Unify Employee Education to Meet Upgraded Global Food Safety Initiative Standards

The most recent versions of the GFSI have intensified the importance of training in determining risk assessment, for seemingly obvious reasons. Poor training—or lack of training—places the plant and the company at risk for everything from non-conformance findings to product recalls and potential issues with public health.

Customers are also driving the growing emphasis on food safety training by demanding that processors and manufacturers achieve certification in schemes that meet GFSI standards, usually within certain time limits. That poses a particular problem for plants that have consistently allowed individual departments to set their own training standards. In these plants, particularly multisite facilities, there is little uniformity, and documentation is often sporadic, insufficient, and, in a few cases, non-existent.

The decades-old training procedure in which plants relied on instructors, general question-and-answer exams, and employee signatures as proof that effective training has been conducted, with little or no documented evidence of comprehension, is not considered satisfactory in light of this renewed emphasis. It is much harder to achieve certification in any of the acceptable schemes, including the British Retail Consortium, Safe Quality Food, or Food Safety System Certification 22000.

To meet the standards imposed by GFSI Versions 6 and 6.1, plants need a thorough documentation process that verifies training and comprehension in a unified and standardized manner, even for companies with multiple sites. A sophisticated automated and interactive technology offers the most workable and unifying solution to accomplish this goal.

GFSI’s Impact

It should be understood at the outset that GFSI does not dictate policy for food safety standards. As explained on the organization’s website, the GFSI Guidance Document is “a template against which food safety management schemes can be benchmarked and recognised as science-based, contemporary, and rigorous.” The approved schemes set precise certification standards that align with those of GFSI.

GFSI schemes and benchmarks are drivers for increased and enhanced protocols. One notable consequence of these more intensive standards is the fact that auditors are questioning more individual employees to assess whether they fully understand and apply the concepts they have been taught on the job. Unfortunately, there have been a number of non-conformance findings because of insufficient or erroneous responses to those questions.

The persistence of work issues involving temporary employees, along with troubling rates of fundamental good manufacturing practice non-compliances, should be viewed for what they are — symptoms of training-related issues and broad indicators that a plant has a less-than-acceptable food safety culture. It’s an intolerable situation that has to be rectified, starting with a thorough analysis of the training program.

“It’s especially challenging for temporary workers or seasonal workers, but their training is critical to a company’s success,” said George Gansner, director of global marketing and business development, International Featured Standards, North America.

At the same time, multisite food processing and manufacturing companies are recognizing that training requires a corporation-wide view. That is, independent plants that have long trained according to their own procedures will have to be standardized so that training practices and protocols are optimized at every facility.

Just as important is buy-in from senior management, which Gansner said has to be “in tune with how their food safety systems are managed.” Gansner said IFS, which has a scheme benchmarked by GFSI, integrates management practices because “integration provides a safe quality food product throughout the business.”

When the process is not fully integrated and is left to each plant’s discretion, issues are bound to flare up, and training lapses may be among the fundamental causes. A multisite company that experiences such headache-inducing and budget-busting issues as recalls, customer complaints, downtime, and market withdrawals will most certainly launch an internal analysis, which is likely to uncover some form of disconnect between training and plant floor performance.

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