Supervisors Critical in Retail Food Safety

Following safe food handling practices could prevent many food-borne illnesses associated with the retail food service setting. Although food service employees are educated about these safe practices, training does not always lead to compliance. If training does not motivate employees to follow these practices, what does? Unfortunately, there is little current data available on this topic, but researchers are working to change that.

Susan Arendt, PhD, RD, LD, and a team of researchers are studying what prompts food service employees to follow safe food handling practices. Once they understand employees’ motivations, they’ll develop tools that will allow supervisors to tap into them.

This study, which began last September, was borne of the researchers’ previous work in this area. Dr. Arendt and her colleagues realized that training, which is often the primary tool used to motivate employees, has limited effect.

“We found that education, or training, certainly translated into knowledge acquisition regarding food safety, but that didn’t necessarily translate into the practice of safe food behaviors,” says Dr. Arendt, assistant professor in apparel, educational studies, and hospitality management at Iowa State University in Ames. “The bottom line was that just because we trained employees, that didn’t mean that they followed up and implemented their training in food service operations.”

Three-Phase Project

In the first part of the three-phase project, Arendt and colleagues have been testing a theoretical model of employee motivation developed in their earlier research.

To test this model, the researchers administered questionnaires to employees attending trade shows nationwide. More than 200 people participated in the pilot test. The researchers hope to test the validated questionnaire on more than 300 participants.

The second phase will start in the fall, when the team will develop educational modules for supervisors and managers. During the third phase, researchers will test the effectiveness of those training modules.

The team will publish their findings after each phase is completed, Dr. Arendt says. “We plan to develop a piece over the next year that will talk about our results in regards to developing and testing the theoretical model.”

Supervisors Critical

Although their research is still in an early stage, the work completed by Dr. Arendt and her colleagues has already underscored the important role played by supervisors in motivating employees. “Our work really revolves around the pivotal role of the supervisor and how important they are in motivating employees to follow safe food handling practices,” Dr. Arendt says.

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