With supply chains more complex than ever before, it’s time to re-emphasize food safety training and education. Foodborne illness outbreaks and other incidents involving tainted food have received much media attention in the past few years. Can you take the chance that one of your food handlers who hasn’t been properly trained in food safety causes someone to become ill or die?
Given the risks, all businesses in the food industry must understand that food safety education and training is nothing less than a necessity.
Why are foodborne illnesses still occurring that are linked to employees’ improper practices? For a variety of reasons, including human behaviour and human error.
“Food safety training is not an option; it is an obligation,” says Georgina Atkinson, food industry consultant for the GCP Consulting Group. “There are too many risks associated with not training employees, including causing consumers to become ill plus the company’s reputation and loss of market share.”
She adds: “Ongoing management commitment and leading by example helps reinforce food safety behaviour and minimize human error. We find on-site, customized training to be most effective. We complete a needs assessment of the facility’s food safety requirements, implement peer educators with facilities that have a variety of spoken and written languages and observe the day-to-day functions such as the sanitation procedures in bakeries using nuts (and other allergens) as an ingredient.
“In small- to medium-sized bakeries, a lot of the employee practices are with ready-to-eat product, so handling and packaging of the product is critical. Therefore, much of the food safety training focuses on employee procedures, including handwashing, personal hygiene behaviour and package handling.”
The American Institute of Baking has been traditionally linked with North American wholesale and retail baking. AIB offers a variety of food safety courses via online, correspondence and traditional classroom/lab settings. The Guelph Food Technology Centre (GFTC) is another source of food safety training.
“With ingredients coming from all over the world, the end-user must recognize the complexity of the supply chain,” says GFTC vice-president of food safety and quality Frank Schreurs. “They must understand the importance of addressing and controlling all food safety risks throughout the chain.”
Schreurs notes that hands-on training seems to be the most effective in terms of food safety management and long-term cost in the baking industry. He says it’s vital for the industry to recognize the cost to their businesses if food safety risks are not identified and controlled.
In addition to specialized companies, food safety training and education is available through other channels such as universities, local public health units and industry associations.
“The second-year distance education course – Introduction to Food Microbiology – is very popular among the food industry (non-degree students),” says associate professor Dr. Keith Warriner, of the University of Guelph’s food science department. “This course offers basic food safety information plus a general overview of HACCP.”
Warriner adds: “For the degree students, the fourth-year Food Microbiology course offers a more detailed curriculum to prepare the students for their jobs in industry. An example includes the use of relevant case studies, where students role play as industry QA, the media and CFIA to problem solve foodborne illness outbreaks.”
As an industry association, the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers recognizes the importance of food safety education. To address the food safety needs of its members, a joint CFIG-CCGD Food Safety Committee created the Canadian Retail Food Safety Manual, which offers a retail-focused, HACCP-based food safety standard to work from to implement food safety program and training.
But “are bakers being taught a curriculum that encompasses food safety?” asks TrainCan Inc. vice-president Jim Kostuch. His company offers food safety training (certification courses approved by most municipalities with food safety bylaws) online as well as in classroom, mostly for retail, food service and small food companies.
“It is important to develop a ‘food safety culture’ to maintain the importance of the knowledge learned in the certification courses, so that implementation of the practices at store level are a day-to-day function,” Kostuch says.
Now what about the consumer? “Food safety awareness is there, but the concern is still with the level of implementation,” says Canadian Partnership for Food Safety Education executive director Brenda Watson.
“Occasionally, daily habits and behaviours are not practised, leading to improper food safety practices in the home. The partnership is helping the consumer understand their role in keeping the food safe – what people can do in their homes to decrease the risk of microbial foodborne illness.”
To reiterate, food safety training is a priority, an obligation and not an option. Depending on whether you are a large-scale manufacturer or a small bakery that supplies products to local restaurants, there are a variety of ways to train your employees. Full implementation of food safety practices on a daily basis is the proof that such training is a success.