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No time for training – a food safety risk?

Recently I have been involved with several large organisations. My role has been to provide training to the food safety teams – most of whom are middle managers.

These experiences have been painful, to say the least. It has been clear that the delegates have been distracted in many cases.

Virtual training has become the norm since the pandemic. Some of us prefer it – no traveling, no venue costs etc. etc. I get it. But there are definitely disadvantages. Emails, phone calls, interruptions, and challenges with screen fatigue.

If my observations were only related to virtual training, we could blame the platform, but these challenges were also observed in face-to-face training. It was very clear that delegates were stressed with calls from their production facilities, their subordinates, and their bosses. Despite “out of office responses” there was clearly no respect for the fact that training had been scheduled. Several delegates did not even arrive.

But the delegates were not without fault – late arrivals, travel arrangements that did not take the training schedule into account, poor timekeeping.

So, what is the problem here? These are symptoms of a food safety culture, perhaps a greater organizational culture. I must question the organisation’s value of training, skills development, and in this case, the need for food safety training.

During conversations, mentions of workload, deadlines, unreasonable expectations, and the list goes on and on.

So, besides the need for personal management, how does this impact food safety culture?

Ensuring our people are properly trained is essential for an effective food safety management system. The food safety team leader and the food safety team play a key role in establishing and implementing this system. If they are not properly trained because they cannot focus on training, this poses a risk to the business.

The pandemic has put the food industry under pressure. This is undeniable and regrettable. Retrenchments have been commonplace, but the work must go on. I get it.

But a word of caution. We should carefully consider the requirements of FSSC 22000. The 2018 version requires us to consider a risk-based approach to food safety. This should not only apply to the production processes but also to our support processes. Sufficient human resources are key to safe food. And this is also at a management level.

Are we considering the additional stress and workload caused by the pandemic and how can we support staff who may be stretched? What is negotiable and what is not negotiable for food safety to be effective? We need to appreciate that this economic climate can result in shortcuts and omissions, simply because there is no time. Let us be very aware of the potential risks of this volatile environment, but also the opportunity to simplify our food safety management systems to make them even more effective.