September is National Food Safety Month. Now, you might not feel like breaking out a banner and tossing confetti to celebrate, but its significance in EHS programs shouldn’t be ignored.
Why Food Safety Matters to Every EHS Program
Whether you work directly with food or not is irrelevant. Food safety can be a valuable component to any environmental, health and safety program.
Food Safety Education Month has been dishing out education on safe food practices since 1994. Held every September, this special month features a new theme each year to help raise awareness of the dangers of poor food handling and how it can impact our health and work environments. Food handling and preparation affects every single worker, especially those who bring or are exposed to food or drink within the workplace.
The goal of Food Safety Education Month is to improve behaviors related to food handling and safety to promote healthy work environments and employees. The fact that foodborne illnesses affect nearly 48 million Americans and cost the nation about $152 billion annually, it’s safe to say there’s still plenty of work to be done to help spread awareness of food safety.
The Importance of Food Safety Education Month
Food Safety Education Month isn’t the only time you can talk to your team about food safety, but having an official month can help to bring visibility to the cause.
Food Safety Education Month sheds light on food-related topics that could help improve the health of your employees – both on and off the clock. When employees are more aware of the dangers food can pose, they could be less likely to miss work because of a food-related illness, whether at home or while on duty.
The good news is that many foodborne illnesses can be prevented with proper food handling. This includes knowing how to properly prepare and store food, how long to keep food and when to toss it out, and how to clean up food preparation spaces to reduce the risk of illness (e.g. sanitizing surfaces where raw meat was prepared).
Bringing awareness to these and other issues is a prime goal of Food Safety Education Month and you should take this opportunity to bring this topic to the front of the safety conversation.
How to Get Employees Engaged in Food Safety
To make the most of Food Safety Education Month, it’s important your employees understand why these issues matter to them. For any safety awareness program to be effective, you must get their buy-in. This can sometimes be easier said than done, especially if handling food isn’t necessarily part of their daily jobs.
Start by demonstrating how simple actions can lead to serious food-related consequences. Not refrigerating your lunch, not cleaning up after yourself, not washing your hands before a meal, or leaving food out too long during company parties can easily be applied to almost any worker.
It’s also helpful to find statistics that show the seriousness of food-related illnesses and how they impact the work environment. If you have any of your own company data, such as missed days from last year due to food illness, you might consider sharing this to give them a realistic point of view.
In addition, you should provide actionable tips that can help employees to take control when it comes to food safety, such as the following:
- Talk about things they can do to reduce their chance of being affected by a foodborne illness.
- Mention ways they can protect themselves and fellow co-workers at work.
- Create guidelines for using the company break room, refrigerator, microwave, sink, and other common areas.
- Encourage pre-packaged items or professionally catered food in lieu of potluck or home-prepared foods for company events.
You can post these guidelines somewhere in the break room or another visible area where your team members are most likely to see them.
Food Safety Affects Everyone
No one is immune to food-related risks, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to minimize the potential fallout from poor food handling practices. The first step is to create awareness that food safety is a serious issue so that others can take the necessary precautions to do their part.