To maximize valuable training time, the Environmental Health Sciences Division of Seattle and King County developed an educational tool, “DON’T GAMBLE ON FOOD SAFETY,” which is an inclusive, fast paced approach targeted for food service workers. Rather than simply lecturing on food safety, this training puts the participants in the “trainer” role. The program successfully worked with 75-100% of the staff in seven school district food service programs, several restaurants, and a catering business that provides food service to many large corporations in King County. The goal of the training is to improve the understanding and practice of safe food handling in order to prevent food-borne illnesses. The training objectives are to reinforce existing food safety knowledge, teach new safe food practices, and create an experience that will lead to better retention of food safety information.
The training is in a game show format with teams of food service workers competing for prestige, points and prizes. With a food inspector or other food safety expert as host, participants are guided through team selection, competition, and learning about safe food handling principles. The teams are formed with eight or more participants from various departments in the food service establishment. The training facilitator defines the featured “game show categories” (WHEN IS SICK REALLY SICK?, FOOD HANDLING GONE WRONG, FOODS THAT GROW GERMS), keeps track of the time for topic discussion, and provides a five minute wrap-up of the lesson. Most of the lesson specifics are brought out by the participants, with the facilitator filling in any critical information. Props can be used to make the game more fun and help the food workers relax with open minds to the learning process. Managers and food worker feedback indicates that this training heightens food safety knowledge, changes worker behaviors, and accentuates the importance each individual plays in a safe food service program.
Food-borne illness is a serious public health issue. The need for reducing the number of food-borne disease outbreaks in this country is staggering when one considers the estimated 76 million cases reported annually, and that more than 300,000 of these cases require hospitalization, and 5,000 of them result in death. Current training methods and inspections by either management or the food inspector may lead to short-term changes in food handling behavior. Long-term understanding and behavior change is most beneficial, which can be accomplished by providing food service workers with more information on why specific food handling methods are required.
Poor inspection results from many food service establishments demonstrate the need for more effective training tools. Issues that arise from these inspections are the basis of the information provided in the training. Many of the food safety problems arise because ill employees are working, poor hand-washing techniques, bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods, and food being kept at improper temperatures. It is also important to understand the “critical control points” of the food handling needed with a specific menu at a specific food service establishment. The three categories listed below, used during the team competition of the “Don’t Gamble on Food Safety” training, focus on the factors contributing to millions of food-borne illnesses each year:
WHEN IS SICK REALLY SICK?: Symptoms of Food-Borne Illnesses
FOOD HANDLING GONE WRONG: Incorrect food handling at work and at home
FOODS THAT GROW GERMS: Potentially hazardous foods that grow germs if left in the Danger Zone
The skills and knowledge gained through in-house training, state mandated food worker card training, and the annual public health training are reinforced in the “Don’t Gamble of Food Safety” training. Getting food service workers to implement practices based on the food safety knowledge presented to them in training is a challenge. Food inspectors and health educators look for techniques that make food service workers develop and maintain long-term, positive change. Providing food service workers with the “why” behind the rules and regulations assists in helping them to realize the logic of the methods. Also, if they understand the “why” they are more likely to comply whether they are being observed by customers, their managers or a food inspector. The “Don’t Gamble of Food Safety” training focuses on providing this in-depth knowledge and utilizes the teamwork concept which is an integral part of every successful work team in the food service industry. The training also allows food inspectors and managers to pinpoint the food safety weaknesses of a particular establishment and develop solutions.
Whether the message is about proper hand-washing, thermometer use, or staying home due to an illness, workers need a reason to “buy into” the behavior that is required. Most training involves a lecture-style presentation (possibly with a video or PowerPoint show) and demonstrations. If the instructor is not vigilant at keeping the attendees attention and/or the presentation is monotonous, a critical teaching opportunity will be lost. The “Don’t Gamble on Food Safety” training responds to the concern that food safety training is “dull,” by providing a creative, interactive, and fun environment to learn in. The training engages the food workers in a competitive atmosphere and has allowed us to reach larger audiences and be more effective with limited training time. Managers also appreciate the active support of the food inspector as a partner for these trainings. It becomes a joint effort and not adversarial. Managers comment that their staff talks about the training for weeks afterwards with their coworkers which helps broaden and reinforce the impact of the knowledge shared, even to those who did not attend the training.
