By Kevin Freeborn
When customers visit your restaurant, they notice several things — the taste and presentation of the food, the quality of the service and the ambience created by the lighting and décor. But one thing that may not immediately be apparent is the safety of the food they are about to eat. For any foodservice establishment, food safety is of primary importance to both your guest’s dining experience and to their health. Of course, ensuring the food on your menu is both delicious and safe starts with the staff who prepare and serve it.
The role of food safety training is twofold. First, it informs staff on what they need to know about food safety so they understand why they may need to change their behaviour. This knowledge of safe food handling also helps them identify risky practices in the workplace. Second, the training teaches the skills required by the food handler to keep food safe while on the job. Select a good training program that meets these criteria and you are off to a great start. However, research shows your initial investment will only pay off if you take steps to maintain the momentum created during the employees’ training sessions.
Five reasons to provide food safety training for your team
It’s practical. If your team follows the practices taught during their food safety training your business will improve its food quality, reduce food cost, reduce labour cost and increase revenues. How so? Food will be carefully checked before it is received so only quality food is accepted. Fresher quality foods don’t spoil as quickly so there is less waste. Improved hygiene and fewer employees working while ill will lower your labour costs. Training reduces employee mistakes and turnover. An outbreak of food-borne illness associated with your business will result in lost revenues as customers stay away in droves. Customers that enjoy safe, fresh food return and bring their friends.
It’s professional. If you are like most operators of a foodservice business, you take pride in your reputation as a professional culinarian. Likewise you want your team members to feel proud of their role in the success of the business. Providing employees with the knowledge and training they need to do their job professionally says you are serious about their career.
It reduces risk. It’s not worth gambling away all the hard work you have put into building your business. To be clear, risk is reduced IF the concepts are implemented back at the workplace. Nothing will completely eliminate the risk of a food-borne illness outbreak in your restaurant, but the risk is much lower when you and your team practise safe food handling.
It’s the law. Nearly every jurisdiction in Canada requires food safety training and many proactive organizations mandate the training through their compliance departments. Failing to comply with the law does carry penalties including fines and possible closures. Still, this rationale may lead some to believe all that you need to do is make sure everyone has their certification wallet card. However, even if you have passed the certification exam you will still be legally liable if someone gets sick and you have failed to implement good operating practices.
It’s the right thing to do. Canada’s foodservice industry has a remarkable reputation for doing what is right – just look at the many charitable campaigns led by industry businesses to help those in need. When you learn that every eight seconds a person in Canada gets sick from the food they consume the extent of the challenge starts to register. Aside from the billions of dollars it costs our economy, the devastation that food-borne illness can wreak on individuals and their families is heart wrenching. I have experienced it first hand and I can tell you any foodservice professional would do everything in their power to prevent this kind of tragedy. Learning how to prevent a food-borne illness is a great place to start.
10 ways to maintain the momentum after training
- Establish a food safety policy. Tell your team how important food safety is to the business. Incorporate your policy into the orientation process and the operating manuals. Post the policy in your foodservice operation.
- Lead by example. Make sure you demonstrate good practices like wearing a hairnet in food preparation areas; staying home or seeing a doctor when you are sick; and washing your hands frequently. When you demonstrate these practices your team can see that you believe in them.
- Conduct self-audits. Identify any weaknesses related to food safety and make a plan to overcome them. In addition to your own audits use the health department’s inspection reports to provide insight into your food-handling practices.
- Put it on the agenda. Include food safety on your team meeting agenda. Topics you might highlight could be recent outbreaks in the news; new best practices; or results of food safety inspections.
- Remove barriers. Make sure the equipment and supplies required to keep food safe are available and maintained. Another type of barrier I have encountered is policies that are contrary to the best practices outlined in the food safety training. Align any company policies pertaining to food safety with the training. This creates the environment your team needs to do their part.
- Incorporate job aids. Make sure you have log forms for recording information related to food safety. This includes receiving, temperature, food preparation and equipment calibration logs. At every step on the trail of food through the establishment you can weave food safety into the fabric of daily operations by integrating job aids.
- Post your message. Posters that provide information about various tasks can help emphasize safe food handling practices. They can also provide reminders about the specifics of certain tasks. For example, handwashing posters that describe the proper steps; posters with cooking temperatures for various foods; posters in storage areas describing best practices and temperatures – to name but a few.
- Practise, practise, practise. Have your team members practise what they learn in their training when they return to their job. Ask them to demonstrate practical skills they have learned. Provide constructive feedback to help them perfect their newly learned skills.
- Train throughout the year. Put aside 10 to 15 minutes once a month (or more often) to highlight a specific food safety topic. These can be pulled from existing training you do or created specifically for your needs. Include why the topic is important; what skills are required; demonstrate the skills; and provide an opportunity for your team to practise.
- Recognition and feedback. Incorporate food safety into your employee recognition and feedback programs. For example, celebrate their success when they achieve their food handler certification. Recognize them for their good practices in the workplace and provide frequent opportunities to give feedback that will help them improve their daily safe food handling.