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Anyone in the food business cannot afford to ignore the importance of hygiene. Yet it is still common to find many organisations whose attitude to hygiene is ‘Yes, that’s all very nice, and I’m sure that is the way things ought to be done, but we’re running a business here, and we simply don’t have the time or the money to spend on all those things.’ On the flipside, those who advocate high standards of hygiene end up being focused on the ‘Do Nots’ rather than the ‘Dos’.

A positive approach that stresses on professional practices and integrates hygiene with day-to-day skills and work schedules is what is required. Obviously this does not happen spontaneously and requires continual training.

In all hotel there is training being conducted for kitchen hygiene. The question is whether the training content is being put into practice. The answer to that is not very reassuring.

Training for ensuring cleanliness standards in the kitchen focuses on three main aspects: the basic kitchen hygiene and how to clean the kitchen which is essentially a part of kitchen stewarding, food safety & hygiene for chefs that covers the requirements at different stages of the processing of food from receiving to storing to preparation and cooking as well as holding, display and service and the very essential personal hygiene component.

Mandatory training in kitchen hygiene is part of the induction process for all staff connected with food production. The more important aspect that needs to be considered is the fact that this orientation needs to be followed by repeated re-orientation. It has to be a continuous process in every aspect, whether it is checking via regular and mystery audits or carrying out re-training.

Managerial staff must incorporate the need and the processes regularly in their meetings and briefings. This constant drilling is necessary until hygiene is a habit! Lectures, films and HACCP training are only a means to an end and have a temporary effect. Whether hygiene becomes a part of the operations or not, is largely dependent on a continual repetitive effort by all concerned.

In order to ensure that the training does translate into practice, there are training levels that are set and kitchen employees are required to work upward through these levels. If an employee fails to meet the requirements of a level when on the job, he/she is put back into training. This is designed to create an assurance that the training is actually being put into practice. At the same time, it is necessary to have a certain amount of accountability from the people who are being trained. Many hotels have built these training modules into their performance appraisal system. The employee cannot be promoted to a higher designation without successfully completing the hygiene training and will only be appraised on successful completion of hygiene training.

Perhaps one of the most neglected areas is the kitchen stewarding. There is no professionalism here as there is no formal training available. As a result, the person heading the area is someone who has moved up the ranks from a lower level of operations. Although such a person may possess the basic knowledge and skills, he is not equipped with the ability to deal with the changes and challenges of food safety and the technological advances in this area.

No catering college focuses on Kitchen Stewarding as part of its curriculum. Nor does any hotel give importance to this function and it is a regular happening that a staff member who does not fit into the kitchen inevitably lands up being transferred to kitchen stewarding. Such a person with limited knowledge and skills being responsible for very expensive equipment spells disaster! Knowing at what steam and temperature levels a dish-washing machine is supposed to operate is vital so that equipment and utensils that come in contact with food are in keeping with the food safety requirements.

Training is a key component to the GMP of the organization and will assist in achieving HACCP accreditation. Most internal training begins at induction and is followed by modules at different stages and is regarded as a part of KRAs. External trainings that may be conducted are on par with International Standards. Although these are available, very few organizations subscribe to these programmes.

Over the years we have depended on accreditations and training aids from other parts of the world. These do not match with the Indian scenario and are far removed from reality. In recent times however there has been a strong initiative to shift to that which is local. Staff in our country can hardly identify with the pretty woman in a short skirt that they see in the training visuals! To overcome this, visual aids have been made locally not only in English, but also in Hindi and Marathi and the process is on for creating programmes in all the regional languages of the country.

Although this is a great step forward, it might also be a good idea to create programmes and visuals that are specific to the organization. Making a video clip in the same kitchen where the staff is working has the added benefit of the staff being able to relate to the content easily. Most training departments are reluctant to invest in making their own films but given the fact that technology is now so easily available and user friendly, it would be worthwhile to consider this as an effective option. The use of a video clips shot randomly for auditing and rectifying wrong practices can have an amazing impact on training… as the saying goes, ‘seeing is believing’.

On a futuristic note, the Quality Council of India has started compiling training programmes under the Indian accreditation norms so it is only a matter of time that there will be a series of training programmes that will be fine tuned to Indian requirements. In light of the new act that has been passed by the Food Safety Standard Authority of India, there is an additional focus on accrediting the certification bodies that are providing certification across the country.

On reviewing the situation, it is clear that a structured training is essential, preferably in-house rather than external accreditation. Induction training according to SOPs must be followed by supervision to make sure that it is put into practice. This coupled together with constant monitoring and re-training is the only formula for success in achieving high standards of kitchen hygiene. Where there is an erratic and haphazard approach to training, hygiene standards are likely to be inconsistent. In a sense, the training and re-training form a repetitive almost rhythmic pattern and the beat goes on!!!

Avril Sule
Trainer & Educator

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