The CDC reports there are 48 million cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. each year, leading to an estimated 3,000 deaths. The CDC goes on to say the majority of these illnesses are the result of poor handling practices. With the biggest issues being time-temperature problems, cross-contamination, and sub-par personal hygiene.

Food Safety Training

Many states require restaurants have just one employee who’s certified in national food protection standards. And while that may be the minimum requirement by regulatory agencies, recent food illness problems from restaurants like Chipotle have shown this may not be enough.

Despite the value of training that can even save lives in the restaurant industry, there seems to be a lack of focus in this area, and that’s for a few different reasons.

One reason? It can be expensive for employers to provide traditional training for restaurant employees, particularly when they have a large number of staff.

The restaurant industry also has a significant number of part-time employees, which presents training challenges including time and engagement issues.

Many back-of-the-house employees aren’t native English speakers. Which can cause problems in understanding training, and restaurants also tend to be a very busy, high-stress environment where there’s the feeling there isn’t time for in-depth training.

Despite these issues, restaurants are seeing what the impact foodborne illnesses and issues can have on their reputation and profitability. Chipotle has been the darling of fast-casual dining for years, but in the wake of hundreds of illnesses throughout the country, their stocks are down, and company leaders are rethinking how they approach food safety and training.

The Benefits of e-Learning

One of the best things restaurants and retail food organizations can do to safeguard against illness is to turn to e-Learning as a training delivery method.

e-Learning is the ideal delivery mechanism for a fast-paced environment where employees have a limited amount of time to undergo training. It’s also cost-effective and can be tailored to the needs of your restaurant and your staff. Employees don’t have to come together in one location to undergo training. Instead, focus on responsive training that can be accessed via a range of devices including computers, smartphones, and tablets.

Make sure e-Learning is brief and to-the-point, as well as easily accessible. This will make it easier for employees to refer to content when they need it—such as looking up in their training material what temperature chicken should be cooked to.

Another reason e-Learning is advantageous? You can easily tailor it to employees whose first language isn’t English. The CDC released research showing restaurant employees whose native language isn’t English have more risky safety behaviors at work, and that’s likely due to the simple fact that they don’t fully understand all training materials. Keep that in mind and tailor e-Learning to their language needs. Using an online delivery system makes this more realistic and budget-friendly than it would be to offer in-person classroom training in several different languages.

Also, with food safety training keep the focus firmly in that realm. Don’t try to include safety training within a larger and more general course of employment. Be very concise, specific and to-the-point with food safety training because of its level of importance.

Train Not Only On What, But Also How and Why

It’s important to make restaurant and food safety training resonate with employees, and one way to do this is to include not only the general “what” concepts, such as the fact that hands should be washed after X, Y and Z, but also how that should be done and why.

Create a link between all of these ideas, and show employees how to do things correctly. As well as why not doing it correctly can be detrimental to everyone, and even lead to deaths. Teach about the impact of food-borne and food safety illnesses.

And not only what employees will gain if they do take the proper steps, but also what they can potentially lose. Make it resonate on a personal level for employees if you want training to stick with them and have an impact on how they behave.

In one CDC study it was shown some employees were washing their hands at the right time, but then weren’t washing correctly, demonstrating that it’s important to give employees actionable guidelines as to how to do the correct behaviors in the workplace.

Train on Internal Policies

Something that’s frequently left out of employee food safety training? Information about restaurant policies, particularly as they pertain to illnesses.

Many employees may report to work when they’ve been experiencing vomiting or diarrhea without even realizing it’s problematic.

Train employees not just on how to be safe in the workplace. But also how to recognize symptoms that could mean they need to miss work.

Use e-Learning training to highlight these symptoms. What internal procedures and rules are regarding illness, and how to report symptoms to their managers. The more educated employees are on sick day policies. The more you’ll be able to combat them inappropriately reporting to work.

Assessments Are Crucial

If there is one industry where training assessments are necessary, it’s the restaurant and retail food industries.

It’s important for restaurant managers to be able to gauge the level of learning of employees to see where changes may need to be made to training.  But it’s also important from a compliance standpoint.

If you ever do encounter safety-related issues, having employee assessment and training data compiled in a learning management system can help you avoid a full-blown scandal.

Keep LMS-based data on each employee that clearly demonstrates not only what training they’ve completed, but also their assessment scores and any certifications that may have been issued.

Focus Food Safety Training on Managers

Research shows managers often demonstrate a big lack of knowledge in food safety. So how can their employees be expected to follow guidelines?

While training for employees is vital, of even more importance is intense training for managers.

Train managers regularly, give frequent refresher courses and update information whenever it’s needed. Your managers are your first line of defense against food-borne illness and safety problems in a restaurant.

So invest the time and energy to giving them the training that will allow them to be true leaders in this area.

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