The Little Things Still Matter

FoodService Director - Food Safety Training: Operators say that one of the reasons these employee-based issues are so challenging is because it’s difficult to find new ways to present information that, in some cases, has been taught since childhood. As Thomason’s Arnold says, “You have to take the creativity from the food side and apply that to the training.”

That’s something Mary Kate Harrison, general manager for the child nutrition department at 190,000-student Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Fla., has done. Last year, Harrison created a food safety training video in partnership with the county’s health department. The video follows an inspector while he inspects several schools. Harrison says the video is helpful because the inspector not only points out mistakes that have been made, but if the facility is doing something correctly, the inspector also says what it is that is being done right so employees have a comprehensive overview. 

The district’s 2,000 employees view the video once a year. The video is posted online for easy access. After watching the video, the staff at each school follows up with a manager to reinforce the key issues.

Harrison says the video has not only been helpful for the district—since starting training with the video, the district’s violations have decreased—but it also helps the health department train their employees.

Reducing inspection violations is something Eileen Staples, director of food and nutrition services at 69,000-student Greenville (S.C.) County School District knows well. The district’s audit scores increased 12 points and the critical non-conformance violations decreased by 79% in two years. For her efforts, Staples was honord with the Food Safety Leadership Awards. 

Staples attributes the better inspection scores to a new training program, in which eight employees trained as food safety training managers visit certain parts of the district. “Previous trainings with our employees were done in large groups and I knew it couldn’t be done in a large group because of all the requirements,” Staples says. Now each manager visits 10 schools to train the employees on HACCP regulations. Each training manager has training modules so the information is consistent throughout the district. The first module was on basics, such as hand washing.

For some operators, getting training from an outside person is valuable. Doug Davis, director of foodservice at 3,800-student Burlington (Vt.) School District, partnered with the University of Vermont to provide ServSafe classes. “To say that a representative from the university is coming to do this class is such a higher level of credibility,” Davis says. “The employees are more attentive; it’s just a different dynamic. It really means a lot to my staff when they get that certificate from the university. My staff doesn’t get the same level of professional development or professional days because foodservice workers are unfortunately not given the same amount of props that educators are.”

At 1,200-bed Swedish Medical Center, Kris Schroeder, administrative director of support services, brought in a retired health department inspector to work as a consultant to help her find safety concerns. “We told her to dig and find the stuff that we may be overlooking,” Schroeder says. “She gave us tips to make things easier and how to really focus on the key things like a surveyor does. One of these tips was if you walk into a walk-in refrigerator and you see a pan of food that has condensation built up on the plastic wrap that was covering it, you know that that food was not cooled properly because it would not have condensation if it had been cooled properly before it was covered.”

Equipment: Human error will always be a factor in food safety, especially with temperature monitoring, but operators say equipment can be a valuable asset. UCSF’s Henroid says that the best way to meet HACCP temperature requirements is to invest in electronic temperature monitors. “For all the many times we have to take temperatures throughout the day at multiple locations, it’s a pretty daunting task,” he says. But Henriod adds that until the return on investment for many of these products becomes higher, the equipment will remain out of reach for many operators.

Swedish’s Schroeder installed hand-washing sinks that force employees to properly wash their hands. To use the sinks, an employee must enter an ID number, which starts the water for a brief time. Employees then get soap and the water turns off for 15 seconds, during which time employees scrub their hands. After the 15 seconds, the water turns on and employees rinse their hands. To finish, employees wave their hands in front of a sensor to get credit. The sink also has a video showing the proper hand-washing procedure. Schoeder says the sinks help her set benchmarks to see if employees are washing their hands enough during a shift. Because the system counts the number of times employees wash their hands, Schroeder knows how many times on average each employee washes his/her hands and how that compares to other employees.

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