The Impact of the Food Safety Training Program on Food Handlers in the Food Service Industry: A Social Cognitive Theory Perspective



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It is estimated that in the United States (U.S.), approximately 61% of food-borne illness outbreaks were attributed to employees’ personal hygiene and improper food handling by employees in the foodservice industry. Although training and preventive actions have been carried out, they appear to be less effective when correlated with reported food outbreaks over the same period. A large group of food safety training researchers has suggested that food safety training should be developed based on firm behavioral development and psycho-social theories. Therefore, two studies were conducted to develop and examine a multilevel and reciprocal food safety training framework to identify the key factors associated with training outcomes by adopting theories (i.e., social cognitive theory) and instructional framework from applied and social psychology to a food safety training context.

The first study examines the personal, instructional, and organizational factors that are significantly related to food safety training outcomes using a longitudinal multilevel modeling (MLM) approach. The findings of study 1 showed that trainees’ food safety behavior change is generated by the interactions between personal factors, instructional factors, and organizational factors, which supported the social cognitive theory. More specifically, the changes in self-efficacy and motivation to learn over time on the within-individual level, the differences in motivation to learn and trainees’ perceived enjoyment on the between-individual level, and managers’ safety priority and active monitoring behaviors on the between-organization level have positive and significant impact on the changes in food safe practices (i.e., training outcomes). Additionally, the results indicated that the managerial differences between organizations influence training outcomes more significantly than between-individual differences in the food safety training context.

The second study adopts a cross-lagged panel model (CLPM) to examine the presence of bidirectional effects between knowledge and attitudinal factors proposed by social cognitive theory and the dynamic mechanisms that underlie the relationships between food safety knowledge and attitudinal factors and practices. The results show that the bidirectional model in which food safety knowledge and food safety affective factors had reciprocal effects on each other provides the best model fit compared to four alternative models. In addition, study 2 finds food safety knowledge mediates the cross-lagged effects between food safety attitudinal factors and food safety practices. food safety attitudinal factors also mediate the cross-lagged path from food safety knowledge and food safety practices.

The present dissertation contributes to food safety training research by expanding the current cross-sectional, unidirectional, and single-level food safety training framework to an interactionist-perspective-based multilevel, longitudinal and reciprocal framework, which provides significantly better explanations regarding the trainees’ cognitive, affective, and behavioral changes during a food safety training intervention. Both academic and practical implications of findings are discussed, as well as the limitation of the two studies and recommendations for future research.



Food safety, Training, Social Cognitive Theory, Longitudinal study, Multilevel modeling