My name is Robert Askew (but everyone calls me Bob).
Born and bred in Yorkshire, I trained in Leeds to become an Environmental Health Officer and held a variety of positions including working in Leeds in the inner city slums before being promoted to a specialist Food Safety Officer position.
In this job I was tasked with inspecting all the major hotels and restaurants and cafes in the inner city plus checking imported foods at the inland port container base.
As a complete contrast I later worked for some years in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland before deciding to emigrate to New Zealand with my family in the late 1970's.
Since 2008 I was the Senior Environmental Health Officer with Nelson City Council. This is a position with a wide range of duties but mostly involved in food safety. In 2017 I 'retired' from Nelson but since then have done several consultancy contracts with for independent recognised verifiers, other Councils and the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Although my background and professional qualifications have been in Environmental Health, I have held a number of other positions with Councils in the Nelson/Tasman Area including Resource Management and Senior Management Positions.
I have Statutory Qualifications to work as an Environmental Health Officer in New Zealand and also have post graduate qualifications in a variety of associated disciplines including Public Health, Air Quality and Advanced Auditing Skills.
I held appointments as a Food Act Officer and Verifier with the Ministry for Primary Industries.
I have always had a passion for food safety and specifically working together with others in the food industry in a collaborative way to help empower them to deliver safe food.
Humanitarian Emergency Aid
Again looking for something that was completely different and challenging I signed up with the New Zealand Red Cross for deployment as an overseas delegate. It took several months and some intense training to finally be accepted for work with Red Cross.
So I abandoned a ‘normal’ working life during the mid-1990’s and I undertook a number of missions as a Water Sanitation Engineer for the International Federation of the Red Cross.
I also was engaged for missions with OXFAM and UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees).
Altogether I spent four years working overseas with the IFRC, OXFAM and UNHCR.
The picture shows me at a Red Cross camp in a remote place called Nyamirangwe, located in Eastern Zaire. It was one of two camps I was deployed following the mass exodus of refugees from Rwanda due to the genocide horrors.
After 6 months working to put in place water supplies and basic sanitation facilities the camp put on a party for me before I left!
Note the greenstone tohanga I am wearing (I never took it off!). It was given to me by a local Maori elder for protection during my travels. It was a real honour to receive and wear and it certainly worked!
Why I Developed SafeFoodHandler.com
The humanitarian experience was a life-changer for me and after returning resolved to help people working in the food industry to learn and practice basic food safety training.
I knew, however, that although many courses were available, few food workers (particularly those in temporary employment) had undertaken food safety training.
So I began wondering why so many food workers could not (or would not) attend the variety of really good basic food hygiene courses that were available and so I undertook some research of my own.
These are some of the responses I noted:
- “It costs too much money - I'm on minimum wage - I can't afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a course”;
- “I can’t get the time off work to attend classes - I'm just far too busy - and then when I get home I'm stuffed”;
- “I’m only doing the job part time for a few months so why should I bother?”;
- “I hate doing exams - it's like going back to school!”;
- “I'm worried what my boss will think if I were to fail the course so I make excuses to put it off”;
- “I think the course may take too long and I get bored easily";
- "I think it may be too difficult for me with lots of weird scientific names for germs and stuff like that”;
- “My friend did a course and it hasn't made her do things like washing her hands any better than she did before”.
Maybe some of these comments may sound familiar?
It was clear that, for any food safety training programme to be successful, it had to address all of the above issues. Some Councils introduced bylaws to legally require workers to undertake food safety training that otherwise they would probably not have done such requirement.
But I knew that a significant number of Councils had no such legal requirement, therefore any training programme had to be easily accessible, affordable and achievable so that food workers would be more willing to undertake the programme voluntarily.
A really important aspect of the programme was that it instilled not only knowledge but a positive attitude so that food handlers would 'keep doing the right thing' or 'walking the talk' to ensure food safety for their customers. A simple procedure here was to have the food handlers sign their certificates which were in the form of commitment to food safety.
The ‘SafeFoodHandler.com’ programme has been a total success with well over 10,000 kiwis having successfully completed the programme since its inception.
Just recently the programme notes and quiz questions have been completely overhauled to make consistent with the new Food Act 2014 and Food Regulations 2015
And Now FCP Training!
For the last 5 years I have been working closely with local food businesses and the Ministry for Primary Industries to launch the Templated Food Control Plan (FCP) in Nelson City.
The FCP is a food safety risk management plan which will be the principle tool for a large majority of New Zealand's food service providers.
Food businesses such as restaurants, cafes, takeaways and caterers and also higher risk retail food premises being butchers, delicatessens , wet fish retailers and bakeries will over a three year period commencing 1 March 2016, be required to transfer from the Food Hygiene Regulations to the Food Control Plan.
Success with the FCP means understanding how it works. Success is also better achieved as a team effort than as a single 'player'.
The FCP includes specific training requirements to ensure you and your staff can conform to the Plan and make sure that the food you prepare and serve is safe and suitable.
It is to provide you with an outstanding learning programme based on my years of experience both as a practicing Environmental Health Officer and as an On-Line Food Safety training provider with SafeFoodHandler.com.
The new training methods used in FoodControlPlan are specifically designed to make learning easy and attainable at minimal cost both in time and money.