This article first appeared in the September 2013 issue of Food Manufacturing.

The Food Safety Update section of Food Manufacturing is designed to offer our readers insight into the state of food safety concerns across the industry. We received hundreds of responses to this month’s survey on employee training.

Though a plurality of respondents (37.9 percent) to a recent Food Manufacturing survey indicated training as the most difficult part of their plant’s employment process, food processors report significant training achievements, especially with regard to food safety.

Some of these achievements can be seen in the graph at right. In order to achieve these benefits, 60.9 percent of survey respondents say training in their facilities is an ongoing process, rather than a single or even repeat event.

Over 70 percent of Food Manufacturing readers reported keeping employees for an average of three or more years. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) said employees remain employed for 10 or more years. This level of extended employment allows ongoing training efforts to reach higher levels, and the vast majority of food processors (81.7 percent) report that employees are promoted and trained on higher level positions once they become proficient in a current role. Perhaps because of the preponderance of highly qualified plant floor employees working in many food processing facilities, 67 percent of survey respondents reported involving these employees in HACCP planning and food safety protocol and training development.

Food processors report utilizing a variety of training media across a range of topic areas. Reported training tools include:

  • In-plant instruction—88.9%
  • Handouts/manuals—70.8%
  • Group instruction—70.4%
  • Videos—58.8%
  • Web-based programs—35.8%
  • Outside classes—19.9%

And processors report such tools are used to cover training topics, such as:

  • Equipment-specific training—88.5%
  • Industrial safety (fire and electrical compliance, personal protective equipment)—85.8%
  • Mandated workplace training (e.g. sexual harassment, workplace violence)—76.5%
  • Regulatory compliance training—76.5%
  • Maintenance procedures—60.2%
  • Company background/mission—52.2%

Though most manufacturers (60.4 percent) say the down economy has not caused their companies to cut back on hiring, they do report a variety of challenges related to food safety and employee training. These challenges include:

  • Language/communication barrier—14.5%
  • Difficulty with employee buy-in—22.9%
  • Lack of time or budget for training—46.3%
  • Unwillingness from upper management to implement food safety training programs—6.2%

A plurality of food processors (40.2 percent) report that employee referrals remain their best mechanism for hiring quality employees. Outside employment agencies (20.1 percent) and online job sites (16.1 percent) were other commonly touted successful tools for finding quality workers.

Once these workers have been hired, most food processors report a robust employee training system to keep new employees informed, engaged and aware of the food safety challenges present in food processing plants.