OHIO RETAILERS DEVELOP NEW FOOD-SAFETY EDUCATION

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Supermarket operators in Ohio have been handed a new weapon in their fight to educate store-level employees about basic food-safety procedures.The Pathway to Food Safety is a just-released program that combines video lessons, quizzes, and handouts. It was developed by the nonprofit arm of the Ohio Grocers Association and the state's departments of health and agriculture, as a low-cost

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Supermarket operators in Ohio have been handed a new weapon in their fight to educate store-level employees about basic food-safety procedures.

The Pathway to Food Safety is a just-released program that combines video lessons, quizzes, and handouts. It was developed by the nonprofit arm of the Ohio Grocers Association and the state's departments of health and agriculture, as a low-cost and timesaving alternative to more complex training systems.

According to Tom Jackson, president and chief executive officer of the OGA, what makes this program different is that hourly employees are not burdened with the technical, scientific aspects of a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan.

While HACCP operating principles are the backbone of the video series, Jackson said the program substitutes the scientific jargon currently found in most food-safety plans, with easy-to-follow instructions on some basic, common-sense sanitation procedures. The practical applications of what is learned do not require additional scientific knowledge.

"We're not trying to make the hourly person a food-safety expert," he said. "We're trying to create a higher level of awareness. We're trying to raise the bar on some real basic things for them to do a better job."

Its developers also hope the program will punch through the wall of reluctance retailers have erected against more traditional programs, which often cost more and require training time away from the job.

One supermarket operator who participated in the training program's development said that it presents an opportunity for retailers to be proactive regarding food safety, before state and federal mandates are issued.

"That's the way we're looking at it at our corporation," said Anthony M. Santisi, vice president of Phoenix Supermarkets, Girard, Ohio. "The time is here now."

State authorities who worked on the Pathway to Food Safety agreed that time and money savings are key reasons for retailers to embrace this particular program.

"This is a program that's designed for in-house training," said Paul Panico, assistant chief of the food-safety division for the Ohio Department of Agriculture. "It's easier for the management to provide training, and not lose people for a day to go to training."

"We immediately recognized the public health benefits of getting this important information to frontline grocery store workers across Ohio," said Bill Ryan, director of the Ohio Department of Health. "[We] are also impressed with how easy it is for store and department managers to provide this training.'

The cornerstone of the Pathway to Food Safety program is a set of six brief video segments that break down essential HACCP rules. Each video module ranges in length from four to eight minutes.

There are individual segments on personal hygiene, proper hand-washing, elimination of cross contamination, proper equipment cleaning and sanitation techniques and correct maintenance of food temperatures.

The subject of each training segment is reinforced with a written quiz administered immediately after the video, and a one-page handout that reviews the main points stressed in the lesson.

Any employee who "fails" the quiz could review that particular module the next day and be retested. Once employees successfully complete the series, they are awarded certificates.

The program requires the services of a trainer, designated by the management of each store. Trainers are required to view a six-minute Train the Trainer video, which discusses how to present the series to employees.

Likewise, trainers are responsible for showing the actual video segments, distributing and grading the tests, and keeping a log of all employee grades and attendance.

The training package includes the recommendation that retailers appoint someone in each store as a Certified Food Handler, using any of the separate existing training programs approved by the industry for that purpose.

The OGA program does not include a training regimen for that level of food-safety expertise.

The program recommends that one module be presented every day, for a total period of six days.

Jackson added that a one-to-one presentation between trainer and employee is best, though up to four employees can participate at a time.

"We use a lot of the same scenes in [the videos], and what it does is it continually reinforces as they go on down," he said. "We also want them to do it in order, one through six."

The video training program closes with information on how employees can, in turn, become trainers and educate their customers on how to keep foods safe once they leave the store.

Ideally, each day's presentation, including the video, the 10-question quiz, and the handout, should take only minutes.

"You never spend more than 15 minutes in one session, and that's the way it should be," said Santisi of Phoenix Supermarkets.

"Basically, unless we can all get out of our environment at the grocery store, 15 minutes is like gold, if you can get it quiet that long."