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Changing our perspective on food safety training.

Since the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in the USA has placed a greater emphasis on training as a preventive control should we be looking at it in a different light here? The food sector – be it manufacturing, industrial catering or hospitality - is very people intensive, so the quality of employees is everything when it comes to food safety. The potential for something to go wrong which relates to them is huge. Employees may not be doing something correctly, whether it’s cleaning equipment or product handling, not taking time to probe food and complete records and we should ask how much of poor practice relates to lack of awareness and training or not having time to do the job. Another problem is that businesses do not measure the quality of their training and they should.

Many businesses view training only as essential for regulatory compliance - ticking the box and having the paper to show to the inspector when they visit - but should it be seen as a preventive control instead? In the USA FSMA also means that training, as a preventive control, must be validated. For many businesses this major shift applies to the “qualified individuals” who oversee/deliver food training. In Ireland the FSAI have 3 levels of training, from induction to management level, with legislation dictating “staff should be trained and/or supervised commensurate with work activity”. Attending a ‘certified’ training programme is not mandatory and many in the food sector see the word supervised as the ‘get out of jail’ clause.

Some businesses understands the need to have staff ‘trained’ to do their job correctly or competently but training must go significantly beyond that standard if it is to be preventative. Management must also understand the role of substitutes and plan for those times when the operation is short of personnel. What happens when ‘the only person who knows how to do that job’ leaves and their cache of knowledge is gone. You can be assured there are going to be problems, especially if the knowledge is not written down. Training should be based on knowledge-retention and the same is true for cross-training employees. Training should be a collection of best practices starting with understanding how each job is performed. The more you can get that information in a fully documented and easily distributable fashion, the better you will be in delivering a safe product.

So how do you ensure staff comprehend training and apply it properly? You start by raising the bar of accountability. If you have to train the same person five times for the same thing, a red flag should be raised - on either the quality of your training and if you have engaged the right trainer for the job, be they internal or external or the ability of the person to do the task at all. Training must be interactive and engaging. Let’s face it – food safety training isn’t exactly the most exciting thing to listen to. One size of training doesn’t fit everyone – you might use the same material, but it should be adapted for the profile of the people attending. Use the right training tools to help drive home the message. Continuous improvement is important. The number one priority is to make sure the food is safe and the right processes are followed. Staff have to hear this day in and day out. Businesses must have a true focus on food safety and keep that topic front and centre with everyone.

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