How to train new employees in food safety
In today’s environment of intense media scrutiny and public concern about food safety, foodservice operators are seeking better ways to train new employees and immerse them in the culture of safe food.
Having a trusted, veteran manager lead the way in training is effective for South Haven (Michigan) Public Schools. “Typically, I send new people through the kitchen at North Shore Elementary School, which is run by my manager who is strongest in food safety,” says food service director Amy Nichols, who oversees five K-12 schools. “She makes food safety an integral part of their training.”
A key tenet of South Haven’s training is that food safety practices must be performed all the time, no matter how busy the kitchen is. Of the same mind is Pittsburgh-based Wholesome International, a 40-unit franchise of the Five Guys burger brand and operator of four Choolaah Indian BBQ eateries. Its training program emphasizes that food safety procedures are mandatory elements of all kitchen tasks, including when the pace of work is frenetic—being busy is never an excuse to cut corners on safety.
“In the past, you were trained to be a cook or food preparer or dishwasher and on top of that, you learned about food safety,” says Jorge Hernandez, Wholesome’s chief food safety officer. “But for us, it is all integrated. As you learn your job, you learn that you must change your gloves, you learn that you must take temperatures, all the time.”
Thus, food safety practices become embedded in the work. “There are always five steps you have to do, whether there are five people in line or 500,” says Hernandez.
At Virginia Tech, a 33,000-student university in Blacksburg, Va., the 90-person Dining Services managerial staff continually models proper food safety procedures, says Andrew Watling, training and product manager. “When our new people see managers and supervisors modeling the right behavior, they follow along,” says Watling, who trained about 2,400 workers last year. “It is a huge benefit to have that culture established on campus.”
In recent years, Virginia Tech has increased the amount of food allergen training for new employees, due to a sharp rise in allergies among students. Newbies are schooled in the eight most common allergens and how to counsel students to make safe eating choices. “When we train people, we insist that if they don’t know the answer about what’s in a menu item, they must talk to someone who does,” such as a manager or dietitian, Watling says.
Making the subject of food safety immediate and memorable for new hires is one of the trainer’s challenges. STOP Foodborne Illness, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens, brings speakers who have personally suffered from foodborne illnesses to the training sessions of food manufacturers and foodservice operators.
“When workers hear a story from someone who has gotten sick or lost a family member to foodborne illness, it really becomes a personal thing for them,” says Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP. “It helps them remember to be accountable.”