Collaboration — both within restaurant companies and with suppliers and industry peers — is crucial to ensuring a food supply that’s safe from farm to fork, agreed attendees at the eighth annual Food Safety Symposium held in Denver this month.

During the two-day conference, sponsored by Ecolab and produced by Nation’s Restaurant News, nearly 40 food safety professionals discussed the many ways they build systems that encourage collaboration and vigilance, especially among employees.

Food safety “needs to be part of your core values,” William Moore, director of safety and security for Eat’n Park Hospitality Inc., the Homestead, Pa.-based parent of the 75-unit Eat’n Park family-dining chain, said during his keynote speech. “If it’s not in your core values, your mission statement, then it’s not a priority.”

The symposium occurred against the backdrop of a Cyclospora outbreak that had sickened 642 people in 25 states, leading to 45 hospitalizations but no deaths, throughout the summer. The cause of the outbreak was still under investigation at press time, although a salad mix from Taylor Farms de Mexico served at Darden Restaurants Inc. in two states had been implicated in about 240 of the illnesses.

In discussing the outbreak during the symposium, William Marler, an attorney specializing in food safety cases with Seattle-based MarlerClark, said he too was perplexed by the situation and had yet to file any lawsuits. The scope and complexity of the outbreak, however, underscored the responsibility of each player in the farm-to-fork chain.

Here are some other top takeaways from the symposium:

1. Make food safety training engaging. Hand washing and proper holding temperatures — the basics of food safety — have not changed in 30 years, said Moore of Eat’n Park. The key is keeping the message fresh so that employees pay attention.

With a workforce largely under the age of 25, employers need to make sure their messages are quick and easy to grasp. Moore said he relies on lots of colorful visuals, and customized posters, comics, video clips featuring celebrities, games like Pandemic 2, and stuffed-animal germs and microbes are among his favorites.

Tugging at the heartstrings doesn’t hurt either, said several attendees. Al Baroudi, Ph.D., vice president, quality assurance and food safety for The Cheesecake Factory Inc., the Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based operator of 175 upscale casual-dining restaurants, shows his audiences an image of the hundreds of children and adults that have died during foodborne illness outbreaks to drive home the point that lives are stake.