Establishing a Food Safety Training Program

Each year statistics show many people suffer from food borne illnesses caused by improper food safety practices during food processing. Implementing a well developed food safety program can help prevent and control food safety hazards. Employee training is essential when implementing your food safety program. A training program must ensure that employees understand and follow your company's policies and procedures.

Where to start?

Once you have developed your food safety program, keep in mind that training is required for plant policies, procedures and completing records.

It is important to consider the following:

Who should you train?

The short answer is: everyone. From the entry-level worker to management, food safety is everyone's job. All employees contribute to the manufacture of safe food.

  • All plant employees require training on personnel practices before they work on the production floor. Training should be done by qualified staff; allowing employees to learn personnel practices from their coworkers may increase the chance of keeping bad habits in the plant. During new employee training, emphasize your company's dedication to food safety. Doing this will tell your newly hired employee that food safety is a requirement and not an option. Specific training on procedures will be required for certain positions, such as: shipping, maintenance and sanitation employees.
  • Managers and supervisors also require training. A well trained manager or supervisor can train his employees and answer their questions. To ensure this is effective, ensure your managers and supervisors are up to date on any program changes that pertain to them. They may also require specialized training on new and upcoming technology.
  • Critical Control Point (CCP) monitors need detailed training on their procedures. Established CCPs are very important because they are designed to prevent, reduce or eliminate hazards. It is essential that CCP monitors are well trained. A deviation in the procedure could result in an uncontrolled hazard. For example, if a monitor did not detect that a required cooking temperature was not reached, pathogens could be in your product.
  • Trained backup employees are important for key positions, such as CCP monitoring. Having an untrained employee perform a task, in someone's absence, could cause a potential food safety risk.

How often should you train?

Training is an ongoing process in a food plant. Changes to your plant and process can quickly compromise your food safety program. You may need to provide additional training when new machinery or processes are introduced.

A training schedule and checklist can help you keep track of who needs to be trained and when. It may be a table that includes all the employees in your plant, different job tasks and how often training should be held. Losing track of who has been trained or needs to be trained can happen in a busy plant. For an example of a training schedule and checklist, see page 31 of our Basic Good Manufacturing Practices Guidebook (PDF 1.44 MB).

Retraining is also required when an employee does not follow a procedure or when a record is not completed correctly. Failure to retrain employees means an error can reoccur. Retrain employees and ensure they fully understand procedures before letting them proceed with their tasks.

At a minimum, refresher training should be held annually on topics such as personnel practices. This will ensure employees' knowledge remains current.

How to train

The following are training methods to consider:

  • Classroom: Train a group of employees in a classroom setting and use the plant's boardroom or lunchroom. This method works well when employees are at an equal learning level and the training applies to everyone's job.
  • One-on-one: Train one person at a time. This can be helpful for employees when English is not their first language or for employees who are not at an equal learning level with others. This may also be used for specific training all employees may not need, such as sanitation training.
  • Onsite: Train employees in the environment where they will be working. This is useful for employees who have visual or hands-on learning styles (ex: training employees on how to use a new piece of equipment at the machine itself).
  • Job shadowing: Pair up employees with more experienced trained employees and have them observe and learn the procedures.
  • Using training material: Have employees read training materials on their own. This may not be the best training approach, but it can help when small changes are made to a procedure.

It is very important to document all training that takes place. A training record that states the training date, topic, trainer and trainee's name and signature is a useful document for every plant. Retraining employees should also be documented. For example, if an employee makes an error on paperwork, do the required retraining and have the employee initial the paperwork.

Training challenges

Language barriers

Increased cultural diversity today makes language barriers a major challenge when training employees. The key to successful training is being able to communicate information to employees in a way they will understand. Some useful suggestions:

  • Use an interpreter to help with training. Ensure the interpreter is familiar with the training materials and insist on complete translation of the information. Also, ask your employees questions through the interpreter to ensure they have understood the material correctly.
  • Use simple words and avoid technical jargon.
  • Use many visual aids, such as equipment or pictures of items the employee will see or use in the plant.
  • Use signs that include universal symbols and graphics to convey the message.
  • Have additional, relevant printed materials and training videos in a language that the employees will understand.
  • Encourage bilingual employees to help others who are not fluent in English.

Training adults

Adults can be difficult to train because they often have many skills that have been acquired over long years of service. The challenge is to help shift their perspective by training them in a way that respects their knowledge and makes it easy for them to learn new ideas they can understand and use. It is important to recognize that people have different learning styles. By offering a blend of training methods, you can ensure you have accommodated everyone's preferred learning style.

When training adults, you may come across:

  • employees who are impatient or irritated as to why they need to be trained
    • This is especially true when employees do not know why they are being trained or what benefits the training holds. It is important you answer these questions at the beginning of the training session.
  • employees who are bored
    • When employees become bored they loose their motivation to learn. Make your training session interactive so employees will be more engaged. Refrain from lecturing or having employees exclusively read manuals. Use examples that will encourage employees to participate and relate the topic to their experiences.
  • employees who are not receptive to change
    • Some employees may not want to learn new ways or different ways of doing something. They may be straightforward about their concerns and possibly challenge the trainer and the training material based on their past experiences. When this happens, it is important to listen and not disregard their concerns.
  • employees who have trouble understanding the training materials
    • Everyone learns at a different pace and some employees may need more training than others. In this case, you may need to perform ongoing coaching and follow-up training for those individuals. You may also implement a short test to prove they have understood training material. If they fail the test, then follow-up training will be necessary.

Overall, when training adults you need to work with them. Make your training session fun and interactive, be light hearted when appropriate but serious when necessary.

Addressing employee mistakes

Retraining employees who have made mistakes can be difficult. Most people feel uncomfortable when their mistakes are brought forward. If you harshly criticize employees, you could lose their trust and respect. An employee who resents you will disregard what you tell them and your training program. It is important to keep a positive relationship with your employees. Having their trust and respect will produce a positive outcome in their work.

Related links


For more information, email the Food Safety and Inspection Branch or call 204-795-8418 in Winnipeg.