In a recent CBC report on food safety citations that were handed out in Montreal, language barriers were cited as an obstacle by the head of Montreal’s food inspection department. 

In this article, language barriers are cited as a major reason why some food safety citations were handed out in Montreal.

"We have neighbourhoods where we have a challenge, sometimes caused by a language barrier, we have trouble getting our message across," she said, pointing to areas like Parc-Extension, Saint-Laurent, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Côte-des-Neiges, Chinatown and Verdun. But, in these neighbourhoods, we also have excellent restaurants, impeccable.”

-Myrta Mantzavrakos, head of Montreal food inspection department

But language barriers aren’t isolated to Montreal. Any restaurant which employs people for whom English or French is a second language - and there are many - can easily run into communication issues that can quickly turn into food safety issues.

In a recent CBC report on food safety citations that were handed out in Montreal, language barriers were cited as an obstacle by the head of Montreal’s food inspection department. 


In this article, language barriers are cited as a major reason why some food safety citations were handed out in Montreal.


"We have neighbourhoods where we have a challenge, sometimes caused by a language barrier, we have trouble getting our message across," she said, pointing to areas like Parc-Extension, Saint-Laurent, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Côte-des-Neiges, Chinatown and Verdun. But, in these neighbourhoods, we also have excellent restaurants, impeccable.”

-Myrta Mantzavrakos, head of Montreal food inspection department


But language barriers aren’t isolated to Montreal. Any restaurant which employs people for whom English or French is a second language - and there are many - can easily run into communication issues that can quickly turn into food safety issues.

Clear communication is integral for food safety

Clearly, mandating a full command of the English or French language for each worker is an impossible ask. In 2014, one out of four foodservice employees spoke another language at home. It is up to the restaurant owner and management to be able to clearly communicate food safety “musts” in a way that everyone can understand. There are many ways this can be done, including hiring an interpreter for food safety training and ensuring that employees with language issues have one-on-one training using the “show don’t tell” method. With this method, you show the employee what to do, and they repeat the action to show that they’ve learned it.

Foodservice workers do best with visual presentations

When developing any training materials in your organization, limit words wherever possible and use engaging graphics instead. Showing a hamburger rather than writing “hamburger” will avoid confusion that could lead to food safety issues - and others - down the road. An FDA study showed that most foodservice workers learn better through visual presentations and storyboards as opposed to text, no matter what their language proficiency was.

Symbols and colours instead of words

Using symbols and colours to represent allergens, types of foods, and other items aren’t just more effective for those with language challenges - they are easier to understand for everyone. Colour coded equipment for different uses (e.g. brown for meat, green for produce, and so on) makes a pot instantly recognizable as a pot for shellfish as opposed to a pot for chicken. Yes, you have to train the employees on what each colour is for, but that process will be worth the time spent.

Visual signs as opposed to signs with just text should be used wherever a safety sign is posted in your restaurant or foodservice establishment. For example, a sign reading “Hairnets required” should have the text, but also a picture of a hairnet being worn.

Food safety courses in first or better-known language if possible

Food Safety Market offers courses in both English and French. Many immigrants from other countries such as many African countries and Vietnam may not know English very well, but they will have a much better command of French. Where your workers don’t know either language well, in-class training with an interpreter is the best way to go, even if it is an extra expense. Whatever you do, don’t make them scroll through online courses in English or French if they don’t understand either language well - it’s easy to just click through the material and answer questions blindly without proper knowledge of the subject. It’s a waste of money for you since they aren’t getting the information you’re paying for, and extremely frustrating for them.

Clear, visual communication throughout your business won’t just help clear up language barriers that can lead to food safety violations - it will increase the efficiency of your organization and improve your bottom line when it does.