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Coaching is crucial to food safety success

The Global Food Safety Survey 2014 reveals training plays an important role in maximizing safety program effectiveness. Photo: Alchemy Systems
The Global Food Safety Survey 2014 reveals training plays an important role in maximizing safety program effectiveness. Photo: Alchemy Systems

Alchemy Systems, Campden BRI, BRC Global Standards, the Safe Quality Foods Institute, and SGS have joined forces on a food safety study revealing key concerns shared around the globe, and areas for improvement.

The Global Food Safety Training Survey 2014 checked in with 25,000 food firms around the world to gauge budgets, challenges, audit deficiencies, and training activities.

Laura Dunn Nelson, industry relations director for Alchemy Systems, discussed the survey with FoodProductionDaily and explained what the results reveal about the evolution of food safety.

Why is this survey and the results useful for food processing and safety professionals?

Companies struggle with answering the question, “Are we training adequately?” The goal for this survey is to allow companies to benchmark their training program against the results of the global respondents.

The first step is to review the survey results and see how they’re training programs align with the global respondents--do they share the same training goals? How do they deliver their training? Do they experience the same challenges? Do they cover the same topics? Do they provide the same amount of training?

By making that assessment, they can identify where they are best in class and where they have some opportunities for improvement. The survey also provides a nice tool to socialize with their senior management team and discuss the allocation of additional resources to help achieve that ‘best in class’ status.

The survey results point toward the importance of coaching—could you please explain what safety coaching is and how it helps a food operation?

Companies continue to encounter food safety non-conformances despite classroom training–employees not washing their hands properly, improper glove use, incomplete documentation, etc. Why?

Research indicates classroom training alone will not deliver 100% compliance to food safety program. In fact, and independent study conducted in 2012–2013 reported after three corrective observations, compliance jumped from an average 68% compliance to a surprising 94% average compliance.

For example, after the classroom training, a supervisor will conduct a pre-determined number of employee observations each week focussing on those behaviors that contribute to food safety risks, quality issues, customer complaints, production downtime, labelling issues, etc. This provides the supervisor an opportunity to truly engage the employee to understand what prevents the employee from full compliance and to provide the coaching necessary to address those deficiencies; it also provides an opportunity for the supervisor to provide positive feedback around those behaviors that are correct as positive feedback is a key component of behaviour change.

Over time, employee behaviors are aligned and become habits, or “the way we do business.” Research participants reported, over time, employees themselves began to educate new employees joining their line on the correct behaviors—an example of a true food safety culture.

Are there any surprises or noteworthy findings in the survey?

It’s clear a status quo training program probably presents opportunities for improvement. Less than 15% of the respondents described themselves as “very satisfied” with both their quality and quantity of training.

Many companies feel handicapped to improve, as nearly 80% of industry professionals identified their biggest training challenge as “scheduling time for training” with verification of effective training as their second biggest challenge. Yet, 80% of those respondents have the lofty goal of achieving a food safety culture.

Another challenge for respondents is the simple fact many people are not experts in applied behavioral science.

FDA provided some compelling data in the proposed FSMA rule “Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food.” A FDA task force reviewed contributing factors to those recalls occurring between 1999-2003 and again between 2008–2009, noting ineffective or deficient employee training was in the top three reasons contributing to product recalls despite the fact that most of these companies had existing training programs.

Relying on sustained, positive employee behaviors is absolutely critical in today’s competitive environment. Whether it’s regulatory data or individual plant experiences of repeated food safety nonconformances, companies recognize the need for a more effective training program to insure employees understand the food safety program expectations and execute the food safety program by observing those critical behaviors and procedures.

What, if anything, do the survey results reflect about shifts in attitudes toward safety training?

The 2014 Global Food Safety Training Survey asked respondents how they provide training to their employees. For the first time, almost 40% of the respondents identifying coaching as one method of training with on the job training and employee review of policies as the top two training methods; more than 20% of the respondents indicated lack of understanding by employees was one of the top three reasons for their training deficiencies.

This growing recognition of the role of employee coaching to optimize employee behaviors is relatively new to the global food industry community. For years, standard food safety audits required documentation of employee comprehension of sanitation, HACCP and allergen training, typically through written quizzes; now, companies must access their own operations to determine what training is needed to insure a safe, quality product is produced.

QA professionals not only must confirm employee training through successful quiz scores; they also verify appropriate employee behaviors on the plant floor. Companies that have embraced this new approach to food safety training have experienced less errors and high product and process compliance which presents a competitive advantage.

Please describe Alchemy’s SISTEM platform—how does this particular training/coaching tool work, and what sets it apart from similar programs?

The SISTEM platform is designed exclusively for the food industry as a tool to harness their most important asset: their workforce. Successful companies recognize the significant value they can deliver to their company, customers, and investors by optimizing their workforce to achieve operational goals.

Imagine the ability to take your most effective supervisor, your most dedicated, efficient employee and transfer those skills to your entire workforce. SISTEM provides a collection of tools to facilitate the effective transfer of knowledge, verify applied knowledge and behaviors, and aggregate paperless, secured recordkeeping.

As adult learning experts, we offer numerous multilingual, highly interactive courses developed and vetted by industry leaders. Our solution provides the ability to take common, company specific PowerPoint presentations and transform them into interactive training with embedded quizzes.

Our tablet application provides a fully customized template to verify employee behaviors on the plant floor confirming they know what to do and are, in fact, doing it. This evolution of employee training—training employees on critical processes and procedures and verifying their successful execution of those critical processes and procedures—allows us to provide a true return on training investment.

What else can you tell us about the survey, and the food safety landscape in general?

The global food industry is changing rapidly; evolving technologies, increasing global sourcing, new markets, changing customer preferences, and a changing workforce all underscore the need for a dynamic approach to employee training. Actual training content may be outdated or may not be in a language or education level that can be understood by the current workforce.

Eighty percent of respondents ask employees to read and document they understood their policies and SOPs, and yet the majority of the workforce 30 years old or younger have never read a newspaper and look to quick bullets from their smart phone to learn. Adapting to different learning styles by providing different training delivery methods is critical to insure training is effective.

The workforce is becoming more and more diverse with different cultures and languages and yet many companies present their materials in only one language. For the second year in a row, the majority of survey respondents were unable to define their training investment for employees and supervisors.

Few companies budget for employee training. Research and regulatory studies alike confirm that an optimized workforce will deliver clear value to an organization—reduced errors, increased efficiency, increased productivity and a more stable workforce.

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