Operational Excellence

Features - Business Management

Changing the Culture Through Coaching

December 11, 2014

The industry’s culture change from reaction to prevention impacts all facets of food and beverage processing plants, including the what, when, and how of worker training. Because knowledge from the classroom does not always translate to behavior on the line, inspectors and auditors are beginning to look for demonstrations of learned behaviors. Thus, how information is delivered, received, and applied are becoming critical factors in successful, measurable food safety training.

To determine how the industry is currently conducting training, assess the results of this training, and help food processors and manufacturers compare and benchmark their training protocols and implementation against other national and global firms, a Global Food Safety Training Survey was conducted. Developed by Campden BRI and sponsored by Alchemy Systems with BRC, SQF, and SGS, the survey was sent to more than 25,000 sites worldwide and examined all facets of the industry including types of training, budget, activities, deficiencies, regulatory compliance, measurements of competence, and quantity and quality of training. (See The Survey, right table below)

The survey results, and Alchemy’s system, then became part of a study focused on the concept of behavior psychology. Conducted by Professor Philip Crandall, University of Arkansas Department of Food Science, and Associate Professor Jay Neal, Conrad N. Hilton College, University of Houston, to help corroborate the concept with scientific findings, the study will be published in the Agriculture, Food and Analytical Bacteriology Journal.

Applying Lessons Learned.

While the acquisition of data can provide important information about needed improvement, it is the actions taken as a result of the data, along with the science behind it, that provide for a culture change and applied improvement. Following that thinking, Crandall and Neal provide insights and examples of training and coaching processes that can be implemented in the food or beverage processing plant to help ensure quality and safety of your products.

“Instead of doing risk assessment, do task assessment,” Crandall said. The manager should work directly with each line worker and focus on specific tasks of each; go through each task one by one, then go through the entire process. Once the worker understands the complete process—both the how and the why—assess the applied behavior and apply a score. Then, he said, “go back and visit that person in six months and see how they are doing.”

The Survey

The Second Annual Global Food Safety Training survey focused on the importance of measurement, specifically how the value of training and its outcomes were measured, how companies identify whether training has been understood and, perhaps most important, the measurement of “sustained positive food safety behaviors” through coaching.

From the survey, a study was developed to explain the findings, the potential issues revealed, and how increasing use of behavioral coaching through recently developed technologies can help alleviate risks through greater workforce awareness of on-the-job safety. Some of the key findings include:

  • 66% of the respondents indicated that responsibility for food safety training at their facilities rested primarily with quality control or quality assurance.
  • 34% assigned responsibility to technical or human resources personnel.
  • 60% to 80% provided employee education through reading assignments, on-the-job training, refresher courses, onboarding and onsite internal training in the classroom.
  • Nearly 40% had incorporated coaching into their food safety training.
  • The most common audit deficiency was reported to be “incomplete training records” followed closely by issues associated with refresher training and “a lack of understanding by (the) employee.”
  • More than 20% of audit deficiencies were attributed to employee failure to understand concepts that had been taught in the classroom.
  • To measure the value of training, nearly 70% chose product quality as their primary metric for training outcomes, with success measured through internal metrics and limited product complaints.
  • Only 35% listed behavior as a consideration for measuring employee comprehension, while less than half measured comprehension through on-the-job reviews.

The study concludes that the survey data confirms the importance and effectiveness of classroom training in establishing a food safety culture, but responses to the survey questions reveal the need for behavioral observance on the plant floor long after examinations have been passed.

Additionally, with one of the more pronounced complaints being an inadequate amount of time and resources to effectively train personnel, new technologies in training are cited as being designed to address these issues.

It also is stated that training should be proactive and goal-oriented to achieve specific outcomes, with one of those goals as developing the ability to influence behavior through effective employee coaching. This, the study states, will help to ensure that the lessons that are learned in the classroom environment are applied by workers in each step of the operation.

Finally, the study concludes, to be at its most effective, the training process cannot end in the classroom, rather verification of employee behaviors on the plant floor is needed to complete the education cycle and provide create operational excellence.

The full study, Lessons Learned From the 2014 Global Food Safety Training Survey developed by Campden BRI and sponsored by Alchemy Systems with BRC, SQF, and SGS, is available at http://www.

Establishing a food safety culture has to be a priority of both employees and managers, but it is ultimately dependent on the manager. “Whatever are the priorities of the manager are what gets done,” he said. If you have front-line employees or managers whose bonuses are dependent on cutting costs, they are likely to try to do so in all areas—including food safety, such as reducing the amount of cleaning chemical used to reduce expenses. Instead, Crandall said, “It’s important to tie food safety to a manager’s wallet.”

