Grower-shippers need to be aware of food workers who misunderstand their training but believe they are doing things correctly.

“Generally speaking, those who have confidence in their skills influence the employees around them,” said Dan Fone, business development director for NSF International’s global food safety division. “If that confidence is in the wrong answers to proper food safety behavior, then they are likely to provide the wrong influence and incorrect behavior.”

Fone recently published a white paper titled “Human Behavior’s Role in Food Safety.” It details NSF’s assessment of nearly 10,000 trained food handlers.

More than 40% of the workers evaluated demonstrated dangerous gaps between their knowledge of food safety handling practices and their actual application in the workplace.

NSF surveyed food handlers to evaluate their understanding of food safety practices and how confident they were in their knowledge. The tool allowed NSF to place workers in three categories:

  • those who understood their training;
  • those who did not understand certain aspects of their training; and
  • those who misunderstood their training but had confidence in their knowledge.

Fone said in an interview with The Packer that a third of workers fall into the final category, meaning a substantial percentage of workers follow incorrect practices with confidence and influence their co-workers.

The assessment has been focused on restaurant workers, but Fone said “its applicability is equal to all sectors where the final product safety depends upon the staff.”

He said issues with personal hygiene and cross-contamination topped the list of food safety risk factors associated with workers.

Fone said NSF worked with the consulting firm Cognisco, a specialist in assessing and developing workforce competence, to create a behavior-based food safety assessment model that helps companies build a culture of food safety.

“By affecting change in food handler behaviors, we can be successful in embedding food safety within organizational culture to bring about change and improvement,” he said.

Fone said that the data collected on food handlers allows NSF to pinpoint improper food safety behaviors and develop systems to reinforce appropriate behaviors.

“Instead of applying a blanket food safety training program that may or may not work for all employees, we are able to intelligently apply strategic behavior-based programs in the specific areas where they are needed,” he wrote in the white paper.

“This allows processors to get the most value out of their food safety training resources, while also making the greatest impact on food handler behavior,” he wrote.