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FSMA Training Best Practices: Building a Robust Program for Food Safety Success 

 July 9, 2024

By  Rachel Montgomery

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) transformed the food safety landscape in the United States. To comply with its regulations, businesses involved in the food supply chain must have personnel trained on FSMA’s key principles and preventive control measures. However, simply offering training isn’t enough. Developing and implementing an effective FSMA training program is crucial for ensuring employees understand their roles in maintaining food safety and preventing contamination risks.

This article delves into best practices for crafting and delivering impactful FSMA training programs. We’ll explore strategies for successful program development, engaging training delivery methods, and ongoing evaluation techniques to ensure your training program equips your workforce with the knowledge and skills required for FSMA compliance.

Identifying Training Needs: Audience Assessment is Key

The first step in building a successful FSMA training program is a thorough assessment of your training needs. Always remember that FSMA training applies to all workers, including temporary and seasonal workers, not just employees.  Consider the following factors:

  • PCQI’s:   A PCQI, a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual, is always required to conduct the hazard analysis and develop and implement a food safety plan.  Taking a course that provides a certificate of completion issued by FSPCA is considered to be the most practical approach to becoming a PCQI.  Note:  The word Certificate is used rather than the words Certified or Certification because FSPCA emphasizes that Certificate is the proper term.)
  • Multiple PCQI’s enhance implementation:   Since there are 8 duties of a PCQI called out in the Preventive Controls rules and others applicable that can be found in the guidance document, such as justifying precautionary allergen labeling, ensure your personnel can have the time to cover all the duties, including review of all the documents generated frequently for the preventive controls management components.  
  • Target Audience for other training: Who will be participating in the training? Tailor content to the specific roles and responsibilities of different work groups (e.g., production workers, sanitation personnel, quality control specialists).
  • Prior Knowledge: What is the existing knowledge base of your workers regarding food safety principles and FSMA regulations? This will determine the complexity and depth of your training content.
  • Facility-Specific Needs: Identify the specific hazards and preventive controls relevant to your operation. Tailoring the training to address these specific risks ensures employees understand the practical application of FSMA principles in their daily work.

Content is King: Developing Engaging and Informative Training Materials

Once you’ve identified training needs, it’s time to develop engaging and informative training materials. Here are some best practices to guide content creation:

  • Focus on FSMA Essentials: Ensure your training covers the core principles of FSMA’s PC rule, Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls, sometimes casually abbreviated ‘HARPC’, which covers identification of hazards and preventive control measures for the various hazards (biological, chemical, physical), and the essentials of recordkeeping.
  • Connect FSMA to Daily Tasks: Bridge the gap between theory and practice by demonstrating how FSMA principles translate into daily tasks and responsibilities for each employee group. Case studies and real-world examples can enhance understanding and engagement.
  • Use Clear and Concise Language: Avoid overly technical jargon and “legal ese”. Instead, use clear, concise language that is easily understood by employees with varying levels of education and experience.
  • Incorporate Visual Aids: Visuals such as diagrams, infographics, and short videos can enhance retention and understanding of complex concepts.

Delivery Methods: Catering to Diverse Learning Styles

Effective training goes beyond simply delivering information. Consider the following methods to cater to diverse learning styles and maximize engagement:

  • Interactive Training Sessions: Incorporate interactive elements like group discussions, quizzes, and role-playing exercises to keep participants actively involved.
  • Hands-on Learning: For tasks critical to FSMA compliance, provide hands-on training sessions to ensure employees and other workers develop the necessary practical skills.
  • Blended Learning Approach: Combine classroom sessions with online modules or eLearning resources to offer flexibility and cater to different learning preferences.
  • Multiple Languages: If your workforce is multilingual, offer training materials and sessions in various languages to ensure comprehension and inclusivity.

Building a Learning Culture: Ongoing Evaluation and Improvement

A successful FSMA training program doesn’t end after the initial delivery. Continuous evaluation and improvement are key to ensure your program remains effective:

  • Pre- and Post-Training Assessments: Evaluate worker knowledge before and after training sessions to measure learning outcomes and identify areas where additional training might be necessary.
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Provide opportunities for workers to provide feedback on the training content, delivery methods, and their overall learning experience.   Rarely is anything as effective as management being on the floor on a routine basis and talking one-on-one with employees.  
  • Refresher Training: Schedule regular refresher training sessions to reinforce key concepts and address any updates to FSMA regulations or your company’s specific procedures.  Be sure management participates in learning sessions.
  • Integrate with Existing Programs: Integrate FSMA training with other food safety programs and initiatives to create a comprehensive and cohesive approach to food safety.

Additional Tips for Success:

  • Invest in Qualified Trainers: Consider utilizing qualified trainers with expertise in food safety and FSMA regulations. Their experience can ensure your training program is accurate, up-to-date, and effectively delivered.
  • Management Support is Vital: Visible management buy-in and support for the training program demonstrate its importance and encourage employee participation.   As stated, rarely is anything as effective as management being on the floor on a routine basis and talking one-on-one with employees.  
  • Create a Culture of Food Safety: Beyond training, foster a culture of food safety within your organization. Encourage open communication about food safety concerns and empower employees and other workers to actively participate in preventing contamination risks.  All managers, and especially upper management, being knowledgeable enough about the regulatory requirements and the operational challenges to be able to meaningfully talk one-on-one with all workers is crucial.

Conclusion: A Continuous Journey

Developing and implementing a robust FSMA training program is an ongoing process. By following these best practices and fostering a culture of food safety within your organization, you can equip your workforce with the knowledge and skills necessary to comply with regulations and ensure the safety of your food products. Remember, consistent training for all workers is vital for building a strong foundation for continuous improvement in your food safety practices and that training you choose for your PCQI’s can come in multiple forms.

Interactive PCQI training courses provide opportunities to hear and discuss best practices from other companies:   Technology and other approaches to save money on compliance are often best practices participants from other companies readily discuss and industry-experienced lead instructors have made use of in their own manufacturing and supply chain operations.  Thus, look for training courses that provide full interaction throughout the course, not only with an industry-experienced lead instructor, but with the other participants, both altogether and in small groups in break-out sessions.  Look for those that split courses over numerous days to allow the participant time to absorb the training and with shorter hours per day, take care of business before or after class time each day. 

About the author

Mrs. Montgomery is an FSPCA Lead Instructor for PCQI Human Food, PCQI Animal Food and Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) courses with over 30 years experience as a food safety executive in large-scale manufacturing. Montgomery offers virtual training spread over multiple shorter days to fulfill the hours required yet allow team members more time to absorb the training and also stay in touch with their work teams. Montgomery is the Principal of Simple Compliance Solutions, LLC and a Registered Microbiologist (National Registry of Certified Microbiologists).

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