Rob Mancini: Food safety training is more than just another brick in the wall

Classroom-based food safety lectures remind me of the Pink Floyd video Another Brick in the Wall, where trainers gather the masses to pump out certified food handlers. It’s all about the money; it’s a business. The expectation in providing these courses is ultimately to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness. However, there is little evidence in the literature that the provision of knowledge actually changes food safety attitudes and behaviors. An effective food training course should not only provide food safety information, it should implement knowledge into practice for proper information retention, which is one of the points (point 5) I agree with in the article listed below.

pink.floyd.another.brickI have been out of school for a couple of years and heavily in debt but that is another story, and when I am attending a course with an exam component, I get flustered. Imagine someone who has been out of school for 20-30 years? Classroom-based courses present an overload of information in typically a one-day session. The participants are then obliged to memorize information presented and take an exam. The only thing these participants are concerned with is passing the exam so they don’t get fired from work. Effective food safety training is difficult and different people learn in different ways.

Participants should be informed on where to find the presented information, rather than memorize it. Memorizing doesn’t work and it definitely does not change behaviors; why not have an open-book exam? Ask the participants what they want and what would best suit their needs. I have done this.  The answer is always the same, reduce the number of hours and make the course hands-on focusing on the critical issues in food safety, i.e how to use a probe thermometer properly.

A group of corporate trainers and educators captured some of their thoughts and ideas on effective food safety training and identified 10 key training messages:

  1. “Do your homework” – Research the company and products that they produce and serve. Identify what food safety experiences the participants have so that you can deliver the most effective information and relate to what they do every day in their jobs.
  2. “Start off right” – Get people engaged and involve them in an activity as you begin your educational program. Have people introduce themselves and make them feel comfortable  speaking to the group.
  3. “Start low, and bring it up” – You are likely to have a very diverse group of participants with different educational levels and different sets of experiences. Be sure to introduce concepts at the “USA Today level” and then develop more comprehensive examples later to further describe the more complex concepts. You need to build a foundation of knowledge that everyone is comfortable in learning.
  4. “Get them involved” – Assemble participants into multi-disciplinary teams and involve them in real-world problem solving activities. Participants will learn much better when they use the skills and knowledge they have just learned.
  5. pink.floyd.another.brick.II“Make it real” – You need to relate the learning concepts to what they do in their jobs. Take a tour of the kitchen, study the flow of food, have them clean equipment or assemble a 3-compartment sink, have them show each other how they can calibrate a temperature measuring device, etc.
  6. “Open it up” – Questions are key to learning – encourage questions! Be sure to have an open training environment that allows time for people to ask questions. I often have a “question box” at the back of the training room for those participants who are apprehensive or afraid to ask questions.
  7. “Involve stakeholders” – John Marcello made a great point at the Food Safety Summit about the importance of bringing industry and regulatory together. Consider this an important relationship, and, think about how these important stakeholder groups can be brought together for food safety training.
  8. “Review it” – Be sure to have clear objectives for each learning lesson, and review these concepts at the end of the session. This will help them retain the most important information.
  9. “Make it fun – Celebrate” – Fun starts with a positive attitude of the trainer. Make the training session fun… and the participants will have fun also… and they will want to learn.
  10. “Evaluate and change” – A good trainer always makes time to ask the group how he/she did and how he/she can be better next time. Do an evaluation and respond to the comments from participants. Make suggested changes and be better the next time.