How to get your staff to understand the importance of food safety

How to get your staff to understand the importance of food safety
By Kevin Freeborn
June 10, 2015

How to get your staff to understand the importance of food safety

Getting all of your staff on board with food safety plans can be difficult. A study from the University of Guelph looked into why employees may not do what they are supposed to when it comes to implementation. While the research was done in a processing environment, I believe the factors are similar in foodservice environments. Here’s how you can use the information to create a supportive environment for employees charged with implementing food safety systems.

The authors of the report, entitled Background Factors Affecting the Implementation of Food Safety Management Systems, identify two stages required for changes in employee behaviour:

  1. Changing beliefs and motivating a change in behaviour (buy in);
  2. Creating an environment that facilitates changed behaviour.
Based on the report, four questions emerged that employees may be asking themselves. If you want your food safety program to be successful, here are the questions you need to address:

Is this a good thing for me to do? Will it make a difference?

Employees need to believe there are benefits to doing the things that help keep food safe. Aside from altruistic reasons, personal motivation plays an important role. For example, they might think, “if the company is put out of business because of an outbreak of foodborne illness, then I am out of a job.” Understanding the direct implications of their actions helps employees believe in the need for changes in behaviour.

Who of importance thinks I should do it? How much does it matter to me?

Co-workers play a big role in whether or not your employees take their food safety role seriously. Peer influence can outstrip that of the boss and other authorities such as health inspectors. Open communication helps managers know what employees think about food safety; walking the talk shows management’s commitment; and social pressure can help sway employees to do the right thing. It takes a consistent message from everyone, at all levels in the organization, to influence an employee’s perspective on the importance of food safety.

Am I able to do it? How easy is it?

Employees may not do what they are supposed to if they don’t know how or if the task is too difficult. Make sure your employees understand how their actions affect safe food preparation. Each employee should complete formal training related to their job responsibilities for preparing food safely.

Food handlers can’t do their job without the proper equipment (e.g. employees can’t take temperatures if they don’t have thermometers). This may seem obvious but I have met operators that did not invest in the facility or equipment required to keep food production safe.

Provide the time required to perform food safety related tasks. More efficient food production processes may free up time for implementing a food safety system. If employees believe they can’t complete the additional work required of the food safety program in the time they have available, the work won’t get done.

Don’t make employees ‘bite off more than they can chew.’ Implement the changes gradually to allow some time for them to adapt to the new system.

Finally, involve the employees. Allow discussion about the tasks they must do to keep food safe.  If they have input into factors that affect them, they will feel they have some control over the implementation process.

Is it a regular thing I do?

Once employees incorporate activities into the daily routine of their jobs, food safety behaviours become a way of life at work. Some will be done unconsciously, such as washing hands each time they become contaminated or between work activities. Other, more complex tasks, such as monitoring critical control points, evolve as just part of the job.

Identifying the benefits and demonstrating the importance of food safety is key to getting food handlers on board. Once employees believe in the value of safe food preparation, operators can move toward implementation. Give your team the training and resources required to carry out their food safety tasks and these will become part of everyday life as a professional foodservice employee. The rest will be smooth sailing.

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About the author:

Kevin Freeborn is an award-winning consultant, author and speaker with 30 years’ foodservice experience. Founder of Freeborn & Associates, he has been retained by leading North American organizations to develop food safety programs and training. Freeborn can be reached at 1-888-829-3177. Visit www.NFSTP.ca.

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