The golden millisecond of food safety
May 19, 2011
Take any training program — from operations, quality, safety or even human resources — and there’s a good chance those lessons can be applied to situations in sanitation.
Let’s explore the critical moment known as the golden millisecond training (GMT) for personal safety. This moment covers the risks associated when a lack of focus during everyday activities turns into a split-second decision and a potential dangerous situation ensues that could affect our personal safety — our hands, arms, legs or life. Personal safety is applicable in everything we do, whether it’s at home, at work or on vacation. It’s not just about learning to avoid injury but rather a change in culture and thinking. It’s about keeping everyone safe from injury.
As a sanitation consultant, I was presented with a rewarding opportunity to train frontline sanitation employees at a plant with a culture well-educated in personal safety through GMT, regardless of how poorly schooled in sanitation and food safety they were. The challenge was to take the personal safety culture they knew so well and cross-link its awareness and passion with a different type of safety — in this case, food safety.
This was an exciting new approach to reach an audience that could enhance sanitation and food safety without starting a training program from scratch. As I defined a plan, I realized the similarities between food and personal safety were striking.
GMT for personal safety involved developing habits that protect everyone. In sanitation and with food safety, we talk about practices that ensure safe food for family members, co-workers and friends.
Routine tasks occur each day in which our response or reaction determines if we will go home safely or expose ourselves to bodily injury. Likewise, in sanitation, routine tasks, if not handled correctly, could cause a food safety concern for consumers, ultimately creating a health issue. Sometimes, a split-second decision to take a shortcut can cause a problem. We must routinely do what we know is correct, in both personal and food safety.
Unexpected events occur each day that take us by surprise. Even a simple water or oil spill left on the floor can pose a risk that could be avoided by placing a caution sign and cleaning it up. In regard to food safety, ignoring a roof leak above a product zone or a drain backup without taking appropriate steps can present risks to consumers.
GMT for personal safety addresses the split-second decisions that could result in serious injury or harm to someone else because you inserted your hand in an unguarded area. In sanitation, we talk about being perfect in what we do to avoid exposing our consumers to unhealthy products. In the context of perfection, if we produce 2 billion portions in a plant and are 99% successful, we would still put 20 million people at risk. Even if we were 99.99% perfect, we potentially would expose 200,000 people to unhealthy food.
We need to get it right every time.
These are comparative ways to show the relationship between personal and food safety in a classroom training situation. However, in the bigger scope of food safety, we need to take the golden millisecond to communicate and translate how important it is to think about each prerequisite program and how we engage preventively as we clean food contact equipment or a facility. A misapplied prerequisite program in sanitation could cause food to be unsafe.
Equally important are follow-up skills. If we have a suspicion that a system or process may be outside of the operating expectations, or when we see data that shows some deviations from what is normal, what do we do? We must investigate until we are 100% sure no failure occurred that could cause a food safety risk before we continue to run the process. When we make that decision, it could be the GMT of food safety. When we have data or a suspicion that something does not look, smell or feel right, we should investigate until we find and correct the issue before it becomes a food safety risk. There must be no alternatives to this process.
In summary, the link between personal safety and food safety can be a compelling approach to sanitation training. In the end, decisions we make, especially the split-second ones, can often make a world of difference in personal and food safety. Joe Stout was director of global product protection, sanitation and hygienic design at Kraft Foods, where he worked for 28 years until his retirement in 2010. Stout recently formed a consulting business, Commercial Food Sanitation LLC, to provide sanitation and hygienic design consulting for the food industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.