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Behavioral Based Food Safety – An Alternative Training Methodology

Organizations spend a fortune on employee training.


Organizations spent an additional fortune on quality failure: customer complaints, loss of business, destruction of goods, retesting, repacking, reworking, returns, recall, etc. In most cases the loss is attributed to “the human factor”.


If both of the above paragraphs are true, then something very strange is going on in our workplaces. This article introduces an alternative to traditional training methods to which we have become accustomed to over the years: an effective and enjoyable alternative with measurable results.

The theoretical background


We assume that if everyone were to do exactly what they were supposed to do, we would achieve the results we expect to achieve. Obviously, this assumption is not always true. Successful realization of objectives depends first and foremost on correct planning. The output of the planning process consists of a collection of procedures, instructions, guidelines and plans which dictate the organization’s activities. All we have to do is plan using the best available tools, deliver the plan for execution, monitor the actual results and see if the plan needs to be improved. Therefore, we can conclude that the key to managing an organization is to have every manager and employee work exactly according to the plan.


In order for an employee to carry out a decision four conditions must be met simultaneously:


1. He or she has to know what to do and how to do it.
2. They must be capable of doing it.
3. They need to remember what to do.
4. She or he must decide to do it.


For example, let’s look at a situation where smoking in the plant’s yard is only allowed in designated smoking areas. On four different occasions, four employees are caught smoking in an unauthorized part of the yard, in violation of company regulation. How would we react? Punishment? Repeat training? The answer is that we don’t react before understanding the circumstances which led to the apparent delinquency. We ask the employee why he or she is smoking where they shouldn’t be:


Employee number one says: “Who said I can’t smoke here? To the best of my knowledge, smoking is forbidden in the buildings and allowed in the yard.” This represents a classic case of lack of knowledge. We must never assume that people know what we expect them to know, without having verified this. In this case, before taking any action, the organization should ask itself why an employee doesn’t know the requirement. Perhaps we didn’t conduct training? Maybe we did conduct training but the offender was absent? Maybe the employee was present, but didn’t understand the content of the training?


Employee number two says: “I know I’m not supposed to smoke here, but I have no choice. To get to the smoking pavilion I have to walk for four minutes. I smoke an average of one cigarette every hour. If I were to go to the smoking area, each cigarette break would take at least 15 minutes. Obviously, nobody would tolerate a 15 minute break every hour, so I smoke wherever I can.” This employee can be sent to a thousand training sessions, you can get mad at him or her and threaten them… none of this will change the fact that this person cannot obey the rule. We must educate employees that if they know they’re supposed to do something that they can’t do, for any reason, it is their responsibility to bring this to the attention of their manager. We must educate managers to be attentive to these pleas, and not interpret them as laziness, insolence or evasion.


Employee number three says: “I’m so sorry… I wasn’t paying attention. I’ll be more careful next time…” Cases where a person knows what must be done, is capable of doing it but doesn’t do it out of forgetfulness, lack of concentration, inadvertence and other such natural human phenomena are associated with what we can call “lack of awareness”. All organizations need a comprehensive and effective awareness program that identifies places where lack of awareness can be hazardous and offers creative awareness boosting solutions. This can include various advertising measures, memorable and experiential training activities, use of check-lists, team briefings and more.


Employee number four says: “OK, so you caught me. Big deal! Don’t you have something better to do? Nobody is going to die from me having a smoke in the yard.” Worker number four has crossed a line that we must fully understand: lack of knowledge, lack of capability and lack of awareness (employees 1-3) are not dependent on the employee. These are technical needs that the organization must provide. However, once we have verified that the worker knows what must be done and how to do it, has the capability to perform the task and hasn’t forgotten his or her obligation then the only thing stopping the employee from performing the requirement is free will. The person must decide to do what has to be done. In this situation, non-compliance is always equivalent to lack of discipline.


The above four employees demonstrate a behavioral model we call MACK, an acronym representing the four conditions that must be met in order for a plan to be realized:


• Motivation
• Awareness
• Capability
• Knowledge


Discipline and Motivation


A seen above, many non-conforming situations are not necessarily the result of lack of knowledge, capability or awareness, but rather the result of lack of motivation. The various reasons why an employee decides to behave in violation of procedure are always related to organizational culture and are worthy of an in-depth discussion.


All intelligent beings, humans included, are motivated by three driving forces: cost, benefit, and probability of realization. This might be the reason that the English language uses the word “training” to represent both employee education and behavior modification of domesticated animals. In the not so distant past, and in some cultures to this day, motivation for action was the command itself: I am paying you and therefore you must do what I tell you to do if you like it or not, otherwise I will not pay you or I will fire you. This is classic and effective training not unlike getting a dog to sit by offering it a snack. In our advanced culture, which has developed over recent decades, we celebrate human freedom. All people have full rights over their body and their freedom of choice. We have stopped training children by beating them and it is unacceptable to force someone to act just because they’re getting paid to do so. The components in the formula “cost, benefit and probability” have not changed and never will. What has changed is the perception of benefit and cost. I will do what I am required to do because I believe it is the right thing to do. It will improve the quality of my work and my performance. It will make our products safer. The outcome of my actions is beneficial for me in a way that makes compliance worthwhile. On the other hand, I will refrain from performing non-complying actions because I understand the potential cost. I can cause harm and misery to the public, damage the reputation of my employer, etc.


Often, people decide to refrain from performing a prescribed task because they feel that it’s not the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s because they resent the fact that they’re being treated like a mindless robot: “that is what we decided and our decision is final”.
The revolutionary educational method that will be described below takes into consideration the factors contributing to failure and addresses them individually. It enables us to surgically relate to the root causes of non-compliance, especially by involving the employees in the planning phase of our processes. We remove the barrier between the planning level and the working level and allow our workers to be involved in the plan. This decreases planning errors and increases motivation.


