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How to Enhance the Food Safety Culture at Your Establishment

In the foodservice industry, serving safe food is a vital part of keeping your customers and your health inspectors happy. Set your business up for success by following our tips for enhancing the food safety culture among your employees.

In the foodservice industry, serving safe food is a vital part of keeping your customers and your health inspectors happy. If a foodborne illness outbreak is traced to your establishment, at best you’ll probably get some bad reviews. At worst, you could get sued. In rare cases, people could die.

Set your business up for success by following our tips for enhancing the food safety culture among your employees.

Don’t just teach food hygiene on the job

Studies have shown that on-the-job training is the most common form of food safety training in foodservice. This could include a manager showing a new employee around on their first day, guiding them through the preparation of their first meals, and teaching them how to clean kitchen equipment at the end of the day.

On-the-job training is fine if it’s used in addition to — not instead of — formal employee training. But there are a few problems with relying completely on on-the-job training for new food workers:

  1. It implies the manager has the skills and knowledge needed to train new employees adequately. Teaching isn’t a natural skill for everyone — and food safety knowledge can vary depending on the manager.
  2. It’s inconsistent. Unless you have a training policy that spells out what all new employees must learn, the manager could forget some important details. If you have multiple managers, you run the risk of each manager emphasizing a different task.
  3. Managers don’t have time to do it well. Managers have a lot of responsibilities competing for their attention. One study indicated that 40% of managers don’t teach their employees any food hygiene training.

Provide formal food safety training for new employees

Instead of relying on your managers to provide on-the-job training, you can make things easier for everyone by providing formal food safety training. For entry-level positions, this could be food handler training. For managerial positions, it could be food manager training.

Even if you operate in an area where food handler or food manager training isn’t legally required, it’s a good idea to ask your employees to get it. Formal training will ensure that new employees receive sufficient training on food hygiene.

Not only that, when you provide training, you show your employees — and your customers — how much you care about food safety. Employees are more likely to follow food safety practices when they know it’s important to their manager.

Look for high-quality training that changes the way employees think and act toward food safety

When you’re looking for training, look for high-quality courses that will teach your employees the importance of food safety. When they understand the real consequences that could come from a poorly prepared meal, it will change the way they think about food preparation.

You’ll know a training course is high quality when it has the following characteristics:

  1. It follows instructional design principles. For example, at StateFoodSafety, we design our training courses based on a teaching framework called Bloom’s Taxonomy. In a nutshell, the goal of Bloom’s Taxonomy is to teach concepts so well that not only can learners remember them after passing the test, they can apply them in a variety of different situations.
  2. It explains food safety principles instead of just requiring employees to memorize facts. While some memorization is required to pass a food handler test — the list of recommended cooking temperatures come to mind — it shouldn’t be the basis of an entire course. A high-quality training course not only teaches food safety principles, it explains why those principles are so important. And knowing why food safety matters will help employees change any bad habits they may have.
  3. It accommodates different learning styles. Training is most effective when it includes elements for people with all four learning styles:
Learning style People with this style learn best by…
Visual Seeing information presented in a diagram, flow chart, or other type of graphic.
Aural/Auditory Listening to information as part of a lecture or discussion. They may also sort through their ideas by talking through them.
Read/write Reading information in articles, reports, essays, slideshow presentations, etc.
Kinesthetic Participating in role-play activities or seeing real-life examples of the information in action.
  1. It gives employees a chance to practice what they learn. A well-known proverb about effective teaching states: “Tell me something and I’ll forget. Show me something and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.” Research shows that using games in teaching is more effective than simply explaining concepts. For this reason, we use practice games in all our courses.
  2. It’s accessible to employees who speak a language other than English. An incredibly diverse group of people work in foodservice. According to QSR Magazine, more than 23% of restaurant workers, 43% of restaurant chefs, and 25% of restaurant managers in the U.S. were born outside of the country. High quality training accounts for language barriers as well as unique challenges like hearing loss and deafness. That’s why we offer food handler training in eight languages — and constantly work to add new ones. We also provide subtitles and audio transcripts for our training for people who prefer reading to listening.

