Foodservice professionals from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., this week for the Food Safety Summit, a three-day event packed with exhibitors, information sessions and workshops focused on minimizing risk and increasing traceability and smart food handling. I attended an interactive workshop, “Contemporary Issues in Retail, Foodservice & Grocery Operations: Best Practices and Practical Models,” where attendees heard from industry experts about topics ranging from time and temperature control to fostering a positive food-safety culture. One of the most important steps in minimizing risk is having a well-trained staff who know the ins and outs of proper food safety. Compass Group, a leading foodservice management company with contracts that include everything from vending to restaurants to health care, has developed an impressive model for employee training. Senior Food Safety Manager Bryan Langellier explained the main ideas behind the company’s five-minute-lesson approach.

Come up with a plan. Compass Group’s first step in employee training is to work with managers to come up with a unit-specific planning guide. Coming up with an outline of the procedures and practices to be addressed in training is half the battle when cultivating a successful staff, and no detail is too small. Even something as small as designating a place for employees to store their belongings can help streamline day-to-day operations. “That sounds like a stupid thing, but not when you’re working in a facility that has no locker rooms and the manager’s office might be in a storage room,” Langellier explained. Paying attention to the details may even help managers save money. For example, Langellier said, “the positions who are required to take food temperatures are the only ones who need food thermometers,” so knowing exactly how many you need to order will help cut costs.

Keep it short and simple. “We learned some years ago, through trial and error, that [hour-long] food-handler training classes do not work,” Langellier said. Instead, Compass Group uses a system of 24, five-minute lessons to introduce and explain food-safety topics from food storage to hand hygiene. Short sessions mean that employees’ minds don’t start to wander, and they walk away with a small enough amount of new information that they can easily commit to memory. Find a time of day that works well for you and your employees — such as the beginning of each day or during a pre-service meeting — and try to hold sessions at a consistent time.

Find your focus. At the beginning of each session, identify what employees are expected to take away from it and why it’s important. While the importance of food safety may seem obvious, connecting each lesson to a purpose and explaining what is at stake if employees don’t do their jobs correctly can make all the difference. If workers equate washing their hands with preventing foodborne illnesses, they are much more likely to be vigilant about it. Additionally, make sure the information presented in each session is aimed at the correct audience. It’s important to know what knowledge is important to employees versus what knowledge is important to managers. For example, “managers need to know ‘How hot does the hot water need to be?’, employees don’t,” Langellier said. Focusing on just the information that workers need to do their jobs cuts down on confusion and helps keep everyone on track. Similarly, try not to spend too much time going over the exceptions to every rule.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. After going through all 24 training sessions, Compass Group recommends that managers continue to cycle through the same topics. The first round serves to implement the training, but all subsequent rounds work to verify employees’ knowledge, as well keep rules and regulations fresh in their minds.

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