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Food Safety Training

Food Safety Training

Getting kitchen workers to see themselves as professionals is key to a successful food safety training program.

Food safety doesn’t have to be taught like rocket science, even if HACCP does have its roots in NASA programs created to ensure that astronauts had the safest food supply possible.

At least that’s the view of Dion Lerman, director of Food Safety First!, a new food safety training program developed as a continuing education project at Drexel University.

“Many food safety training programs are designed with one fundamental flaw—they target the wrong audience,” Lerman says. “Most are designed to educate managers, who are then responsible for passing the material down to their employees.

“But if your managers train staff with the same materials and style of presentation used for them, it won’t ensure the critical behavior changes that are necessary at the front-line levels of your operation,” he adds.

High turnover, limited educational backgrounds and English-as-a-second-language factors often combine to complicate food safety training objectives, he notes.

“Instead of emphasizing theory, it’s better to focus on basic behaviors. What foodservice employees have to know is what they need to do—every day—to keep food safe.”

The Food Safety First! program has been designed to do just that, with a series of five, 10-minute video segments and accompanying review sheets that reinforce key points.

And in keeping with Lerman’s view that the most effective training is both instructive and entertaining, the video takes a lighthearted, often exaggerated look at behind-the-scenes food preparation.

The main characters: Chef Ptomaine and a crew of well-meaning but bumbling kitchen help. Their skits, and the points they make, are memorable. That’s the idea—even if it sometimes more closely resembles a slapstick comedy like “Dumb and Dumber” than a training video.

This is not high-brow humor, but it also doesn’t “talk down” to people on the front lines. Instead, the segments candidly demonstrate the consequences of poor behaviors to clearly show the role food handlers can have in preventing—or causing—foodborne illness.

By the end of the last segment, Chef Ptomaine’s kitchen crew has subtly evolved into a group of professional and self-respecting team players that any kitchen manager would love to hire. But whether you employ the Food Safety First! materials or not, Lerman is keen on emphasizing what he says are seven fundamental principles that make food safety training optimally effective.

Establish a sense of professionalism. If kitchen workers are the critical control points in preventing food contamination, it’s imperative they see themselves as professionals, not just as prep cooks. Treat them with respect and give them responsibility. Practice a Theory Y, not Theory X management style.

Emphasize that workers are ‘food protection agents.’ “I like to use the analogy that prep cooks are ‘food surgeons,’ he says. “We teach workers to treat food as contaminated or ‘sick’ and that they’re responsible for curing it. Like surgeons, they need to scrub their hands, wear gloves and do all they can to prevent contamination. This is also an analogy that supports a professional self-image.”

Focus on behavior, not theory. The technical nature of a contaminant or symptoms of a certain type of food poisoning aren’t important from a practical point of view. The reality: poor hygiene can make people sick and bad habits can make germs multiply. Emphasize key points with strong visual images if you want to change basic behaviors.

Show me, demonstrate. The most effective training is hands-on, in the kitchen. Keep demonstrations as visual as possible—it encourages retention. Remember too, we are dealing with an MTV generation. Training is more effective if it can be demonstrated physically, in a participative environment.

Training is a process, not an event. People often think they can offer a training session and that a problem is addressed. Training is a continuous process—it takes repetition, coaching and follow-up to be successful. Use the “One Minute Manager” approach—catch people doing something right, and praise that behavior. Correct poor behaviors, but do so constructively.

Keep it entertaining. People remember a joke longer than they do a lecture. To a line employee. there’s nothing more boring than a talking head in a white coat.
Keep it short. Five, half-hour sessions are much more effective than one two-and-a-half hour session. Break any program into a series of short, mutually-reinforcing segments. This will result in better retention and make the concepts easier for employees to grasp.

For more information on the Food Safety First! program, contact Dion Lerman at (215) 895-2055 or e-mail him at [email protected]

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