The recent food safety breaches at 2 Sisters Group, exposed by The Guardian and ITV, highlight the fact that food safety is sadly not top of the agenda in some food manufacturing businesses. Corner-cutting when under pressure to reduce costs and increase productivity can have a serious effect on food safety. A basic ignorance of or neglect of safe food production practices often points to a lack of training commitment at all levels of a business. If companies wish to produce safer food, this needs to be addressed.
Date tampering affects food safety
The undercover investigation at 2 Sisters revealed staff altering source and kill dates for chickens, putting dirty poultry from the floor into the production lines and mixing fresher poultry with older birds. These are extremely dangerous practices. Altering kill dates can lead to consumers buying product past its ‘use-by date’ and becoming seriously ill as a result.
‘Use by’ dates are there for food safety reasons and it is illegal for companies to alter them. There are also obvious food safety risks with allowing food from the floor to enter the production process. Not to mention traceability problems when source information is changed and fresh and older birds are mixed.
Reduced human contact equals safer food?
2 Sisters is the UK’s largest supplier of supermarket chicken. Conversely, the amount of the pathogen campylobacter found on supermarket chickens has reduced considerably over the past 3 years. This is in part due to the introduction of new technology for safer food production. Sonostream systems which combine steam and ultrasound, or rapid surface chilling processes, are responsible for destroying 80-90% the pathogen on the skin’s surface. Other technology which reduces the level of human contact with food has helped to improve safety.
Benefits of online training
However, if companies are to produce safer food, the emphasis still needs to be on effective training. Some companies, particularly those with a high turnover of staff, opt for the more cost-effective option of online training. This type of training has its benefits, especially for basic entry-level training to meet minimum legal requirements. There is no major disruption to the working day since you don’t need to release large numbers of staff at a time. Staff have the option to study in their own time. There are no travel costs. Plus there is an electronic record of training progress, number of attempts to pass etc.
Recognition for sustained compliance
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced in the summer that they will be bringing in a new system for food regulation. This will come into effect by 2020. Within it there will be better recognition for those who demonstrate sustained compliance with the regulations. Those who don’t demonstrate compliance will be dealt with swiftly and severely.
Classroom-based training aids retention
Commitment from senior management should be clearly demonstrated in order to encourage ‘buy-in’ by staff in all departments and at all levels. By fostering a food safety culture throughout the entire business, with effective training at its heart, staff behaviours can be changed and food safety standards will rise.
For those in a managerial or supervisory role, achieving food safety qualifications should be viewed as far more than a box-ticking exercise. It’s really important that what’s been learned is retained in the minds of staff and is incorporated into everyday practices.
For this reason we believe that there is no match for face-to-face food industry training. Being in the same room as an experienced trainer means that you can ask specific questions relevant to your own business. The trainer gives real-life examples to illustrate key points. You can discuss ideas and participate in group exercises to aid retention of the information. There is the opportunity to share and discuss experiences with other delegates. If you have five or more staff to train, it is cost-effective to have an in-house courses at your own premises, where the content can be bespoke to your particular business.
Top marks for face-to-face training
“I don’t think there’s any comparison. Classroom enables group discussion, question and answer sessions, real-world examples from both the lecturer and course attendees, and all of this helps to build understanding from the participants.
There’s a place for on-line training but I don’t think it’s ideal for complex subjects such as HACCP and although you can ask questions of understanding at the end of an online course, as an employer, are you left feeling confident that your attendee understood the content?
From a personal point of view, I retain information from a classroom course, but have a hard time remembering anything I’ve learnt from online training.”
You’ll also get the most out of training if your trainers have hands-on experience of the food industry. All our trainers have several years’ industry experience and understand the daily challenges of food manufacturers and food processors. Similarly delegates on our auditing courses have the benefit of being tutored by people who actually do that job. They receive advice on what 3rd party auditors are really looking for so that they can ensure they are audit-ready.
In an age where the food industry is increasingly under the microscope, quality training is extremely important. Classroom-based courses either in-house or off-site are the key to continual improvement and the provision of safer food.