for smoother audits.

The third big challenge to food safety training is organizing refresher training. According to a phenomenon called the “forgetting curve”, learners forget up to 80% of training after two months – if that training is not properly reinforced. Boosting training with short learning bursts called “refreshers” keeps the information fresh on a continuous basis. For example, printed huddle guides on key food safety topics designed for team meetings and pre-shifts give supervisors a valuable opportunity to reinforce important food safety concepts. Other tools like eye-catching posters and digital video reinforcing key food safety topics displayed in high-traffic areas work together to complement training and keep food safety top of mind.

Want to learn more effective ways to overcome food safety training challenges? Explore more of the Global Food Safety Training Survey insights and watch the webinar!

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