Creating a Food Safety Culture

Q: We have written personnel practices based on the Good Manufacturing Practices. Our challenge is getting all employees, from management to line workers, on board following them consistently. How can we improve this?

We have written personnel practices based on the Good Manufacturing Practices. Our challenge is getting all employees, from management to line workers, on board following them consistently. How can we improve this?

Like most things in your facility, a program is only as good as the people executing it. Compliance is the end-goal, but buy-in is the path to that goal. In order to achieve buy-in, people need to understand what the policies are and why are they doing them. Let’s look at a few examples.

Hairnet Policies

Companies typically have a solid hair-restraint policy. This may include hairnets worn below the ears that cover all hair, beard nets that cover any facial hair, arm covers or long-sleeved shirts if there is significant product exposure, etc. Do employees understand why these precautions are set in place? Hair is not a food-safety hazard that will injure or kill the consumer. But have you explained that hair restraint is necessary because consumers do not want to find hair in their food? Taking it a step further, use an example of eating at home and finding a hair in the sandwich just prepared. Ask them if they would throw the sandwich away, complain to every ingredient manufacturer, or simply remove the hair and continue eating. Now, use the scenario of going to a restaurant and finding a long hair in their salad. Their reactions will probably be much different as they will want a new salad, want their money back, or possibly leave the restaurant and never return.

Hand Washing Policy

Your hand washing policy is probably based on GMPs: Employees shall wash hands prior to starting work, after using the restroom, after lunch breaks, after smoke breaks, after touching their faces, or any other time when hands may have become contaminated. This seems simple enough, but some companies struggle with people washing at proper times and also washing effectively. In order to get buy-in, you can use anecdotal situations, but you may have to look at other measures as well. Try these:

  • Conduct a hand washing exercise in your training area. Have people exhibit the proper steps of hand washing as a group. Do they get their hands wet first, then apply soap and scrub for at least 20 to 30 seconds, rinse appropriately, take the time to effectively dry their hands, and then apply sanitizer, if necessary?
  • Install clocks, with a second hand, above handwash sinks.
  • Install barriers at entries to food production areas that force employees to travel by the sink prior to walking directly into production.
  • Ensure the handwash stations are clean, properly stocked with soap, towels, and sanitizer and that warm water is immediately available.

Hand Washing Facts

Then share some facts with them:

  • One of three caterers don’t wash their hands after using the restroom.
  • Hand washing was practiced less after the development of penicillin. In 1979, the U.S. surgeon general proclaimed victory against infectious disease. This was short lived as antibiotics became vulnerable and infectious disease cases skyrocketed.
  • Hand washing/drying is probably the most effective way to prevent transmission of infectious diseases.
  • The CDC reports that 38% of reported foodborne illness outbreaks are due to poor hygiene.
  • It is estimated that global hand washing education could reduce disease rates by 30% to 40% and save a million lives each year.
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