Food safety education and training has an important role in improving risk perception, gaining new skills for handling food and developing the right mindset towards food safety. Research suggests that regular food safety training is ‘the most important way to prevent or mitigate food contamination’1 and ‘trained food handlers are less likely to cause foodborne illness’2. Food safety education and training can improve behaviour by adjusting the practices and improving skills1. The right knowledge can also improve practice by keeping food handlers ‘abreast and informed of proper food safety practices 3.
Percipio Training outline 10 things you should consider when providing food safety education and training.
1. Be clear on the rationale for food safety training. Think about what can be reasonably achieved through training and how success will be measured. Training must be commensurate with the work activity, address specific risks to the business and connect at a personal level.
2. Take a risk-based4 approach to food safety education and training. Think about which tasks, practices and behaviours4 pose a significant risk to the business. Do not overload people with pointless facts and figures that have no relevance. Prioritise key information that will have the most impact in reducing foodborne illness. Communicate ‘real risks with real consequences’4.
3. Know the benefits and limitations for different approaches towards training. Classroom based and e-learning learning delivered in the right way does improve risk perception, communicate expected standards and develop the right attitude and behaviour. These approaches do explain ‘why’4 food safety is important and ‘what’ is required to produce safe food. But they do not necessarily provide the experience in ‘how’4 to perform practical tasks relevant to the food handler. This is where on-the-job training delivered by a competent instructor has a distinct advantage. Learning through this method is a process of acquiring relevant knowledge and skills through experience.
4. Create an inclusive learning environment for all learners. Remove any barriers that prevent participation and inclusion. Limited functional skills in English is the most common barrier to learning in the food industry2,5. There are many food businesses that offer free English lessons. Always conduct an initial assessment with learners to find out what support is needed to achieve success. Provide opportunities to share knowledge and experiences. Remember everyone has a life history to share.
5. Training must consider human behaviour because acquisition of knowledge and gaining new skills is not enough to provide safe food. Behaviour is the way in which a person reacts to people and situations. Training is about influencing and developing the right behaviour towards food safety. Emotions are a powerful tool in changing undesired behaviour towards food safety. Doing the right thing should be about feeling good and valued. Remember people learn through social interaction. Get those emotions flowing through group discussions and sharing personal narratives. Use real-life case studies as a ‘persuasive’4 tool to demonstrate what happens when procedures are not followed.
6. Failure in handling food safely can arise when food handlers do not know what is expected. Training is one of the first places where expectations are communicated. Be clear on what is expected and the consequences for non-compliance. Keep the food safety message simple and make sure it is understood by everyone.
7. Engage and motivate learners. Get people thinking about why food safety is important to them and not just the company. People learn in different ways. Use different teaching and learning styles (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic). Create opportunities for social interaction. Ask lots of questions and actively listen to what people have to say. Remember conversations can put a spotlight on unseen problems and encourages people to participate. Food safety is a serious subject but learning about it does not have to be boring. Use creativity to make learning fun and interesting.
8. Competent food handlers are better than trained food handlers. Competency demonstrates food is handled in a practical context. Traditional assessments such as multiple-choice and written tests may not necessarily check key competencies. People can easily pass tests without answering any questions on critical controls measures, such as personal hygiene, contamination and temperature control. Assessment must include competency checks. These must be relevant to the job and demonstrate the person can perform the task correctly. Observations, demonstrations, simulations, asking questions and checking records are all effective methods for checking competency.
9. Supervisors and managers must perceive training as useful, rather than a simple a tick box exercise. They must understand and believe in the value of training and the role its plays in providing competent food handlers. Managers and supervisors who promote strong beliefs in the usefulness of training influence behavioural change and improved food handling practices.
10. The evaluation of training acts as a check to ensure training has achieved its desired outcomes in a cost-effective way. Donald Kirkpatrick6 outlines four key measurements for evaluating the effectiveness of any training programme. The first level is where the personal experience of learning is evaluated. It is important to measure reaction because it provides information on what went well and where changes are required to improve the overall learning experience.
The second level is learning. This measures knowledge acquisition against specific learning outcomes or other desired outcomes. Evaluation at this level provides a gap analysis in what they have learned and what they have not.
The third level is behaviour. This measures the application of training in the workplace, and the changes in job-related behaviour and performance. Unchanged behaviour may not necessarily imply training was not successful. Knowledge gained might not be put into practice because there is a lack of ‘willingness’ and ‘encouragement’ by managers and supervisors to adopt new practices. This may be due to poor risk perception7, high costs for intervention8 and inadequate resources8.
The fourth level evaluates results and determines if training has met organisational objectives and was good value for money.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my article on effective food safety training. We offer award winning training across the UK and deliver qualifications in HACCP, Auditing, Food Allergy, Food Safety and Food Safety Culture. Contact us now to found out more on how we can accommodate you specific training requirements.
1. Medeiros C.O, Barletto S., Elisabete C., Rossana S.,Proença P.C. (2011). ‘Assessment of the methodological strategies adopted by food safety training programmes for food service workers: A systematic review.’ In Food Control. Vol 22. pp 1136 -1144.
2. Hedberg, C. W., Smith, S. J., Kirkland, E., Radke, V., Jones, T. F., Selman, C. A., et al. (2006). Systematic environmental evaluations to identify food safety differences between outbreak and non-outbreak restaurants. In Journal of Food Protection. Vol 69(11), pp. 2697 -2702
3. McIntyre L., Lis Vallaster L., Lynn Wilcott L., Henderson S.B, Kosatsky T. (2013) Evaluation of food safety knowledge, attitudes and self-reported handwashing practices in FOODSAFE trained and untrained food handlers in British Columbia, Canada. In Food Control. Vol 30. pp 150 -155
4. Yiannas, F. (2009). Food safety culture: Creating a behavior-based food safety management system. New York: Springer Science
5. Majowicz S.E., Hammond D., Dubin J.A., Diplock K.J., Jones-Bitton A.,Rebellato S. & Leatherdale S.T. (2017) ‘ A longitudinal evaluation of food safety knowledge and attitudes among Ontario high school students following a food handler training program’ In Food Control (2017), doi:10.1016/j.foodcont.2017.01.011.
6. Kirkpatrick, D.L., & Kirkpatrick, J.D. (2007). Implementing the Four Levels, Berrett-Koehler Publishers
7. Worsfold D., and C. Griffith C. (2010) “Experiences and perceptions of secondary food hygiene training: a preliminary study of five larger catering companies in south east Wales,” In Perspectives in Public Health. Vol. 130 (3). pp. 173–179
8. Egana M B, Raats M M, Grubb S M, Eves A, Lumbersb M L, Dean M S, Adams M. R., (2006) ‘A review of food safety and food hygiene training studies in the commercial sector’ In Food Control. Vol 18. pp, 1180 -1190.