For those of us in food service, safety is the number one priority. Yes, we also love to serve healthy, delicious and creative cuisine. But when it comes right down to it: we have to start with safety.
In fact, food safety is so important that the month of September is Food Safety Month, an important time to re-focus on everything we do to keep employees and customers safe from foodborne illnesses.
I believe education is the key to ensuring a culture of food safety in food-service organizations. By educating both our managers and our front-line workers about threat to food safety, we can keep safety top-of-mind and reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
Studies, like this one from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), show that when managers who are trained and certified in food safety are present during food preparation and service, it leads to improved inspection scores and a reduction in major foodborne illness risk factors.
Ever since the onset of regulatory oversight, inspections have focused on food-safety violations. Too often, the response to a safety violation is to correct the problem and move on. But this is a reactive approach, not a proactive one. To prevent violations from recurring, food service establishments have to be proactive about safety.
I recommend that all food-service organizations implement food safety management system—so do the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A food safety management system is a set of stringently enforced policies and practices that will prevent, eliminate, and reduce the occurrence of foodborne illness risk factors. Creating a system with strong oversight will drive new habits and create a culture of continuous improvement when it comes to safety.
Education should be a major component of any food safety management system. All employees who handle food should receive food safety training when they’re hired and annually after that to make sure their knowledge is up to date. At Sodexo, we require annual trainings and we reinforce these safety topics throughout the year at daily and weekly meetings that we call “safety huddles.”
Additionally, our food safety management system requires all managers, supervisors and dieticians who are involved in food service be certified in the ServSafe® training program, which is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-Conference for Food Protection (CFP). Currently more than 8,000 Sodexo employees are ServSafe Certified. We require them to recertify every three years rather than the five required to ensure they’re equipped with the most up to date food safety knowledge and resources.
Being a certified food safety manager empowers those employees to take appropriate actions to prevent, eliminate or reduce foodborne illness risk factors. Our certified managers walk around, talk with our employees, observe staff behaviors, and verify that our food safety requirements are being met. If they see something they need to change, the certified food safety manager asks himself or herself if they have seen it before and why they are seeing it. Fixing the root cause of the system breakdown is the only way to have sustainable success.
How is your organization making safety a priority? Share your idea in the comments.