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Food safety training too often a ‘tick box’ exercise

By Rick Pendrous , 28-Aug-2013
Last updated the 28-Aug-2013 at 16:54 GMT

Well trained? Too many small food manufacturers go through the motions of staff training in food hygiene in order to prove due diligence, claimed Alchemy Systems

Well trained? Too many small food manufacturers go through the motions of staff training in food hygiene in order to prove due diligence, claimed Alchemy Systems

Too many small food manufacturers merely go through the motions of training their staff in food hygiene in order to prove due diligence to their customers and the regulatory authorities, a leading training provider has claimed.

Some companies often find it difficult to release staff from production line duties to train them effectively, according to Paula Morris, commercial director for Alchemy Systems, which provides training to a number of blue chip food companies.

They may also lack senior staff with the necessary experience and responsibility for setting up appropriate training programmes, she added.

“There’s a real big split in the UK,” said Morris. “You get some companies that are very forward thinking and always looking for innovative ways to train and make sure their employees are always improving.

“But you get a lot of smaller manufacturing companies that don’t have a training manager; it might be the technical manager or the HR director in charge of training. For them the struggle, I increasingly see, is getting the operations managers or factory managers to let people off the line because their core business is getting things out of the door.”

Laid the blame

Morris laid the blame at the feet of companies’ senior management for not driving a strong enough food safety culture from the very top. She also attributed it to a degree of “complacency” in the industry, given the relatively low level of serious food safety incidents that occur in the UK.

“We find that a lot of training is just trying to tick a box rather than change behaviour,” claimed Morris. As long as companies can show something to an auditor, they think they are doing enough, she added.

However, with increasing popularity of unannounced audits by the major multiples, such derogation of responsibility is likely to be noticed, she said. “One of the big changes that is increasingly happening – and I think this will be better for the industry – is a lot of retailers are doing unannounced audits. And I think that is a really good thing.”

Morris said that as the supermarkets increased their scrutiny of the food safety along their supply chains they expected suppliers’ staff to be better trained, with Level 2 hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) qualifications on top of Level 2 food safety training or its equivalent, which is usually specified for food handlers.

“Level 2 HACCP is a whole course on HACCP. It’s a lot more in detail on HACCP. Retailers have been talking about a need for that as well,” she added. “We are now seeing a lot more clients, people like Tesco, who are wanting farm to fork training.”

Fast food chain McDonald’s

Likewise, she added, fast food chain McDonald’s had also raised the scrutiny of its supply chains.

“I think there will be a lot more pressure now, not just on the food manufacturers but the growers and packaging companies – anyone to do with the food process to make sure their people are trained as well.”

One of the biggest obstacles with food hygiene training has been in knowing how effective it was, she said. In response to this, Alchemy Systems, which is sponsoring Food Manufacture’s Food safety conference: What have we learnt from recent crises? , will be introducing an audit module to its training programmes next year designed to measure how successful training has been.

“The supervisors down on the floor will have a tablet [computer] and they will have to do spot checks on people; they will be checking for CCPs [critical control points]; how they wash their hands; all of these things. And, if people don’t do it correctly they will be put straight back in the loop to be retrained,” said Morris.

“If they do it correctly, we will tell them they are doing a great job.”

Foodmanufacture.co.uk’s publisher William Reed Business Media runs online food safety training courses. More details are available here

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