Abderazak Ali is a manager at Flavor Bee, a restaurant in Minneapolis known for hot Jamaican wings, burgers, and falafel sandwiches. He moved from Somalia to Minnesota three years ago, and while he's comfortable serving up a meal, he is not as comfortable taking a food safety exam in English.
The state requires most businesses to have at least one manager certified in food safety. In Minneapolis, there are nearly 200 Somali-owned restaurants and day-care centers. For Somali entrepreneurs, the hurdles to passing that exam include language, Western standardized testing and costs.
"Most Somali business owners, they don't speak good English," Ali said.
The food safety test is available in Spanish, Korean and other languages, but not in Somali. To help Ali and other Somali food managers pass the exam, the city of Minneapolis approved funding to hold Somali food safety training classes as well.
Most people who take the test get a book, in English, a month in advance, and then spend half a day with an instructor, then take the exam.
But Farhiya Farah doesn't even give a book out to her Somali students. Farah, who owns GlobeGlow Consulting, a company that works with what she calls the "limited-English population," helped lead the training.
MPR News is Reader Funded
Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.
"Some students, even writing their name is a challenge, forget about doing an exam," Farah said. "And yet they're cooks at restaurants, and they're very much in the food business."
She took three full days to teach bacteria names like Salmonellosis, and jargon like "highly-susceptible population," terms that aren't easy to translate into Somali.
Bette Packer, a registered environmental health specialist, and another instructor in the Somali food training class, has been teaching about food safety for two decades. She pointed out that the Somali students get the concepts orally, but the Western style standardized test throws them off.
She said some students struggle with the answer form that requires users to fill in a circle for the correct answer to a question.
"I've known some people that have had to take exams four to six times, just to pass," Packer said. "We want them to be successful. We want them to have pride, and you don't have pride if you fail, fail, fail."
And failure can lead to fines and costly extra exams. "It's a vicious cycle," she said.
In an effort to help, the city of Minneapolis subsidizes most of the $150 per student cost of the exams.
Several more Somali-language food safety training classes will be offered this year.