Fiona Kibby, Director of the Society of Food Hygiene and Technology (SOFHT) looks at the importance of a sound food safety culture in food manufacturing and give advice on best practise in food safety training.

The food industry continues to evolve and change at a faster rate than ever before. Global supply chain complexity, increasing international food regulations and trade requirements, and diversified consumer preferences all apply pressure on companies to consistently adapt to these challenges amidst their own competitive landscape. Developing a food safety culture that is embraced by everyone from the production line to the board room should be essential to every food business, no matter what its size.

Much is written about the hard science of food safety such as microbes, temperature control, contamination and HACCP for example. But until fairly recently the ‘softer stuff’ such as the impact of human behaviour on food safety and control has been given much less attention. However it is true to say that the majority of problems in food safety have their basis in human action or error. In short therefore if a business wants to improve its food safety performance, changing the behaviour and attitudes of the work force by developing a good food safety culture and effective training is imperative.

It is a legal requirement for all food handlers to be trained in food safety and that food handlers are supervised and instructed and/or trained in food hygiene matters commensurate with their work activity. This would apply to any food business regardless of their product or scale of production. Most larger businesses that supply retailers or who wish to have third party accreditation for other purposes such as export will need to comply with the requirements of the third party scheme that they subscribe to such as BRC.

Employees come from a diverse background of different languages, education levels, cultural backgrounds, and varied ages that all demand appropriate communicate tools to address this diversity.

The majority of training is developed by food safety professionals at an intellectual level far above the average worker’s level of food safety understanding. Often, training is provided in big, dense chunks in order to maximise the limited training time only to find that many employees only retained a small portion of the training material. Language barriers also create a challenge as many companies only have the time and resources to develop their training in English. For the first time, four distinct generations are now in the workforce, all with distinct learning preferences that are seldom addressed in historical training materials.

So what makes good training?

Good training for food handlers should focus on the positives of good food safety practice. This should highlight the benefits for customers of enjoying a clean and hygienic service, or in food factories employees having a clean and well-ordered, pest free working environment. Tidiness and cleanliness will support the Health & Safety in reducing the risks of slips and trips too.

Training should recognise the many ways in which people can learn and respond to learning, as well as their proficiency in English. E-Learning courses which can be managed in short 15 minute modules work well where space and time for training is limited. These can also be updated and refreshed more frequently as there are no expensive printing costs. Elearning works well for those with poor literacy skills as there is less need to write things down. Images and short video clips can help with messaging and make a course much more fun too. Modern learning often takes the form of ‘Gameification’ where staff can learn through playing simple online games. Elearning also makes the tracking and recording of employees learning journey easier.

Webinars and distance learning/ self-learn tools and face to face training ‘on the job’ can be also effective independently or combined. At SOFHT we offer ‘hop on, hop off’ level 4 Food Hygiene courses allowing delegates to flex their course around their day jobs. Some may choose to only cover the topics of interest rather than the full course. It’s a benefit to technical staff in particular who may not be able to leave their businesses for a whole day but can fit the modular course around their responsibilities at work. Jack Walker Quality Manager at Birmingham-based Crucial Sauces took SOFHT’s Carousel Level 4 Food Safety Training programme, allowing him to fit senior level food hygiene and safety training around his work commitments: “it was much more viable for the business for me to be off site one day per month rather than entire working week”, he says.
Translation of materials into the first language of trainees is key to success too. Many companies in the UK will find that they could have multiple first languages across their employees. As well as making it easier to learn, it shows an understanding and commitment to their learning success on behalf of the employer. Also ensuring that cultural differences are understood is important. Using different examples of food products or more recognisable scenarios and real people (not clip art/ cartoons) in the training can make a huge difference.

Food safety and hygiene is an important skill not just for work but for everyday life – making this message clear and giving people the necessary skills and knowledge to improve food handling at home can make the training better in the workplace too.

The Society of Food Hygiene offers a range of food safety and hygiene training programmes, from developing a food safety culture to basic HACCP. For more information contact