Food safety culture has been a popular phrase lately. Most would agree that it’s an important concept, but how do we actually build one and strengthen it? A company’s food safety culture is determined in large part by the strength of its food safety program – one can’t prosper without the other. The critical cog between these two are people – their ability to consistently perform the necessary behaviors to execute a successful food safety program. With a focus on frontline employees and their food safety roles, we’ve identified some common obstacles, several of which are discussed in detail in the 2016 Global Food Safety Training Survey1, that could slow the successful implementation of your food safety program on the plant floor and hurt any efforts to drive a strong food safety culture.
Training materials are too complex. The food industry workforce is extremely diverse, and employees span a wide range of education levels, cultures, and language preferences. What’s easy for one employee to understand may be difficult for another. By trying to present large amounts of critical information into one training session, we can overload employees with too much information resulting in their inability to retain key learnings.
Training content does not actively engage employees. Long training sessions characterized by one-way communication are not ideal for keeping today's employees’ attention. Presentations with minimal interaction between the instructor and learners and among learners historically fail to drive competent behaviors.
Supervisors and frontline employees don’t “own” the food safety culture. Food safety culture efforts and discussions are often concentrated among managers and exclude supervisors—who happen to be in the best position to get frontline employee buy-in through daily coaching.
- Food safety training isn’t consistently supplemented with refresher communications. Research shows that people forget 90% of new classroom training within a week.2 In the absence of consistent reinforcement, employees will likely forget what they’ve been taught, putting much of our training efforts to waste.
To tackle these challenges, we must ensure that our commitment to food safety culture translates into employee behavior. Here are some actionable ways to overcome the obstacles above:
Simplify training materials and shorten training time. Deliver small bursts of training with content that is appropriate to employees’ education levels, cultures, and language skills. Ask employees for their input on which content is difficult to understand, and measure non-compliant food safety behaviors, so you can pinpoint training content that needs improvement.
Use interactive, engaging training methods that connect with your employees. Incorporate storytelling into your training. Give real-world examples so employees can “see” the consequences of less than optimal food safety practices. Appeal to millennials with interactive learning – use rich multimedia, provide instant feedback, and leverage fun competition with gamified training formats.
Make food safety a shared responsibility. Food safety culture initiatives might start at the top, but they must be nurtured throughout the organization. Empower supervisors to translate the importance of proper food safety practices to the frontline workers to get buy-in and consistent behavior execution. Enlist frontline workers as your eyes and ears in support of food safety.
- Boost training with frequent, short-burst reinforcement to reverse the process of forgetting. What you do after classroom training is as important as what you do during training. Keep food safety topics top of mind by utilizing communication and awareness tools such as huddle talks, digital signage, and posters to reinforce critical food safety behaviors.
Creating and maintaining a strong food safety culture throughout your operation helps minimize risk, protect people, and protect your brand. Put your food safety culture commitment into action!
1. Closing the Gaps in Food Safety Training: Results from the Global Food Safety Training Survey
2. Brain Science: The Forgetting Curve – the Dirty Secret of Corporate Training