Create food safety policies and train your staff on them

Establish food safety policies specific to your establishment. This will help your staff understand how to apply food safety training to their day-to-day job responsibilities. It also underscores the importance you place on food safety.

Every establishment should have at least three different policies:

  • HACCP Plan. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point. The purpose of a HACCP plan is to identify, evaluate, and control anything that could harm food safety. For example, you could make a rule that all foods be cooked to the FDA’s recommended cooking temperatures so that all disease-causing bacteria are killed.  Your HACCP plan can be as detailed as you need. You should create a regular cleaning schedule as part of your plan.
  • Food Allergy Management Plan. Food allergies are becoming more common. With about 32 million people with food allergies in the United States, your chances of serving someone with an allergy are high. When someone with a food allergy comes into contact with their trigger allergen, they could have a severe reaction. Make a Food Allergy Management Plan so that your employees know how to keep meals for those customers allergy-free.
  • Emergency Plan. The safety of your food and your ability to serve customers depend on your access to two things: clean water and reliable power. Unfortunately, you can’t assume you will always have water and electricity. A natural disaster can contaminate your water supply or interrupt the power. Make an emergency plan now so that your employees know exactly what to do if an emergency occurs.

After you create your food safety policies, don’t forget to follow up! Praise the employees who follow policy and patiently correct employees who don’t. Continually train employees on each policy so they’re fresh in their minds.

Hold regular stand-up trainings to reinforce food safety principles

Although formal food safety training will give your employees the knowledge they need to keep food safe, even the best training will eventually fade away if it’s never revisited.

Reinforce food safety principles by holding stand-up trainings regularly. Stand-up trainings should only last 5-10 minutes and focus on just one principle.

For example, if you wanted to give a stand-up training about handwashing, you might start by having a discussion with your employees about why handwashing is so important. Next, you could demonstrate the steps for proper handwashing. Finish by quizzing your employees on how often they should wash their hands.

We provide free stand-up training guides with more ideas for you and your managers. Each guide includes a list of facts about the training topic. It also contains ideas for hands-on activities to help keep employees engaged.

Post printed food safety reminders

There’s a lot that employees have to remember to keep food safe — cooking temperatures, proper handwashing procedures, safe cooling methods, and more. If they don’t remember something immediately, they may guess at what they’re supposed to do, with disastrous results.

Help your employees out by putting printed reminders about common issues around your establishment. At StateFoodSafety, we provide dozens of resources about a variety of food safety topics. You can download any of them for free on our Food Safety Resource Gallery.

Each resource type is uniquely suited to a specific use:

  • Food safety posters, cartoons, and infographics can be printed out and displayed in the kitchen or a break area
  • Use forms to help make employees more accountable for enforcing your food safety policies
  • Show videos during stand-up trainings

In addition to the resources available on the resource gallery, you can request special resources through our Resource Request Form. Special resources include handwashing stickers, food safety cartoon calendars, and training information flyers.

Follow up by holding practice health inspections

You’ve made sure every member of your staff is trained in food hygiene. You chose high-quality training that changed how each employee thinks and acts toward food safety. You created your own establishment-specific food safety policies, hold regular stand-up trainings, and posted printed reminders to help employees keep food safe.

There’s only one thing left to do — follow up. Following up on food safety training is just as important to creating a food safety culture as the training itself.

Monitor your employees’ behavior. Are they conscious of food safety when preparing meals? Do they follow your policies? Do they engage in stand-up trainings and reference printed reminders when they have a question?

If you feel employees may be forming bad habits despite your efforts to correct them, try holding a self-inspection. Pretend to be a health inspector and announce you’re doing a surprise inspection.

Holding regular self-inspections will help your staff understand what health inspectors look for in a real health inspection. It will also help drive home the point that food safety is a vital part of all food workers’ jobs.

Contact StateFoodSafety to see how we can help you achieve your food safety goals

Contact us to see how we can help you enhance the food safety culture at your establishment.


— Jessica Pettit

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