Every year, the CDC reports 48 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States, most of which are thought to result from food-handling practices.
Even though food safety training is legally required, there’s often room for improvement in food safety programs. The issue of training is further compounded by the fact that the food service industry has been hit hard by the labor shortage.
Given the increased health awareness post-pandemic, it is now more important than ever for every food business to ensure its food handling staff are adequately trained in all food hygiene matters.
Not only is this essential for public safety, but it is also crucial from a legal perspective. Failure to comply with food safety legislation can result in severe consequences, such as legal prosecution, substantial fines, closure of the business, or even imprisonment in severe cases.
Below, we explain how you can train your restaurant employees on food safety regulations. We cover the basic stages of training, as well as additional tips to make the process more effective.
The stages of food safety training
The law defines three categories of food handlers that undergo different levels of training based on the individual’s job and the type of food they handle.
For instance, high-risk food handlers require more extensive training.
Let’s look at the two main stages of staff food safety training in more detail:
Stage 1: The essentials
All staff members handling food must receive instructions on the essentials of food hygiene before they begin working at an establishment for the first time.
Some of the key points staff must be made aware of include:
- Maintain good hygiene and wear clean clothing.
- Wash your hands thoroughly – before handling food, before starting work, after handling raw foods and waste, after going to the toilet, etc.
- If you have any infected wounds, skin, throat, nose, stomach, or bowel infection, make sure to tell your supervisor and discontinue working.
- Do not smoke, eat, or drink in the food room.
- Clean as you go – keep all equipment and surfaces clean and disinfected at all times.
- Do not cough or sneeze over food.
- Avoid unnecessary handling of food.
- Keep all cuts and sores covered with a waterproof dressing.
- Keep perishable food items refrigerated or stored at safe temperatures.
- Do not handle raw and cooked food in the same place.
- Ensure food becomes piping hot when reheating it.
- Do not prepare food too far in advance.
- Follow all food safety instructions provided on the packets or received from supervisors.
For basic food safety, it’s essential that all team members follow these rules.
Stage 2: Hygiene awareness training
Once the basic training is complete, staff are ready to move on to stage 2 training, where they learn more about the causes of foodborne illness and best practices for prevention.
In general, full-time staff should complete this training within four weeks of starting, while part-time staff must complete it within eight weeks.
Key points in hygiene awareness training include:
- Causes, risks, and prevention of cross-contamination
- Sidework, preparation, and cleaning
- Safe food storage, including protection and temperature control
- Cleaning and disinfection, including materials, methods, and storage
- Safe waste disposal
- Germs and their potential to cause illnesses
- Pest control
- Foreign body contamination and how to avoid it
This level of training is to help staff develop a fundamental understanding of food hygiene, but it must be designed to be relevant to each individual’s role. The purpose of the training is to instruct staff how to carry out their job correctly and be aware of any monitoring processes or policies your business has outlined as part of its HACCP plan.
To ensure that every staff meets the legal requirements for food safety training, keep a training log or folder on each staff member that can track their progress and serve as certification for their training.
It’s important to keep in mind that training requirements may differ by city, county, and state.
Additional tips on staff food safety training
Here are a few more things you can do when educating team members to ensure full understanding and compliance:
1. Also train on the “Why”
Your restaurant’s food safety program is only as good as the employees implementing it. Therefore, making all parts of the training resonate with team members is essential.
Don’t simply tell workers what hygiene guidelines to follow – also include why taking these precautions is so important. Everyone knows what it’s like to have a bad stomach bug or to care for a family member who’s experienced one.
Emphasize prevention. Teach team members about the consequences of being negligent with food safety, and show them how to do things correctly.
2. Build a culture of safety
The ultimate goal of your food safety training program shouldn’t be just to avoid legal repercussions.
For the success of your restaurant, it’s essential to focus on building a solid culture of food safety across all levels of your business.
Here are some ways you can ensure your business practices food safety in its entirety:
- Create a comprehensive food safety policy
- Encourage open communication
- Build a robust reporting system
- Clearly define individual and team responsibilities, goals, and expectations
- Provide practical, hands-on training to each employee
- Regularly assess staff performance, behavior, and compliance
- Stay up to date with all safety and compliance rules
Open communication may sound rote in the wake of the Great Resignation, but it’s actually very important for safety. If your team members don’t feel like they can come forward when there’s a problem, that problem could get a whole lot worse.
3. Begin from the top
Sometimes, restaurant managers and owners demonstrate a serious lack of food safety knowledge. It’s not because they don’t care about food safety – rather, it’s almost always due to the fact that they weren’t adequately trained, themselves.
This points to an obvious problem, however. If the managers themselves don’t understand food safety in its entirety, how can employees be expected to properly follow food safety guidelines?
So while training employees is vital, it’s even more critical for managers to receive thorough food safety training, too.
All restaurant managers should complete advanced levels of food safety training, undergo regular refresher courses, stay updated on legal regulations, and be made to understand that food safety is one of their responsibilities as a manager.
Since managers are responsible for policy-making and overseeing business in the restaurant, they are a business’s first line of defense against safety problems and food-borne illnesses. This is why it’s important to invest time and resources in training them.
4. Conduct regular training assessments
There is no other industry where training assessments are more important than in the restaurant business. As a restaurant owner or manager, you must constantly stay updated on your staff’s performance to determine your training program’s effectiveness.
So keep a proper record of what level of training each employee has completed, their assessment scores and certifications, and areas where their performance could be improved. You can even tie an employee rewards program with these assessments to keep employee morale high.
Besides ensuring your staff is performing their job well, training assessments are also very important from a legal compliance standpoint.
For instance, if you ever encounter food safety-related legal issues, a compiled database of employee training and assessment records can help prove that you’ve done your job as an employer.
Food safety training simplified
To sum it up, there are two important components of training restaurant employees on food safety:
- understanding and implementing the two basic stages of training, and
- building a culture of food safety, ensuring all team members receive excellent training, and conducting regular assessments
To ensure that you’re keeping up with training and certifications, we recommend taking full advantage of TimeForge’s built-in certification tracking system.
TimeForge can automatically alert you and your team before certifications expire so that you can stay up-to-date at all times. The business stays compliant, and no one ever has to skip a shift because they forgot to renew their food handler card.
About the Author
Eva Maria Hanson, Digital Food Safety Specialist
My mission in FoodDocs is to reverse the misconception of people thinking about food safety as the most boring or scary topic in the business. My target is to educate and inspire everyone who sells or serves food about food safety.