Approximately half of the foodborne disease outbreaks reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year are associated with restaurants. Currently, there are no federal-level restaurant food safety training or inspection requirements in the United States. As a result, food handler educational and restaurant inspections vary radically from state to state. The quality and intensity also varies. The FDA discovered a correlation between restaurant-related foodborne disease outbreaks with restaurant inspection frequency. Their conclusion was a substantial food handler training is necessary at the national level.
Study Finds Lapses in Food Safety Knowledge
The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) produced a peer reviewed study of 729 food handlers at 211 suburban Chicago restaurants. The study was a year-long endeavor that lasted through 2010. The mean overall knowledge score was only 72% and substantial knowledge gaps related to cross contamination, cooking, and holding and storage of food were identified in the test. Spanish-speaking food handlers scored significantly lower than English-speaking food handlers. Although certified food managers scored significantly higher than noncertified food handlers, their score was only 79%. How can food managers with such a low score spread food safety knowledge effectively to their staff?
New Hires Need Training
Often times, food service workers have little to no training. They are given on-the-job training and sent to work. Food service training is important as it helps provide high quality of work, great customer service, reviews in technology and new equipment, and helps the business stay ahead of the competition. Since the majority of foodborne illnesses are attributed to food service workers, and the top contributing factors are related to worker behavior, the importance of properly training food service workers are critical. Food service training varies and has the potential to activate new ideas, furthers the understanding of the job (and even cross-train) and further align the staff with the priorities of the kitchen.
Culture of Safety
Food safety training should embrace a culture of safety and awareness. A food safety “program” is not enough as there are countless issues that could arise in the kitchen where a person must have a genuine understanding on preventing conditions conducive to harboring food borne pathogens. This relates to the leadership and organization: leaders must have a positive attitude about food safety. They should speak on food safety as regularly as possible and lead by example (e.g. wearing gloves, wearing hair restraints). This willingness should foster questions and discussions which may ultimately challenge practices in place which may jeopardize food. There is more than one right answer to how a kitchen can operate.
Give Staff the Resources They Need
The purpose of training is preventive in nature. The leaders of an organization should be proactive. A strong team of like-minded individuals focused on food safety will ultimately strengthen the organization as a whole. This willingness to have a strong food safety culture in place before an outbreak begins must come from the top down. Leadership should have activities and practices outlined which are prohibited, but must make systems in place to allow employees to understand them and comply. For example, employees are not allowed to change their clothes in the kitchen so leadership should have a locker room that is accessible before they enter the kitchen. They must have the right equipment such as enough colored cutting boards or disposable gloves in stock for each staff member. There should be an open door policy where employees can bring concerns to the top without the threat of retaliation. The business is only as strong as its weakest staff member in the kitchen and it takes the work of everyone from the dishwasher to the executive chef to deliver safe food.