Training is costly and regulations are burdensome, but in Ontario’s Niagara area — located just minutes from Buffalo, New York — they’ve decided those options are better than outbreaks of foodborne disease. Mandatory food safety training has become the norm in the region for high-risk venues, including restaurants, banquet halls and nursing homes. Dr. Valerie Jaeger, Niagara’s medical officer of health, called the four-year-old food safety training program the area’s “last line of defense.” niagara_406x250Niagara comprises a dozen communities, ranging from towns and villages to full-blown urban areas. The area is connected to the U.S. by four international bridges. After four years of mandatory food safety training, Ontario health officials say they are seeing progress in Niagara. A new report finds that residents are experiencing symptoms of food poisoning such as bouts of vomiting and diarrhea much less often because of the safe food handling training. The report, by the region’s environmental health manager Chris Gaspar and health director Bjorn Christensen, found that public health officials investigated 459 cases of food poisoning in Niagara last year. They figure only about 4.4 percent of food poisoning cases are reported, so the number of actual cases was probably closer to 10,500. Outbreaks are costly. Just four pathogens spread by foodborne illnesses — Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7 and Shigella — have a per-capita cost of $1,068 for each case, according to a recent Canadian cost report. This means that 3,273 cases of those illnesses actually recorded in the Niagara area last year cost at least $3 million. But since imposing the mandatory training, the new report stated that Niagara has experienced a 90-percent cut in the overall instance of foodborne illness cases. The lion’s share of food poisoning cases are turning out to be preventable by well-trained people, and Niagara is getting the mandatory training to 93 percent of the high-risk facilities, Gaspar said. Under that category are restaurants, nursing homes, and full-menu daycares. Not everyone is happy with the mandatory training regulations. One regional government council member said that, “The mom and pop shops get killed by this kind of stuff.” However, Jaeger noted that food operations have the option of self-studying, and that the safe food handling training has been brought right to the site of small food operations.

  • A positive step forward. Up-skilling a workforce requires commitment and is seen as integral to a positive training outcome. The two primary goals should be to change long-term behaviour and sustain the initial motivation. Achieving this is not easy.

    It is desirable that any training program needs to be structured and must address commitment, accountability and implementation issues. There should be a focus on what happens outside the training intervention as well as inside.

    It is important to remember that once a person is fully trained he or she will be returning to their old workplace. The workplace in itself hasn’t changed so there still exists many triggers to revert back to old behaviour.

    Newfound skills and behaviours need time, practice and guidance before staff become
    confident and it becomes habit.