Best practices in food safety start with training and a food safety culture from the top down.
By Francine Shaw, president of Savvy Food Safety Inc.
Chipotle recently made news again for a food safety outbreak at an Ohio location that sickened 500+ people. Tainted romaine lettuce, pre-cut produce, and sandwich wraps have also been making headlines for sickening consumers.
Foodborne illness incidents are 100% preventable, and could be avoided if food businesses adopted a food safety culture, providing ongoing education/training and implementing proper food safety protocols.
Foodborne illness is a widespread, serious problem, sickening 48 million people, hospitalizing 5,000, and killing 3,000 in the U.S. annually.
Follow these tips to create a food safety culture as a c-store operator:
- Start at the top. Ensure that company leaders are setting a good example for employees to follow. When food safety culture starts with buy-in from leadership, employees understand that food safety is a priority, and are more likely to take it seriously.
- Explain why. It’s not enough to tell employees that they need to do specific things in the name of food safety (e.g., not cut raw poultry on the same board as ready-to-eat foods, take the internal temperatures of foods, etc.) Explain to employees why it’s so important to follow each protocol so they understand the reasoning behind the rules.
- Provide ongoing food safety training. Food safety training and education should be an ongoing effort. Train all employees, emphasizing why food safety is a huge priority for your organization. Provide continuous updates and refresher courses to keep food safety “rules” top-of-mind.
- Hire a third-party food safety expert. It’s invaluable to have an objective, third-party expert inspect your facilities at regular intervals, provide food safety training, and ensure that all food safety protocols are being followed.
- Conduct in-person training sessions. Do in-person trainings with a food safety expert—at least initially. Face-to-face interactions can help engage employees, emphasize key points and create a more memorable learning experience. Online training is helpful for refreshers and reminders throughout the year.
- Provide the proper equipment. Stock your commercial kitchen with the necessary tools to safely prepare and serve food. For instance, ensure there are food thermometers at every work station so employees can easily (and regularly) check the temperatures of the foods they’re preparing.
- Conduct self-inspections. Inspection will confirm all staff members are complying with proper food safety protocols. Emphasize that food safety should be taken seriously—every day, every shift, with every meal.
- Don’t allow employees to work when ill. Norovirus is a highly contagious illness that can be spread easily and quickly. If employees are vomiting or have diarrhea, they should not work. No exceptions – even if you’re busy and short-staffed.
- Avoid careless mistakes. Employees should know that even seemingly “minor” mistakes could sicken (or even kill) guests.
- Wash your hands. Insist on proper and regular hand washing—before every shift, after using the restroom or emptying trash, after touching raw food, money, cellphones, doorknobs, menus, etc.