As Long as Food Service Never Stops, Neither Should Food Safety Training
June 30, 2014 | 1521 Views
As a trainer in the restaurant industry, I am expected to be an expert on a wide variety of topics and skillsets. On any given day, I could spend time working with our managers and employees on leadership principles, communication skills, recruiting, hiring, service, portioning, inventory control, cash control, delegation of tasks, and on and on.
But none of these comes close to being the most important ongoing training topic for my profession – that would definitely be food safety. Even though all foodservice employees here in Washington state must take a food handler course and pass a test before they can work in any restaurants, I do not believe that initial training is sufficient to make sure all of our guests consistently receive delicious and safe food and leave our establishments happy and healthy. As long as the food service never stops, in my opinion, neither should the food safety training.
If you agree with this thinking, then here are eight strategies that your company can adopt to help provide that ongoing training and ensure safe food coming out of your kitchens:
- The most effective method for promoting food safety is to talk about food safety. Constantly. As a trainer, you should bring it up every single time you enter a restaurant. Your multi-unit managers should include proper food handling techniques in the agendas of your staff meetings and district meetings, and make it an evaluation category for performance reviews and bonus considerations. Encourage your restaurant managers and chefs to bring up the topic during their daily pre-shifts, and encourage them to ask employees for their ideas to improve food safety. Make it an integral part of your employee awards and recognition programs, and publicize the names of your food safety superstars wherever possible. If you want to ingrain proper food handling practices into your company’s culture, then you need to emphasize its critical nature in as many conversations as possible. Remember: what gets talked about, gets done.
- Work with your operations team to create a food safety audit or evaluation form for use by the unit managers, regional managers, and field trainers to ensure regular monitoring of cleanliness and sanitation. These evaluations should include checking such items as hot and cold holding temperatures, cooking times and temps, sanitation procedures, handwashing logs, use of barriers to prevent bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods, proper inventory rotation, and multiple cutting board use for different food items. And if you are unsure about how to develop an effective food safety evaluation process, I would suggest three options: ask CHART members from similar concepts for tips on how they conduct these audits, check with your local health department to see if it has a training course on how to implement a self-inspection program for your locations, or work with an external auditing firm such a Steritech (auditing.steritech.com) to perform such audits on a regular basis.
- When communicating with new hires, three tenets of food safety should be highlighted over and over again: 1) they need to practice good personal hygiene and grooming and come to work in a clean uniform each and every shift, 2) they need to wash their hands constantly throughout their shifts, and 3) they should never come to work when they are ill. These three critical points should be mentioned in the job description they see during an interview, in the uniform description they see upon being hired, in the handbook they receive during orientation, and in wall postings in the employee area of the restaurant they see on their first day and every day after.
- Provide regular updates on food safety issues from the training team to your operations teams in emails, the company newsletters, internal postings, etc. You could even create a food safety update section of your company’s intranet site that employees can use to link to important news, for example, or you could use QR codes on a paper-based update so they can pull up articles on their phones, and content for these updates can easily be gathered from health departments, restaurant associations, your food provider, or websites such as www.foodsafety.gov and www.foodpoisonjournal.com.
- When developing new training materials on food handling, make sure they are as clear as possible. First, it isn’t enough to create checklists or recipe postings for the kitchen staff saying “Keep the chowder hot” or “Keep the shrimp cold.” You need to be specific with all of the critical temperatures on all training materials so that everyone is aware of exactly what “hot” and “cold” really mean. Second, if your kitchen staff includes employees whose first language is not English, spend the extra time and effort to translate your training materials into the language they can understand, or use pictures or icons to make sure the concepts are easily understandable to everyone no matter what language they speak. And third, if you have limited time to create such materials, or lack the resources to design them, consider purchasing pre-made materials from your state restaurant association or from a company such as Ecolab (foodsafety.ecolab.com/us/food-safety/training-aids).
- Quiz your employees regularly to make sure they are retaining important food safety information. These quizzes can be a part of your Learning Management System, with employees tested every six months or every year after taking a refresher course on food safety basics, or you can use a low cost website such as www.classmarker.com to host these quizzes and track the results through that site. To take this idea one step further, you could set up a friendly competition to see which restaurants know the most about food safety and give prizes to the location whose employees score the highest.
- As they get hired or promoted into supervisory roles, sign up your restaurant managers, chefs, and key personnel for advanced food safety courses such as ServSafe Manager from the National Restaurant Association (www.servsafe.com/home). These higher-level training sessions will help deepen their understanding of the importance of proper food handling, teach them skills such as how to develop a HACCP plan for your restaurants, and provide them with updates on food safety regulations.
- Make sure your managers and chefs are posting their health inspection reports and discussing the scores and violations with the staff. These inspection reports should not be hidden away in a drawer, but rather put up right on the employee bulletin board so that everyone can see exactly what critical violations occurred and help to resolve them.