Secrets of Form Design: Forms Can Be Fantastic

A simple way to make implementation 
of your food safety processes straightforward 
is to make the reporting forms easier to use.
Okay, you’re ready.  You have your policy.  You have a great plan.  You have the SOPs.  Now all you need to do is implement it!  

But sometimes, turning all that paperwork into actual food safety or quality assurance activity will be the hardest part.

A simple way to make implementation of your food safety processes straightforward is to make the reporting forms easier to use. There are some ideas:

  • Create the form at the same time you create the policy or SOP.  That makes sure you always have all the requirements you need to be documented, and it doesn’t leave it open-ended for someone to decide what is needed.
  • Since you’re making sure it’s sound, why don’t you check it against your third-party audit to make sure it meets all of those requirements, as well?
  • For ease of filing, put the location identifier at the very top, and always in the same place.  There is a lot of filing to be done – make it easier on yourself.
  • Organize the requirements in the order the people are actually doing the work, not the way requirements are listed in your plan or an audit.  This makes the form easier to use, which means it will more likely be used correctly.
  • Embrace the check-box.  There are only four people on the planet who have legible writing.  They probably do not work at your company.
  • If there are not a lot of requirements, can you add this to another existing form to reduce overall paperwork?  For example, I once created a Daily Harvest Risk Assessment Form that had seven separate assessments on one page.
  • If a lot of things need to be checked off, consider making a “negative-exception” form. This means that if everything in an area is okay, only one box is checked.  If anything is wrong, the negative-exceptions are then checked off, with needed descriptions and corrective actions.  

This article is related to the Whitepaper:
What the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Means to the Food and Beverage Industry

To get the full details, please download your free copy.
  • One page forms are awesome.  
  • They are even better if they are in the language spoken by the person who uses the forms.
  • It is also pretty cool if there is no industry-specific jargon and it is written in simple sentences that translate well to other languages.  
    • Don’t use conjunctions, like “don’t” 
    • Do not use negative sentences that require a positive answer, like “Did you see no evidence of contamination?”  These sentences cause brain damage. 
  • Just as you can design a form while you are writing your SOP, you can also add to the form what corrective actions need to be taken if there is a food safety issue.  Make it easier for people to do the right thing without assistance.
  • And, while you’re at it, why don’t you put the purpose and reason for the form at the top?  Everyone has to herd a lot of forms these days – it will make their job a little easier if there is a quick reminder right there.
  • Make sure your form is easy to train employees on.  If it is hard to explain, or employees are not using it correctly afterwards, it may be that your form needs updating.
  • Lastly, make sure you have a sensible update-and-distribution plan for this form in place.  You don’t want everyone using different forms.
Your form can be your friend.  If you can anticipate what information is needed and how it will be used, your form becomes a kind of technological tool that makes your employees' work and your own job much easier to do.  

I promise.

With twenty-two years experience in production agriculture, a B.A. in biology and a Masters in Food Safety, Nye Joell Hardy was most recently the Director of Food Safety at Dole Fresh Vegetables. She now works privately as a food safety technical and regulatory writer, specializing in writing training classes, food safety plans, forms, and more.  If you have questions or comments, or would like help making your documents more efficient, you can contact her at