With the new school year fast approaching, it should be a reminder to take the time to properly train and educate food handlers about food safety. Not only just to pass the test and get certified, but to live it, breathe it and foster a culture. Food safety has to be part of the daily routine, not just because the boss is coming for a visit or suddenly the health inspector is at the front door. Fire drills should be avoided. Food safety should be properly managed, not the inspection. People often forget what they learn in food safety class if it is not applied to a task with any regular frequency and monitored. If they do not understand the consequences of potential illness or are taught in a manner that fosters a “buy in” to the concept, rest assured that most of the information will not be retained. Hands-on training in a working environment are just as important and more successful for some people. Yes, it is a two-way street: the individual must put forth the effort and want to learn. The reality is that there are language barriers, cultural differences, labor constraints, no sense of urgency and a general feeling of, “That ain’t my job,” when it comes to food safety education. When I once asked a food handler for their thermometer to check it for calibration and they handed me a roll of sanitizer test strips, that’s a problem. That’s as basic as it comes and reveals how badly the food safety training was neglected. Think about how easily things can spiral out of control with that gross lack of knowledge. Thermal abuse, food contact surfaces, chemical use, and so on and so forth — things can get risky real quick. We cannot just have a warm body processing food anymore since so much more is involved. Regardless of the excuse, food safety has to be part of the job description and followed up by everyone in the organization. If management puts it on the back burner or not high enough on the priority list, how do they expect the people who actually process the food to feel? Best practices and increased education should involve everyone. In the end, the best aspect of teaching food safety should be reality. Putting consumer’s health potentially at risk should always be explained, along with the liability that follows. Sometimes it is the eye-opening truth that inevitably gets the point across.

  • Jim Mann

    Until good behaviors are rewarded and non-compliance has consequences, the reality will not change. Watch out for the Training Ceiling – that level of compliance directly related to training alone. http://www.handwashingforlife.com/blog/mike-mann/limits-handwash-training

  • Darin Detwiler

    In my experience, foodservice workers often believe that food safety protocols are a burden, a ‘hoop’ that is not needed. Yesterday I observed a cook wearing only one glove as he handled raw foods and scratched his facial hair repeatedly. After I said something to his manager, the cook argued and acted like it was a punishment to put a glove on his hand. Perhaps what is missing in food safety education IS the reality…the faces behind safe food handling gone wrong. Statistics are easy to throw around, but food safety students need to be made aware of the REALITY of illness and death due to such seemingly simple ‘hoops.’

  • Dave Walpuck

    Excellent comments. Thank you.

  • pmtguy

    I’m sure when these people who don’t want to learn about food safety go out to eat they expect the people preparing their food to be properlly trained. They would be so upset if they became ill due to food they are the other day. So why can’t they apply that same level of respect to the food they are preparing for other people?

  • Randy Lyons

    Mr. Walpuck,
    Thank you for this article. This is a situation I run into on a daily basis. I have been cerified in Food Safety since 1986 and an instructor since 1989. One of the most important things I was taught in the first course I took was that all courses are designed and written on the basis that the work site will have unlimited personnel, equipment, time and funds. As your article notes, this is just not reality. As some of the comments have noted, this gives the student a sence of impossibility where they will most likely ignore most if not all of the material because they cannot relate to it.
    However, all food handlers must understand that although there will certainly be times where the course material cannot be praticed in your work site, this should be an indicator to you that your work process has an increased risk. This is where hazard identification and risk assessments come into play. What is the hazard you are increasing, what is the risk of that hazard based on your process and is there anything you can do to try and get the hazard to the lowest possible level of risk in your operations. Proper hazard identification and risk assessment are usually not included in most food safety courses though. This is a reality that can be easily be overcome though.

  • Dave Walpuck

    Thank you for your comments. I concur.