Personal behavior often has a cultural context, and cultural norms can vary between racial/ethnic groups, which explains the saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Because of the strong relationship between personal habits and food safety, however, effective communication of standardized safety rules and regulations to a multicultural labor force can only happen if everyone is on the same page. For instance, in 2011, the California legislature passed a law that mandates training for all food workers working in a retail foodservice establishment—followed by a test to earn the California Food Handlers Card. One of the companies translating that requirement into action is StateFoodSafety.com of Orem, Utah.
“We were the first CFHC provider,” said Christie Lewis, PhD, president of StateFoodSafety.com. The online training course is fully audio-visual and is available in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, and Vietnamese. “The strength of our organization is that we really work very closely with each of the stakeholders to provide them what they need.” The company works with health departments throughout the country, and courses are tailored to the cultural needs of the workers and the regulatory needs of the region.
“One of the things that’s important in terms of cultural differences is that none of the training or tests rely on literacy levels.” Materials are written at a sixth-grade reading level and bolstered by companion audio-visual components so that “everything should be understood by everybody,” said Dr. Lewis.
In training, cultural sensitivities are first addressed by avoiding the use of real people in visual aids. “Our programs are all illustrated, because that allows us the opportunity to bring in different cultures into the imagery,” Dr. Lewis said. In her experience, the use of an actual person invites the viewers to divorce themselves from the message being presented. “They say, ‘That doesn’t look like me,’ and they won’t identify.”
StateFoodSafety.com is also very careful with the specifics of language. “The communication must be very straightforward—you can’t use idioms, for instance—it might not translate.” The phrase
“No use crying over spilt milk” comes to mind: Does it convey the same meaning in Mandarin?