From The Editor

How Do You Evaluate Food Safety Education & Training?

Sam Lewis

By Sam Lewis

It’s no secret that food safety education and training is immensely important to food makers. It’s an on-going process, and sometimes, it’s even a struggle. As the food industry evolves, so do the ways companies become educated on food safety practices. To get a good idea of how food safety education and training has evolved, and continues to evolve, some comparisons are needed to draw parallels.

For the last four years, Lone Jespersen — principal at Cultivate Food Safety and a former director of food safety and operational learning at Maple Leaf Foods — has been working on a maturity model for food safety based on a maturity model for quality published in the early 1970s. Jespersen’s food safety maturity model looks at five stages food companies go through to reach full food safety maturity.

  • Stage one — in this maturity model, stage one is adequately nicknamed, “Doubt,” alluding to the idea of there being a lot of doubt in a company’s internal processes. Stage one is where a company completes most of its food safety endeavors because regulators or customers are demanding it. It's a very reactive state of food safety.
  • Stage two — is called, “React to.” In this stage, there is no — or very little — investment in systems that promote food safety. Further, there is little understanding in the value of food safety performance.
  • Stage three — is called, “Know of.” This is when companies identify and solve food safety issues one at a time, protection of their business is indicated from solving those food safety problems, and data-based insights to food safety begin to appear.
  • Stage four — called, “Predict,” occurs when companies utilize data occurring in stage three to prevent recurrences of food safety issues.
  • Stage five — is called, “Internalize,” and is very different from stages one through four. It shows a deep understanding of what food safety is and why it's important.

Stage five companies internalize food safety and take a proactive approach to it. Companies on this end of the maturity scale exemplify the importance of every role in a manufacturing facility — whether the role is handling food on the processing line or the HR director — each role is vital to the plant’s food safety. Stage five companies not only build safety into their daily activities, they also incorporate it into their short-term and long-term business plans as a means of growth.

Jespersen compares where food safety education and training currently stands and where it is heading to this food safety maturity model. “When we look at food safety education and training through the lens of the food safety maturity model, we see a lot of stage one,” says Jespersen. “Training food industry professionals is often done with power point presentations and its purpose is to react to and fulfill an external need.”

That’s not to say there aren’t companies doing a great job of moving up the maturity curve. These companies look at every one of their employees’ roles, identify the needs of those roles, and define competencies and skills against those needs. From there, learning modalities are designed and the content of them is customized to fit a particular role. “Companies who are doing this fall somewhere in the middle of the maturity scale. As a rough guess, I would estimate that’s about 20 percent of all companies,” says Jespersen. If Jespersen’s guess falls even in the right ballpark, that’s still a lot of companies who are only training out of necessity, not for proactive reasons that benefit the entire company.

So, what’s stopping companies from reaching stage five of food safety training and education maturity? In three words: many different factors. Included in them are manpower, turnover, time, and self-awareness. There are many roles to fill and many roles with high turnover. Proper training and education takes time, often, more time than workers spend in their roles.

Further, to attain a high level of maturity, you must be self-policing and realize the need internally, rather than relying on outside forces (e.g. customers and regulators) to initiate the need for training and education. “When it comes to learning, it goes the same way and for companies in the earlier stages of maturity; it's about reacting to regulatory or external events,” says Jespersen. “Middle maturity will more likely influence role-specific competencies in companies taking the time to execute internally. From there, you get into self-directed work coming as a direct result of training.”

Another issue stopping food companies from reaching food safety training and education maturity is speaking a common language. This is not a lost-in-translation-from-English-to-Spanish sense (although, language barriers can be problematic). Instead, it’s that those designing food safety education programs aren’t effectively communicating to those learning them. “This is something we have struggled with for years,” says Jespersen. “I have yet to find any technical professional that can effectively communicate consistently between company leaders and entry-level workers.” A possible solution to this idea might be a change of the guard in those who are designing learning modules, reevaluating what makes those modules relevant, and customizing it to fit those learning it and applying what was taught.

About Lone Jespersen
Lone JespersenLone Jespersen, M. Sc. Food Science, is the Principal of Cultivate Food Safety, an organization dedicated to the pursuit of creating culture-enable success for food processors and manufacturers. Jespersen holds several food industry certifications, including a Six Sigma Black Belt and is a Third-Party Auditor for BRC Global Standard for Food Safety Issue 7. Prior to founding Cultivate Food Safety, Jespersen held several roles over the last decade with Maple Leaf Foods, including Director of Six Sigma, Director of Food Safety Strategy, and Director of Food Safety and Operations Learning. Jespersen can be reached via email at