The Method


The seven step process described below represents a practical approach to implementing a behavioral based food safety program. The process is based on the theory described above. Organizations are encouraged to implement such a program with the assistance of an experienced behavioral consultant and to modify the process based on each organization’s specific needs.


Step 1


Carry out a leadership seminar for top and middle management, where managers learn the method and its cultural language.


Step 2


Identify the organization’s behavioral gaps based on incident analysis, audit results, customer complaints, interviews and observation.


Step 3


The workforce is divided into learning groups of up to 20 people. The members of each learning group should preferably have similar occupations (drivers, mixers, packers…).


Step 4


Create a “cover story” relevant to the purpose of the program. For instance “My Customer is on My Mind”, “Food Safety Olympics”, “Earn Their Trust”, etc. The cover story should act as a common thread throughout the program.


Step 5


Each study group is allocated a personal moderator. The group works with their moderator during a series of 5-7 short 90-120 minute meetings. The meetings take place every 2-4 weeks. Each meeting contains activities which combine learning with fun designed to confront the abovementioned MACK barriers. Each meeting is specifically tailored to each learning group. The last meetings focus on motivation. At this stage the moderator has already become familiar with the group members and is capable of diagnosing each participant’s personal motivational profile according to their unique personality. We have identified five motivational drivers at play among workers:


1. Inherent obedience
2. Scientific information
3. Emotional stimuli
4. Positive feedback
5. Punishment


Each person is motivated by a unique balance between these drivers, creating a “motivational fingerprint”. This fingerprint is affected by personality, culture, upbringing, beliefs and more. Once we’ve learned each employee’s motivational profile we can fine tune our personal teaching and leadership tools to their highest effectiveness.


Step 6


Throughout the program the participants are encouraged to speak their mind, initiate change where appropriate and become involved in organizational processes. Management receives vital information from the workforce in real time.


Step 7


The program is concluded with a ceremonious gathering, rewarding the participants with certificates of success and/or prizes. A roadmap for sustaining the program’s achievements is presented. Our ultimate goal is to modify behavior up to the point of modifying habits. The sum of behavioral habits defines an organization’s culture.


Evaluation of Effectiveness


The effectiveness of the program should be assessed, preferably utilizing the Kirkpatrick(1) approach. Measurement tools are designed specifically according to the precise goals set for the program. According to this approach, effectiveness in gauged at four levels:

  • Satisfaction. What do the participants think about the activity? Was it fun? Do they feel that it contributed to their skills and knowledge? One of the keys to effective training is a fun filled memorable experience.
  • Knowledge. At the end of every meeting it is important to perform a written examination to verify that knowledge has been effectively transferred.
  • Measurable behavioral modification.
  • Actual measurable performance results.
(1) Kirkpatrick, D.L., & Kirkpatrick, J.D. (2007). Implementing the Four Levels, Berrett-Koehler Publishers


Author Biography


David Rosenblatt, Director of Training and Veterinary Consultant, Sher Consulting and Training
B.Sc. Biology: Israel Institute of Technology - 1989. D.V.M.: Hebrew University - 1993. 1993-2002 - Unilever Israel - company veterinarian and Safety, Health, Environment & QA Manager. 2002-2005 - Standards Institution of Israel - head of the Food Sector and senior educator. Lead auditor for numerous international standards. 2005-Present -Sher Consulting and Training – Co-owner and Director of Training. 1994-present – Senior lecturer at the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Rosenblatt has extensive lecturing experience in numerous conferences and workshops on food and petfood safety and quality management. He is regularly invited to lecture in different countries. Member of the International Association for Food Protection.


Website: http://www.2sher.co.il


Watch David presenting on Behavioral Based Food Safety at a recent Food Safety Fridays webinar.



Surprising noone commented yet, I like the idea and can imagine it working in reality.


The only catch is where to get the time from and how to convince directors which aren't to keen on these kind of things because the profit isn't meassured in money.


Interesting read.

Me too Rouwenhorst, thanks for being the first to comment. You are correct it takes investment of time, effort and money to implement such a system. As with any improvement program it is better not to start at all than to start without the vision and drive to follow it through.  If you do it can make things worse. 


Such a program has to start from the top down with that vision and understanding of the resources required and the implementation of the organisational structure, roles and responsibilities to deliver it.


You can try to convince them, maybe by letting them watch the webinar recording.  If it does not resonate with them...move on. :smile:

shared this with fellow food safety practitioners in the hotel industry.

good and informative read.


Interesting read.. We already have the behavioral-based safety (OHS) and this is a good input to the system.



Thanks you for this article. We have implemented behavioral-based safety (BBS) and behavioral - based quality (BBQ) and this paper have many important things to consider.                                                               Thanks¡¡

I liked the article very much and it really identified the issues in the workplace ... my comment based on my experience is that the companies (management) do not look at the root cause of training problems and mainly they do not identify the outcome they want to achieve. Is more to point the finger and be able to say "I trained you - is your fault you are not following through".


And I totally agree with training the management and make them understand the importance; they are the model to be followed by all other employees.

Ty for this article, we have yet to implement our HACCP system and it will be quite a tasks. this article is very informative. ty for the post.

Thanks for a wonderful post !!! Really an insightful session. Thanks again

Just out of curiosity, Step 6: what if the employees are either afraid to speak their minds due to retaliation or upper management doesn't provide the opportunity to speak their minds? I could definitely use some insight on that. Much appreciated in advance. 

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