A chef prepares appetizers on wooden blocks.

Photo by ELEVATE from Pexels

The fact is, food handler training can shield a restaurant from a costly mistake.

Investing in Food Safety Training—the Key to Your Restaurant’s Success

Here's the problem. When it comes to food safety training, the trickle-down approach doesn't work.

Many times, restaurants rely on a "trickle-down training" approach. Restaurants will invest in formal training for managers. Then, managers will use their knowledge to instruct and correct front-line employees.

It makes sense. Front-line employees are less likely to stick around. One analysis found that the average tenure of a server is slightly under two months. On the other hand, managers are fewer in number, more responsible, and less likely to leave.

Here's the problem. When it comes to food safety training, the trickle-down approach doesn't work.

Why the Existing Training Process Isn’t Working

When it comes to food safety, all 50 states require some degree of formalized manager training. However, only a few states and a scattered number of counties require it for other employees who handle food.

But here's a scary statistic: in one survey, 40 percent of managers admitted they didn't provide food hygiene training to employees at all. Even when they do, 40 percent of on-the-job food safety knowledge communicated by managers doesn't transfer to employees.

The lack of training helps explain why a manager's food safety certification has no significant impact on health inspection scores.

Still, many factors contribute to the failures of the current system:

  • Restaurant managers have competing priorities, and many seem more urgent than training.
  • High employee turnover would make effective safety training a full-time job by itself.
  • Managers have no training in effective teaching techniques.
  • Ad-hoc training is inconsistent by nature.
  • When placed on the spot by their boss, employees may pretend to understand something they don't.

This isn’t to say managerial food safety training isn’t important. In fact, FDA studies have confirmed a correlation between the presence of a certified food protection manager and better safety practices.

Managers play a critical role in keeping the ship on course, but they can't improve food safety alone. They can't be everywhere at once, and they don't directly carry out the necessary food safety protocols.

Front-line employees do, and the data is compelling that they need structured training in how to prevent food-borne illness.

Yet only 10 percent of them receive it.

Reasons to Invest in Food Handler Training for ALL Employees

In 2008, the FDA observed food safety practices in retail establishments across the country. Here are some of the things they uncovered:

  • Three out of 4 restaurants were out of compliance in hand-washing practices
  • Employees were observed touching meals with bare hands in 46.3 percent of restaurants
  • Proper sanitizing of food-contact surfaces/utensils only happened 36.5 percent of the time
  • Safe time and temperature controls were only practiced 45.3 percent of the time

Additionally, the CDC stated that of the foodborne-illness outbreaks in 2016, restaurants were the most commonly reported location at over 50 percent.

When restaurant leadership doesn’t have a formal training program for front-line employees, they are taking a substantial risk with the public’s health, as well as the health of their business. For example, it can take years for a restaurant to recover its reputation after a food poisoning incident, even if it has a large PR machine.

Food handler training is designed to get the appropriate amount of food hygiene information into the hands of those who need it most. Moreover, it works. A 2008 study from Kansas State University found that online food safety courses significantly improve key behaviors like hand-washing, cross-contamination, and time-temperature controls.

Online Training Fits Perfectly for Restaurants

Restaurants need food safety training that is effective, affordable, and up to date with local laws and regulations.

While in-person training with a qualified instructor sounds great on the surface, it’s nearly impossible for most businesses. Luckily, online courses are a readily available solution.

When restaurants outsource food handler training to a reputable online provider, it means:

  • Courses are designed for accuracy, retention, and effectiveness by experts in food safety and learning science.
  • Each employee will get the same training experience focused on the most critical objectives.
  • The material will be tailored for jurisdiction-specific compliance and updated whenever regulations change.
  • Quizzes and test results provide managers a record of individual comprehension.
  • Course prices are more cost-effective than manager time. Two-hour food handler courses typically run about $10 per person.

Often, one provider can cover multiple training or compliance needs: food handler, alcohol seller/server, food safety manager certification, allergen training, and more. Additionally, many e-learning providers offer discounts or additional features for restaurants that purchase multiple courses.

The Solution for a Critical Risk and Compliance Gap

The fact is, food handler training can shield a restaurant from a costly mistake. On-the-job training has proven ineffective. Big chains can afford to invest in custom training programs, but other businesses are left in the dust. Online courses provide an effective method for improving food safety practices, preventing a PR disaster, and most importantly, protecting the health of customers.  

Muddassir Katchi is Vice President of Product at 360training.com. In his role, Katchi focuses on product strategy and lifecycle management, as well as overseeing the planning and production of 360training.com’ regulatory-approved training programs. Prior to 360training.com, Muddassir spent many years growing and scaling eCommerce and engineering startups with operations in North America, Europe, and Asia.