From New York to Los Angeles, there are some complaints you hear from foodservice operators over and over again. A perennial favorite is that health inspectors are inconsistent in how they mark up and cite kitchen violations.
For their part, health inspectors will usually tell you that the rules they follow are clear enough, but by necessity entail some use of individual judgment, pointing out that facilities and operator sanitation procedures themselves will vary from unit to unit even in chain accounts.
Which leads one to ask: in the interest of moving food safety best practices forward, what can the two sides do to achieve more consistency during inspections, and a better understanding of what's needed to be constantly ready for those inspections?
Over the past two years, the Hillsborough County, FL School District and the Hillsborough County Health Department have worked together to develop a video training program that is helping achieve both goals. The district is now using it to train front line foodservice personnel on exactly what health inspectors look for when they perform inspections, and some of the same footage is being used by the Health Department itself to help ensure that different inspectors have better common understandings about how violations should be scored.
A focus on consistency
According to Hillsborough Schools Safety and Sanitation Manager Jill Kluge, the project began in a series of conversations between herself, Nutrition Services General Manager Mary Kate Harrison and Jason Fulton, an environmental specialist II with the Health Department.
“In 2006 we created a database to track all the health inspection reports across our system,” she says. “We began to notice some inconsistencies in the way certain violations were treated,” and raised the issue with Fulton. Fulton had recently taken on new responsibilities as the Health Department's school nutrition liaison and had been in conversations with the schools in an effort to improve the working relationships between the two organizations.
“We found we had a number of common areas of concern and consistency was one of them,” Fulton says. “In the health department we were already focusing on the issue of critical vs. non-critical violations and where certain things fall under specific areas of our food code. We were also looking to reduce some of the ambiguity with internal documentation for our inspectors.”
Harrison was also interested in developing a tool that could show front-line nutrition staff exactly what they should expect when a health inspector calls on their location.
After the group agreed that video training might be helpful in these efforts, Kluge took the idea to the District's Internal Communications department which has a broadcast services group that produces videos for internal District use. Once the idea was approved, Kluge worked with Joe Keesling and Chad Lazzara from the communications department to plan and begin production.
Keesling coordinated a pre-production meeting with those working on the project to outline basic content needs, identify key “actors” who would narrate the video and other details needed before actual shooting could begin. Fulton agreed to act out a complete inspection, from greeting a site manager to final inspection scoring, and developed an outline of that process that could be used to guide the filming.
Kluge then broke that process into nine sections and arranged for Julie West, one of the district's nutrition services managers, to narrate video “inserts” for each, commenting on the inspection actions just seen and demonstrating such procedures as proper handwashing, food cool-downs, etc. To help West narrate these sections more comfortably, Keesling had scripts prepared for her and arranged to use a field teleprompter.
In terms of equipment, “we used both a boom microphone and a wireless microphone and brought in lighting to improve the video quality,” according to Lazzara, with Keesling performing the final video edits in Apple Final Cut Pro on a Macintosh computer, adding royalty-free music in the background.
An emphasis on retention
With the basic video in hand, nutrition services then looked to how it could be most effectively used in the field. “We wanted to ensure that the main points would be effectively retained and developed 4-5 questions to follow each chapter,” says Kluge. “The idea was that someone should be able to correctly answer those questions before going on to the next chapter.”
|To view an interview with Hillsborough County Schools Nutrition Services General Manager Mary Kate Harrison along with excerpts from the food safety video, go to foodmanagement.com/video/1209-hillsborough|
The department hired an outside production company to make those quizzes interactive and part of the video, and to add menu programming that would allow a manager to selectively play chapters as needed for in field.
“Altogether, producing the final product took almost a year,” says Kluge. “But now, we have it installed on every manager's computer and have required that every nutrition services employee complete the training as a work requirement.”
Each manager documents every time an employee completes the training, putting that documentation into their personnel files and also sending it to the area nutrition services supervisor.
In retrospect, Kluge says most managers believe the project has given them a useful training tool, a standard procedure for training new employees and one that is especially useful when it is necessary to review specific sanitation issues or procedures with an individual “who isn't getting it quite right.”
The Health Department's Fulton also uses portions of the raw footage in his own training efforts, to familiarize health inspectors who will be handling schools about issues specific to the K-12 foodservice environment.