A Clean Sweep


Pump N Pantry keeps foodservice training organized with Keeping It Kleen program

With the foodservice category growing increasingly important as convenience stores become legitimate dining destinations, it’s no surprise that more and more c-stores are investing in their programs. With more prepared food, though, comes more messes, more hygiene and safety concerns, and more effort needed to keep standards consistent across a workforce.

Managing all these factors is a lot to put on store managers’ plates, which is why some c-store chains such as Pump N Pantry are simplifying the process by turning to third-party services. In Pump N Pantry’s case, it partners with Keeping It Kleen, a comprehensive, web-based program that uses technology to streamline the delivery of food safety training.

“One thing we’ve found oftentimes is when we bring people on, there’s so much to learn,” said Wade Robinson, supervisor of foodservice for the Montrose, Pa.-based chain of 17 stores.

As a result, employees weren’t always given the most effective training right away, and managers struggled to effectively communicate with employees across many locations in a uniform way, he said, recalling the retailer’s challenges before it implemented Keeping It Kleen.

Keeping employees engaged in training can also be a problem, along with understanding which aspects of food safety are the most important. These were all factors considered during the creation of Keeping It Kleen, according to Julie Loveless, director of operations for the program, which is a subsidiary of Conklin, N.Y.-based Maines Paper and Food Service Inc.

“Food safety is boring,” said Loveless, who has instruction experience from the National Restaurant Association’s ServeSafe food safety training and certificate program. “I knew if I wanted to reach the younger crowd…I needed to create a format that was engaging, a bit fun. Maybe I have a warped sense of what is fun, but I believe the Keeping It Kleen videos are fun and engaging.”

To keep trainees’ minds sharp, Loveless said instead of all-day classes that result in eyes that are “glazed over by lunch,” Pump N Pantry employees now learn through “bite-sized modules” in the form of relatively brief web-based, YouTube-style videos that cover specific aspects of food safety and handling. The average video is approximately 10 minutes long and available in both English and Spanish. After each module, employees must pass a 10-question, multiple-choice test in order to receive a certificate of completion.

At Pump N Pantry, personal hygiene and food handling basics are taught right away as part of new employees’ onboarding process. The structure of Keeping It Kleen, however, allows employees to work through additional modules as needed, rather than going through an entire training program in a rush to get them onto store floors as soon as possible.

The training process is also simplified on the managerial side. Those overseeing the program at a retail chain have their own mobile dashboard, which they can log into to add or delete employees, see where existing workers are in the testing process, and assign specific training modules. Passwords and logins are not required to access the modules, making it easier to be flexible with where and when the video training takes place.

“They just need to open their email, sit the employee down and click the link,” said Robinson.

The questions in Keeping It Kleen’s training modules are designed to test knowledge in a fair way, balancing effectiveness with ease of use. “We did a lot of research to create Q&As that would be memorable, not that would be tricky,” said Loveless. For example, possible answers to a question about acceptable jewelry while working in food preparation include a plain band ring (correct) or “a Super Bowl ring.”

In addition to serving as standard new-employee training, the modules can serve as material reviews for existing employees who make mistakes — something Robinson calls “absolutely” more constructive than a punishment. Instead of a write-up, Pump N Pantry managers are able to offer “retraining and emphasizing the correct thing.”

Additionally, as employees are promoted to higher positions such as shift supervisor or assistant manager, they’re able to train on Keeping It Kleen modules while waiting for ServeSafe training opportunities. Robinson said this “fills the gap between those classes.”

Employee adoption has been fairly swift. At first, Pump N Pantry managers were skeptical about adding one more task to the long list of things they already do, but once they understood that they didn’t need to stand around and supervise their workers, they embraced the program. As for the frontline employees, “[they] actually love it,” Robinson said.

Since adoption of the program at Pump N Pantry, employees have passed a combined 200-plus modules without a single complaint from a worker. Employees like the certificates they receive at the end of training, many of which are hung up inside the stores.

Although Keeping It Kleen was conceived with retailers in mind, Pump N Pantry’s adoption of the program has improved its relationship with consumers, too. Window decals promoting the program have prompted the chain’s customers to ask about it. As a result, Robinson said he feels it’s created “a level of trust that many convenience stores don’t have.”

At its inception, Keeping It Kleen was more focused on the restaurant market. But based on its experience with Pump N Pantry and the c-store industry’s shift toward foodservice, Loveless said they’ll definitely be focusing more on the c-store channel now.

Other convenience store chains have expressed interest in following Pump N Pantry’s lead, and the program itself remains a work in progress. New training modules continue to be added, including ones on topics such as food allergen awareness and celiac disease.

“We’ll continue to add modules as needed,” Loveless said.

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