Food Safety Training Resolutions, Online or Classroom Training

Happy New Year! Another year has rapidly sped by. It seems over the years of writing Food Smarts … For Real that I seem to be pretty consistent on the theme of January’s stories. I always feel that the New Year seems to bring out in us the desire and will to try harder to fulfill resolutions … even though we should really be trying all year around. One thing that I like to believe that comes up for food operators in setting up their New Year’s budget is how much to set aside and allocate towards employee training which should include food safety training.

Through the years, my experience shows me that the most successful food operations are the ones that provide consistent employee training every year. I have noticed a measurably significant correlation with employee retention and employee training. The food operations that provide training every year have the least staff turnover. I like to think that the staff realizes the boss values them and realize they are worth the investment of staff training. I understand that it can be annoying that you are constantly doing the right thing and training your staff personally, but sometimes it’s worth it to have an outside instructor to come in. Your staff realizes that you have paid monies for this class, which really does reinforce how seriously you take this training and they will HEAR the instructor. Financially, it’s cheaper to pay for one class versus the costs to train each employee individually.

Whether you are training about wine, chemicals, food, beer, alcohol awareness certification, customer service, food safety or foodservice manager certification … in this day and age, with the Internet and computers, you might be considering online training versus classroom training. Should you?

As a training company provider, I will be honest and say that I am biased and hope you would choose the in-person training for my business purposes. I’ve had some of our customers tell me lately that they had gone to online training as a choice for Food Service Certification training needs. They cheated on us!?  They said they came back to us because the pass rates were not as high and that their students said the training was really boring and they preferred our real and human instructors.  YAY!

But that got me thinking … online training has to be useful sometimes, right? I can understand that online training sounds tempting. It sounds great! You can pick and choose the timing of the training at your convenience. You can be at work or in your pyjamas at home for the online training. Sometimes it even sounds cheaper. Online training options are:

  • Web pages with text info instead of purchasing a printed book.
  • Ebook courseware with step by step instructions.
  • Interactive learning with audio, video and online quizzes.
  • Webinars which offer online chat, audio, video and can have live participation.

All bias aside now, call me old fashioned old-fashioned, but I still think in person training is the best. You can glean from their eyes and body language – if someone is really understanding the information, or having difficulty understanding the information or just plain spacing out. The interaction back and forth confirms this or lets the instructor know when more clarification is needed.  Additionally, the in-person approach, means information that is understood easily can be taught more quickly and the pace can be slowed down in person, for that information that is more difficult for each audience. The in-person approach also allows the teaching to be broken down to the level that it will use real life scenarios … which makes it more usable in the sense of ”how does this really apply or how is this useful to me?” You can better grasp the expectations required as well as the “why’s” of the expectations required. Training needs to be real and allow the employees/students to really understand WHY it’s important to do something the right way so they can take ownership of their behavior.

As an instructor is was a beautiful thing to see the lights in their staffs’ eyes sparkle when during the food safety class we got to the subject of proper cooling and they realized the “WHYs” they have to follow – the rule that had just been laid out to them. You can teach your employees and they don’t really care, or they are embarrassed to tell you that they “don’t understand.” Demonstration back is the best confirmation that your employees have learned a lesson effectively. As a manager, you have to be proactive and be constantly monitoring your staff to confirm they are doing things the right way. Also, it is so important to not just “tell the staff off”, but to seriously, compliment your staff – they will feel empowered!

I personally believe that online training would have its purpose with a well-designed program for training that needs to be consistent and not requiring personal interaction. A big chain would benefit from online training in short segments so the training is uniform across the country.

If you are looking at training options for Food Service Manager Certification, BEFORE you go through the work to research companies that offer online options for training for certification compliance with regulatory agencies, you have to make sure that online training is a viable option approved by your local agency first. For example in Maryland, the counties requiring Food Service Manager Certification require seat time not online training. I get so many phone calls from prospective customers who tell me that they have taken an online course and just need the proctoring of the exam. The online training provider had told them that they could do that for their jurisdiction and they were misinformed.

In Maryland, currently, the only jurisdiction with required Food Service Manager certification that accepts online Food Service Certification training versus in class room (seat time) training is Howard County and that is for recertification only, not first time certification. Check with your local health department if you can take online food service manager certification training instead of classroom training before you pay a company for online training. If your local health department does not require Food Service Certification training prior to obtain your Food Handler permit, then of course there is no barrier to online training as you are going above and beyond of the minimal requirements.

With the New Year on the horizon think what can you do to improve food safety in your establishment and who can best do the training where the information will be heard, absorbed and put into practice. Put that line item for professional food safety training in the 2014 budget and make your New Year’s a happy food safety year with ‘Safe Staff.’

About the Author

Juliet Bodinetz is executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions and has over 30 years industry and training experience. She and her team of instructors specialize in food safety, alcohol training and ServSafe training in English or in Spanish and writing HACCP Plans in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area., or 443-838-7561. For latest food safety tips: Become a fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS

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