I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2021 GFSI Conference. The Conference, held virtually for the first time, was marked by several excellent sessions that embodied the Conference’s theme this year: Rethink, Reset, and Recharge. Diversey, a Diamond Sponsor of the event, opted to focus on the reset button by hosting a “back to basics” session focused on driving hygiene compliance through manager accountability. While there is always buzz around new technologies, it is safe to say many food safety professionals were intrigued with this back to basics theme based on the near 100 attendees at our session. Chris Jordan of Diversey hosted the session in a roundtable fashion with the help of Sara Mortimore of Walmart, Dr. Angela Fraser of Clemson University, and Dr. David Buckley of Diversey.
The roundtable was constructed to tackle the core issue of compliance and the importance of good hygienic practices. Food safety is advancing, and technologies are being introduced to tackle a myriad of issues, such as those posed by COVID-19; but, a fancy device is not always the answer. We have to first consider the people and processes in food hygiene.
Key compliance issues impacting the food industry
There are several reasons why compliance continues to be an issue in food settings; however, three key aspects resonated with the panel. Those aspects were time, education, and processes. Time devoted to hygiene and time devoted to operations has always been a delicate balancing act. The pandemic has only exacerbated this equilibrium. Sara shared that time dedicated to sanitation continues to remain elevated due to the necessity of additional hygiene steps in the food safety program.
Effective training is a must for successful process implementation. Sara spoke about fostering an understanding and acknowledgement of a process’s importance. Understanding why a certain process or procedure exists is just as important as understanding how to do it. Many compliance issues can be traced back to a lack of clarity on why the process is needed in the first place.
Understanding the entire hygiene system and processes within an organization is also critical. Angela highlighted that too often do we place blame on the associate for a lack of compliance. We must consider, have we, as senior leaders, developed a realistic and executable hygiene program? Have we provided adequate training and education opportunities so that managers and associates are equipped with the knowledge they need to be successful? If not, we set our organization up for compliance failures.
How do we tackle compliance issues?
Technology can help with compliance issues, but there is no substitute for focusing on people and hygiene processes. We must consider our foundational programs, i.e. training, educating, and creating processes, before investing an ancillary services.
The panel agreed that effective training is an underpinning of successful process execution and a likely starting point. Angela posed a scalable training method that builds a problem-based learning approach into training efforts . This approach offers front-line managers and associates an educational opportunity while also being part of the solution. This method extends influence beyond the chain of command and empowers workers to be able to begin to solve the problem.
What about processes? Surfaces need to be cleaned. There is no way around it, but we have to focus on installing executable hygiene processes that meet food safety benchmarks and work within production timelines. Ensuring that these processes are executable can dramatically improve compliance. This means partnering with a chemical provider who understands the organization and its food safety needs. At Diversey, we have spent significant time to make programs more executable, e.g. simplified SSOPs and shorter disinfection contact times, in a variety of food production settings.
Once your foundational programs are established, there are tools and resources available to help your organization take the next step in compliance improvement. For instance, Walmart uses their Spark program which enables them to collect a range of data points, such as time and temperature logs for foods, cold-holding temperatures, and sanitation compliance data. A tool Diversey has begun to use is their Prove-It device. This allows users to understand chemical consumption that can be overlaid with other compliance metrics to better forecast issues. At scale, collecting a lot of data points is easier than analyzing and interpreting it. Diversey uses Tableau-powered dashboards and an analytics manager to analyze and interpret data for the customer to inform food safety professionals and support better decision making.
The message throughout Diversey’s hygiene compliance roundtable was that getting back to basics means refocusing our efforts on our people. The panel agreed that devices and analytics can strengthen compliance but investments in training and educating people is foundational. Parting words from Angela complement this notion of investment- “value the worker”. Before you spend money on a shiny new tool ask yourself, have I invested enough in training and education?