For example, a Food Safety Card could be developed on which quantifiable food safety variables are listed, such as handwashing, amount of sick time, and temperature logs. However, he added, not all of these are scientifically based and all need to be carefully calculated:

  • A handwashing counter—whether placed on a soap dispenser, faucet, or other system, would indicate amount of soap or water used, but doesn’t necessarily relate to efficient handwashing.
  • Sick time should be assessed through the thinking that you don’t want people constantly calling in sick, but if little to no sick time is taken, it probably means that workers are coming in when they are ill and posing a food-safety risk.
  • A temperature log can indicate if a product stays within its specified limits, but you need to be sure it is regularly calibrated, that anything that is out of spec is recalled in a timely manner, and that corrective action is taken to keep it from happening again. Additionally, if training has not led to understanding and behavior change, employees may be tempted to fabricate non-automated documentation instead of taking the time to do all the checks, or simply to show desired results.

Documentation is valuable when an inspector or auditor visits your plant, but taking the time to document everything can put operations in a difficult spot, Neal said. “Regulators want lots of paperwork, but does that really keep foodborne illness from happening? We sometimes spend more time documenting what we are doing than we spend doing it,” he said.

Although some documentation and tracking is important, instead of spending hours each week recording behavior, a manager should be on the floor with the employees observing behavior and retraining where needed. Thus, of greater importance is specifying and focusing on the responsibilities of each employee and those of the manager. To focus on behavior rather than paper, the food safety program should be based on the question, “What behaviors does a manager need to be looking for and tracking?”

Food safety can be difficult to quantify, but doing so can indicate whether or not systems are in place—and are working, Crandall said.

Another way of assessing food safety systems is having a regulatory inspector or auditor do a pre-shift walk through, Neal said. Such inspections can note things that may not be as quickly noticed by those who are in the plant day after day. But it is the details that can make or break a program. “If you’re paying attention to the little details, it will add up,” Neal said. “There is not a single silver bullet, rather it takes a lot of shotguns.”

An Evolution of Training.

Ensuring that line workers follow health and hygiene standards necessary to prepare foods for human consumption is not new. As explained in A Personal Hygiene Behavioral Change Study at a Midwestern Cheese Production Plant (2014, J.A. Neal1, C.A. O’Bryan and P.G. Crandall), the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 21 Section 110.10 describes employee health and hygiene practices within the context of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and the steps necessary to prepare foods for human consumption.

As the study notes, the code clearly states that the management team of food processing plants must take responsible measures and precautions to ensure the following:

  • Exclusion of ill employees from working who pose a risk of contamination of food products, food contact surfaces, or food packing materials.
  • Cleanliness of employees which includes wearing clean garments to protect food and maintaining adequate personal cleanliness.
  • Proper hand washing.
  • Removal of all jewelry.
  • Glove maintenance.
  • Effective hair restraints.
  • Proper storage of employee belongings.
  • Control of eating, drinking, chewing gum or using tobacco in appropriate locations.
  • Education and continual training of employees.

And, while employees are held responsible for their own behavior, it is the manager who is certified and ultimately is held responsible, Crandall said.

Additionally, Neal said, as part of the Global Food Safety Initiative’s (GFSI) goal to change the global approach to food safety from damage control to prevention, auditors for the GFSI schemes will want to see documentation of behavior along with employee demonstration of their understanding. “That’s a shift,” he said.

A Shift to Coaching.

To meet the shifts that are occurring in the industry, the facility needs to incorporate a corresponding shift in training. Thus, Crandall said, instead of standing in front of a room and speaking to PowerPoint slides, managers should conduct more interactive, specific training—think coaching. Just as a football coach reviews the films of previous games, focusing in on plays, what went wrong or right, and what needs to be done better, so too can the trainer use this same sort of technique in behavior training.

One way of doing this is to present a series of situations and gather input on the problem, potential impacts, and solutions. That is:

  1. The situation. Without naming names, present a real situation that occurred in the plant that caused, or could have caused, a food safety hazard.
  2. The problem. Ask the workers what the problem was. Why was it an issue? What could have occurred? Why would that have presented a food safety hazard?
  3. The solution. What should be done to correct the problem, and ensure it does not occur again? What lessons can be learned from this situation?

“Make it as real-world as possible—and you can get creative,” Crandall said. If it is applicable to the situation, go ahead and have fun with it, perhaps setting it up as a crime scene and having the workers be the investigators. “Have them engaged,” he said. “It is the trainer’s responsibility to make the material interesting, not just to cover the material.” The goal is for workers to hear the situation, understand that it could really happen, and apply the learned behavior when they are on the plant floor.

“It’s not rocket science, anyone can come up with stories,” Crandall said. In fact, he added, “Everybody has stories—use those.”


The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at llupo@gie.net.