Food Safety: Try educating, not training

The Austrian educator, Rudolph Steiner said, “If you hear, you forget. If you see, you remember. If you do, you understand.” This should be the basis of all educational programs that are developed for food processing plants. Education is one of the basic prerequisites for HACCP, and one that touches on all aspects of the development and implementation of HACCP prerequisites.

Management, supervisors and line workers need to hear not only what they should do, but understand what is being shared. This is education, not training. Training implies rote memory and repetition. Your workforce must understand not only how to do something, but why it is correct.

Training programs should be short and focused, applicable to the worker’s job, and interactive. It also helps if the programs are fun, since most individuals learn more when they are enjoying themselves. Steiner’s quote emphasizes the importance of interactive programs.

It is imperative to get your staff involved in the learning process. The key is to be flexible and tweak programs to meet the needs of your company. Education is not simply showing a video to staff. Education is when you show that video and then take people into the plant to see how the lessons in the video apply to your operation. This method enhances the learning process because the plant is an environment staff workers understand and includes situations that they may sense are wrong. This approach was very successful with Mexican produce company BioNova, which markets products under the Master’s Touch label. I have also seen several operations where photos were used to point out improper conditions (for example, those that can result in product contamination or injury to a worker). These operations post the good and the bad practices side-by-side with an explanation of what is wrong. After the pictures were posted, the workers knew right from wrong.

One fun and interactive tool available today is GLO-GERM. This tool helps teach food plant staff the importance of hand washing and how germs spread. It is especially effective when dealing with workers who do not understand the basics of good personal hygiene. They can’t see bacteria, so why should they worry? Using the GLO-GERM in combination with Petri dishes containing media shows that bacteria are everywhere. Have your workers touch a dish with four fingers, and then have them wash or wash and sanitize their hands. They will learn quickly how hand washing and/or sanitizing can make a difference.

An article in the May 20, 2002 issue of Sports Illustrated about Bora Milutinovic, coach of the World Cup Chinese national soccer team, drives the point home. The article says that “he instructs by asking questions, a revolutionary concept to his players.” China’s educational system, like those in many parts of the world, is one where the teacher teaches and students listen. There is no exchange. As an educator in a food processing operation, it is up to you to facilitate exchange of ideas. You need to not only get the message out, but be sure that it is understood and acted upon. There is a greater chance of this happening if the staff understands why they need to perform certain tasks. If you can do this, you are now an educator, not just a trainer.

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