How to prepare your staff to practice food safety

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Ruth L. Petran Ph.D.
Ruth L. Petran Ph.D.

Keeping food safe in your facility or community depends on people — for example, how staff members cook, cool, handle and store food; wash their hands; follow proper cleaning procedures; and avoid cross-contamination. 

Training staff is not a one-time effort. Not only must you educate employees on how to prepare food; you also need to instill a respect for preparing food safely using best practices. Additionally, high staff turnover and continually changing regulations make the task of training even more difficult.

Enhancing a culture of food safety

If your communities' culture hints at a less than complete commitment to food safety, then it's unrealistic to expect employees to embrace food safety practices. Therefore, it is essential that you set — and enforce — high standards. Part of setting high standards includes reinforcing the importance of the food safety practices, such as:

In addition to training your employees to follow these practices, you can underscore their importance by emphasizing the consequences: illness, possible death and damage to the community's reputation. Alternatively, sound food safety practices, when followed, may lead to high resident satisfaction and business growth. Make sure staff members understand how consequences of poor behaviors affect others. Your dietary manager is central to this process.

Build engagement

To inspire employees to be truly engaged in their work and care about food safety, try incorporating these concepts:

  • Make the work feel meaningful. Share your communities' vision and purpose. Doing so will help employees see how the facility or community — and how they as employees — are helping make the world a better place.
  • Set goals and challenges. Providing opportunities for personal and professional growth and advancement, along with incentives, rewards and recognition for good work, can inspire workers to continuously learn and improve.
  • Evolve training program. To meet the changing demographics of your staff, try using short (one minute or less) and engaging online videos, each demonstrating a specific food safety practice. Make training materials highly visual with fewer words. Reinforce training with signage in the kitchen and around the community.
  • Be transparent. Employees want to be respected as valued contributors. Enlist the ideas and energy of your staff by being open about your communities' challenges and its successes. Employees will feel valued – and, in listening to them, you'll likely gain insights into how to improve food safety and other aspects of your operation.

An informed, engaged staff that values food safety as much as you do can be your single best defense against a foodborne outbreak. And the investments in staff members' training, growth and engagement will be time and money well spent. Strategic partnerships with vendors such as Ecolab can assist in identifying the right products, tools, processes and on-site training to ensure a properly implemented and executed food safety program.

Ruth Petran, Ph.D., is vice president of food safety and public health at Ecolab. She provides technical expertise and consultation on food safety and public health issues to internal and external customers, and she identifies and tracks emerging food safety trends and control strategies. Ecolab delivers solutions and on-site service to promote safe food, maintain clean environments, optimize water and energy use, and improve operational efficiencies for customers in the food, healthcare, energy, hospitality and industrial markets in more than 170 countries around the world.

McKnight's Senior Living welcomes marketplace columns on subjects of value to the industry. Please see our submission guidelines for more information.

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