How foodservice managers can create a culture of food safety

food safety glove hands

The food safety practices staff are taught on the job often run contrary to the way they, say, would thaw a roast on the counter at home, said Mick Miklos, senior manager for program compliance at the National Restaurant Association, during his organization’s annual conference. “They might be nodding along with the training, but rejecting or questioning some of the premises internally,” he said. Check out how some operations are breaking bad habits and building food safety into the core of their workplace culture

Start a conversation

meeting round table

Crafting a culture of food safety starts with an open dialogue, says Christopher Studtmann, district executive chef for Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. All levels of management need to come together to speak honestly about their food safety needs and come out with a commitment to food safety from the entire team, Studtmann says.

Break it down early

training seminar

At the University of Kansas in Lawrence, food safety training starts on the first day of onboarding. “We explain that we serve over 100,000 meals a week—it only takes one to make someone sick,” says Mark Petrino, director of dining for the school’s Kansas Memorial Unions. Management also provides each employee with a digital thermometer on day one.

Food safety standards are even written into the job descriptions at Puyallup School District #3 in Puyallup, Wash. Before entering the kitchens, new hires must pass an electronic training test that focuses on basic math, English and food safety, says Judy Bender, director of nutrition services and logistics support for the district.

Designate ambassadors

health inspection thermometor

Identify people who are most passionate about food safety and empower them to be leaders in their team, Studtmann says. Kansas Memorial Unions’ seasoned employees watch over new hires to ensure they are following food safety policies and procedures. The dining department also has plans to create a position with the sole job of taking food temperatures. “This will eliminate people taking the wrong temperatures and following an improper action plan when food is in the danger zone,” Petrino says. “The temp-taker’s responsibility is to make sure everyone is doing their part to ensure safe food.”

At Lee’s Summit R-7 in Lee's Summit, Mo., all managers and lead production staff are ServSafe certified, says Lori Danella, assistant director of nutrition for the school district. Danella is an instructor of the food safety certification course and offers workers the class at least once a year for free. 

Set daily reminders

reminder laptop

Studtmann tries to keep the food safety conversation flowing through daily discussions. With smaller teams, Studtmann adds safety to the agenda during preservice meetings with the entire group. In larger units where he cannot meet with the entire team daily, the executive chef posts a safety topic board by the time clock. “We ask each person to sign off that they read and understand the topics, and management staff randomly quizzes the team throughout the day,” he says.

Complete quality control checks

gloved hand cleaning surface

Each month, Aurora Health Care System food and nutrition employees take monthly training modules created by the team, and hospital sites conduct a monthly sanitation inspection self-peer review and site audit. The Milwaukee-based corporate team conducts two random peer reviews and site audits per year at each site across the organization. 

Coppell Independent School District in Coppell, Texas, also completes formal walk-throughs at least twice a year and informal audits on a regular basis. During the reviews, supervisors ensure that managers have kept up-to-date Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point records. “When central office staff are in the kitchens, we look to see that the HACCP forms are posted where they are easily accessible and being utilized,” says Amy Curry, assistant director of child nutrition for the district.

Reward knowledge

gift package

Get workers' attention with contests, says Joshua Watkins, director of dining services for Palmetto Park Senior Living Community in Palmetto, Ga. “I’ve learned that staff are serious about prizes and will familiarize themselves with anything to win,” he says. “The benefit to that is with knowledge comes accountability. Once they have the knowledge, they will begin to hold their peers accountable.”

Not all staff make the connection between classroom safety training and how they relate to each of their daily duties, says Studtmann. “I like to spot check the staff with quick questions about the food safety practices of the task they are performing to see their knowledge of the policies,” he says. “When there are issues, it creates a teaching opportunity. When you see success, the staff should be commended and rewarded.”

Create consequences

sad face toast burnt fail

A key component of food safety is accountability, says Danella. “Our managers are responsible to ensure their staff follows all safety and sanitation procedures,” she says. “If someone does not, they are subject to disciplinary action.”

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