Agency Community RolesThe role of the local public health agency is to make “Don’t Gamble on Food Safety” available to food service establishments. Staff make contact with an establishment and explain the basic format and the benefits of the training. If the site is interested, program staff are available to be present and implement the training and provide props (e.g., casino decorations) and handouts on the topics to be discussed (distributed at the end of the game). The food establishment manager orchestrates the scheduling of staff to be available for the selected date and time and makes available a room with dry erase boards and prizes (if desired). Some managers encourage attendance from different job categories (server, cook, bar staff, front desk staff), providing a good mix of team members.
At the event, key food service management opens the “game show.” This helps to reinforce the partnership and collaboration in reaching the common goal of raising awareness and increasing knowledge about food safety. The team approach with management adds to the credibility of both the local public health agency as well as the site management by reducing the adversarial atmosphere, which may be common in regulator/regulatee relationships. Managers and staff alike have praised this as a turning point in their programs.
Partnerships, teamwork, and cooperation are needed for this training relationship between public health agencies and food service establishments. The program has successfully worked with seven school district food service programs, several restaurants, and a catering business that provides food service to many large corporations in King County. Additionally, staff has presented the training at a state-wide culinary training. During these times of budget cuts, staff shortages, and media interest in food safety, it is important for local public health jurisdictions to work closely with the food service industry towards common food safety goals. This practice fosters partnerships between local government and the food service industry, has workers share their critical knowledge, gives both workers and inspectors credibility, allows for “fun” learning, and has been a kick off to a new era of food safety for the participants.
Costs and ExpendituresThe effort to provide this training is negligible for both the public health agency and the food service establishments, which is one reason why this method is feasible. Labor is the primary cost for both groups. The “game show” training can be conducted with one public health agency staff although having at least two people works best, and the setup time is variable depending on the props that are used. The labor cost for the food service site will vary depending on the number of individuals that participate each time. The long term value of the training is perceived as far greater than the initial costs. Funding sources for the food service establishments have often come from their corporate/campus budgets. Grants can also be a source of funding for academic institutions, such as vocational colleges or culinary programs.
Feedback provided on the program has indicated that the expense was reasonable and worth the commitment. The food service establishments are not charged for this educational opportunity and feel that the costs incurred for their staff to participate is well worth it. They are grateful that the program provides the training for them which definitely helps them with their already hectic schedule, and they are eager to have us provide personal training for their staff. It is truly a win-win situation. The food service managers often share their feedback and positive experience with other managers which prompt them to contact us about providing future training opportunities for their staff.
ImplementationThe “Don’t Gamble on Food Safety” team concept has been used here in King County for over four years. A simpler, one-on-one version has been used for eight years. Because of positive responses, many facilities invite program staff back each year. The program can be easily repeated as time and resources allow, and the food service workers can get a fresh approach to permanently correcting weaknesses in their food service program each time. Initially, program staff make contact with food service managers and ask them if they would be interested in the training. They are always appreciative of the offer since they must provide on-going training for their staff, and the training provides a different and unique teaching method along with a partnership opportunity. Afterwards, this format can be replicated by the establishment’s own managers and trainers if desired.
Staff provides educational visits to most food service establishments once a year and this type of educational training can be used at that time if it is feasible for the establishment’s manager and staff. It is especially timely when there are problems with a particular establishment, since with staff's assistance the training can focus on the food safety issues that are most in need of change.
The Environmental Health Division at Public Health – Seattle & King County supports this style of training within our jurisdiction and recommends it to other health agencies. Several food inspectors and environmental health education specialists have been shown how to use this training method and have begun to offer it at the facilities that they regulate and at events that they attend. The Washington Restaurant Association which proctors trainings is also using this as a training alternative and schedules the “game show” format on their training agenda. Almost 1,000 food service establishment trainers are represented by this association in King County alone. A video of the “Don’t Gamble on Food Safety” training is shown weekly on a local television access channel and is available on the website for in-house training of trainers. This video format will be part of the food inspectors training options for the 10,000 King County food service establishments.