Food Safety Training Tug of War

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All over the country, health districts and food industry representatives are debating the best way to train food service workers in critical food safety areas. Some districts have only recently required training, such as California, while others have been providing it for decades. Ensuring all food service employees have proper and effective food safety training is an extremely important factor in reducing foodborne illness and both local health departments and the food industry have a vested interest to ensure it continues to improve.

In the past, many health departments had direct control over food safety training in their areas, but many of these programs haven’t been updated since they were first developed and don’t seem to be adequate anymore. This has lead to an increase in online and in-house food safety training programs. With budgets shrinking, health departments no longer have the resources to develop comprehensive, effective, and up-to-date food safety training programs. They know they are falling behind. It makes sense to allow the industry to play a bigger role in training the workforce.

Trust

While negotiations continue between government and industry, trust has emerged as a big factor. Governments are having a hard time relinquishing control over such an important service. Many regulators simply don’t trust that the industry is serious about making sure their workforce has the best food safety training possible. But what the regulators don’t understand is that they need the food industry to step up and fill the void.

Who Gets the Money?

A big part of this debate is about money. If private companies are allowed to enter the market and provide training, then this will take away money from health departments that previously had a 100 percent market share. This will further shrink budgets that are already in trouble. To offset this, the cost of a food handler card will most likely raise, leaving governments and the industry to negotiate for their cuts.

Utah Food Handler Card

In Utah, another debate has emerged over switching to a statewide food handler card. As it is now, cards are issued from the different health districts and certain districts won’t accept cards from other districts. So if a food worker decides to work in another county, the worker has to get another food handler card to be in compliance.

If we add this to the mix, the industry wants to ensure that all the cards issued from the approved private programs are actually Utah food handler cards and are good anywhere in the state. This would help the food industry in Utah quite a bit, but this brings us back to the trust issue. Can Salt Lake County trust the training received from a private program they have no control over in St. George or Tooele Counties is adequate?

It’s Time to Step Up

I’ve said it before, the food industry has to step up and take responsibility for food safety. This is the perfect opportunity for the industry to show it can be responsible and make sure the workforce is thoroughly trained in food safety. Industry members know they lose money and reputation when an outbreak happens, and they want to do whatever they can to prevent it. Health departments need to give up the strangle hold they have on the food handler training programs and concede that private programs can probably provide better training than what they currently provide.

With negotiations ongoing in Utah, check back with us for updates and a full explanation of the Utah food handler training program when it’s finished. If you have any questions, please contact me: dennis@resprofsp.com.

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