Food handlers don’t have time

Researchers at Kansas State published the results of a study of the barriers to food safety practices of food handlers.  Conducting focus groups with 159 food handlers, split into 2 groups, the researchers report that food handlers not only have a lack of food safety knowledge but also often a lack of understanding why employees should comply with food safety guidelines.

Yep. Totally.  So what do we do about it?

The recommendations the researchers provide are:
-Provide regular food safety training to their foodservice employees;
(sure, except training for knowledge change on it’s own doesn’t do much, as they state in their press release)
-Educate employees about the consequences of improper food handling to improve attitudes toward food safety; (we prefer to use “compel” instead of educate, education is too limiting).
Place signs about consequences of improper food handling in food production areas; (kind of like our food safety infosheets?)
And three food safety culture ideas — (at barfblog we’ve been talking about food safety culture for a while, as have Frank Yiannas and Chris Griffith):
Encourage food safety compliance with verbal reminders and praise;
-Be good role models;
-Incorporate food safety practices into employees’ daily routines to eliminate the perceptions that they do not have time to perform them.

Hey this is great — but what’s missing is the how. Just telling managers to make more time for food handlers isn’t very realistic. Food safety communications types, us included, need to get out and start testing food safety culture and measure behavior. And share the results so everyone can build on it.

I presented some similar findings of food handler barriers at IAFP 2007 and some qualitative data on food safety practices at food service (highlighting time pressures especially) at IAFP 2008. I don’t think the solution to time pressures is telling the industry to slow down, or more "education". I think we need to engineer processes and equipment (like self sanitizing knives), look to new tools (like using sanitizer during busy times, instead of handwashing) — and test them. If they work, and they don’t slow the kitchen down, it’s an easy sell.

Our research in food safety culture needs to move to show me, don’t tell me.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.