Tim Darden, NRAEF's senior manager of new media development, says the course was designed to train restaurant managers to prepare safe food and to get them ready to take food safety certification exams.
What distinguishes the ServSafe online program from other online programs is that it relies less on text and more on audio and graphics.
"It's a very engaging online course," Darden says. "We tried to create a course that's as interactive as possible based on the content. We include several simulations that allow the learner to explore a restaurant type or a food service environment and identify and find food safety problems."
At the end of major sections, the simulations allow the user to pull all the knowledge together and practice it in a much more realistic environment.
"You're actually in a kitchen where you can move around and look at close-ups of things that you think might be problematic and then you have to make a decision on whether it's a problem or not," he says. "Darden cites convenience and ease of use as the key benefits of using the online training course. The course takes about six to 10 hours to complete, but users can take more time to review information and questions they did not get right the first time. Most users complete the program in six or seven hours.
The program is geared toward restaurant managers and anyone who serves food, but it would also be valuable to distributors, Darden says, adding that some of the larger distributors have expressed interest in these food safety training programs.
"A lot of times distributors need to understand food safety also," he says. "Often, it's as an added value to their customers and less as training for their own people."
The course has been accepted for certification requirements in almost all states with approval pending in Mississippi, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The online program has had 300 users since its debut in October 2002. NRAEF has been using it with a limited number of users to test its effectiveness, but now plans to offer it along with its other training programs.
The online course is constantly being updated to keep up with the latest food code regulations and technology. NRAEF also hopes to launch a Spanish-language version next year.
Companies that use the online training program like it because they can keep track of employees' progress. It also shows where weaknesses are and where they need to focus their attention to food safety issues.
Kirstin Mertef, training manager for Dairy Queen, says the company chose to use the ServSafe online program because the company's previous training program did not allow them to cover as many company-specific requirements, in addition to HACCP procedures, as they wanted to. Their employees now go through the online program, take the test and then go through the company's personal training program. This allows Dairy Queen to focus on their own training requirements while the online course covers basic food safety procedures.
"We always used the NRA's programs because it covers all the bases and they still do that in the online course," Mertef says. "And that was important to us as well, that every aspect of the flow of food is covered and that it gets into HACCP as more of a tutorial."
The company, which started using ServSafe online training Jan. 1, is happy with the results of the program as its employees' scores are often higher after taking the online program than they have been in the past, she says. Their employees like the program's convenience and format, Mertef says.
"Before they were getting a book, they had to read the book and be instructed," she notes. "By going through the online course, they're teaching themselves."