Take a moment to imagine this scenario: Cheryl works in the food service industry and always arrives on time to work. However, this morning she isn’t feeling well and is running behind. She arrives a few minutes after her shift is scheduled to begin, and her manager is tied up with paperwork. As a result, her cold symptoms pass by unnoticed, and she begins her day as usual.
It’s indisputable that sanitation is a top priority in the food service industry, but many businesses have difficulties with implementing and maintaining an effective prevention program. A Journal of Environmental Health article estimated that annual productivity losses attributed to foodborne illnesses costs businesses anywhere from $20 to $40 billion annually.
The fact is that many food safety systems are not effective because of their top-to-bottom management structure. Alternative food safety programs, such as the “upside down” management style designed by Pedestal Foods, might serve as a better solution to identify and solve issues such as these.
Here are a few recommendations for creating a similar “upside-down” food safety program at your own business:
1. Create an executable checklist system. An effective food safety program begins with a checklist. Managers should put together easy-to-follow checklists that are easily executable and owned by responsible team members. For example, a daily employee safety and sanitation checklist will include components such as how employees report to work (e.g., in proper uniform and appearing in good health).
An employee can easily be at work for an hour before a manager sees them, which is a risk if the employee is sick (such as in Cheryl’s case). In an upside-down food safety program, a member of the food safety team would be in charge of evaluating employees before the start of their shift and would make sure an employee has washed their hands, as well as note whether or not they are ill.
The key is to keep it simple and make sure there are not too many checklists for employees to complete. Many programs are too comprehensive and have so many checklists that they are a burden. Simply put: If they’re too tedious to execute, then they won’t be executed. Which brings us to our next step:
2. Make sure employees understand the why behind the what. Checklists and other procedures need to be set up in a manner where employees understand the importance behind each task and can easily execute each step. Employees should be aware of the risks of situations such as employees not washing their hands, not inspecting food equipment and handling food incorrectly.
3. Make the program employee-owned and manager-monitored. Managers should be positioned as the support staff for employees who manage stations and checklists of their own.
Go beyond timestamps and initials. At Pedestal Foods, certain employees are responsible for ensuring that tasks such as cleaning the kitchen to ensure it’s up to code are completed correctly. This responsibility goes beyond a cursory inspection and leaving a simple checkmark — key employees should constantly keep an eye out for ways this process can be improved upon, as well as ensure that each task is fully completed.
These task sheets should include detailed notes about incidents, problems and resolutions as evidence that attention is being paid to sanitation. If you don’t see any feedback, then it’s time to re-analyze the task’s efficiency and execution.
4. Develop a dedicated team to review checklists and implement solutions to problems. A food safety team is not only a support function, but the key to an “upside down” food safety program. Food service businesses should have three to five employees who meet on an ongoing basis to identify the issues through employee checklists.
Going back to the example of Cheryl, the food safety team might discover that the daily check-in of employees is not occurring per protocol, or else that there are miscommunications between team members that lead them to think someone else has already completed a task. By having this system put in place, a quick decision can be made, such as whether an employee needs to be sent home.
 “Food Safety Certification Regulations in the United States,” by Barbara A. Almanza and Melissa S. Nesmith, Journal of Environmental Health, Vol. 66, No. 9, May 2004, pp. 10–14.© Food Safety News