Food Safety Culture: Five Factors for Success
Food safety culture is in spotlight with more requirement from BRC version 8 to demonstrate a strategic plan is in place to improve the current state. Percipio Training review five factors to consider when assessing an existing food safety culture.
1. Leadership and Management
Food safety culture is driven ‘consciously’ or ‘unconsciously’ by leadership at all levels1. It starts at the top and cascades down and across the organisation. This controlling mind creates, strengthens and sustains a food safety culture, and can choose to make food safety a priority or not. But leadership is only factor in implementing and maintaining a positive food safety culture.
Management controls and directs people and resources. It implements policies and procedures and maintains stability. Frank Yiannas suggests a ‘great food safety culture’ is not possible without ‘buy-in’ form mid-level management because they influence ‘front line employees’2. He argues managers need to visibly demonstrate their commitment to food safety by the ‘things they say and do’2.
2. Communicating the Food Safety Message
Communication educates and influences behaviour2. Using multiple communication mediums and mechanisms will increase the chance the food safety message has been received and understood several times2. Communication is not simply a one-way process. Opportunities for feedback must be included in the communication plan. Asking questions creates engagement with employees and can put a spotlight on potential problems and opportunities for improvement.
Choosing the right font for written communication can also make a difference in understanding the message. Frank Yiannas reports using sans-serif (e.g. Times New Roman or Helvetica) can help the reader to better understand and recall critical information3.
People are critical to success. Their behaviours and practices have the power to make things happen or not. They can choose to do the right things or take short cuts. People should not simply comply with safe food handling practices because they held are accountable. They should believe and commit to food safety because it is the right thing to do.
Food safety is both a shared and personal responsibility. But problems can arise where employees wrongly assume that someone else will deal with an ‘unsafe or unsanitary condition’3. Frank Yiannas defines this perception as a ‘bystander mindset’3. Food safety education and training must explain why food safety is everyone’s responsibility and the importance in taking appropriate action. No-one should be a food safety bystander.
4. Food Safety Environment
A well designed, equipped and maintained food premises communicates visible factors that food safety is a priority for the business. They motivate and enable staff to work hygienically, and prevent, reduce or eliminate other food safety hazards. Frank Yiannas suggests disorder, disrepair and lack of cleanliness in the food safety environment should not be tolerated because it can these factors can influence undesired behaviours3.
5. Adaptability and Continuous Improvement
Adaptability characterises the ability of a food business and its employees to adjust to ‘changing influences and conditions’4. Change can be anticipated or unexpected. A report produced by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) describes six ‘critical components food safety expectations, current state, agility, change, crisis management and problem-solving11.
There must be an awareness and desire at all levels for need for change. Sustainable change will require knowledge in change management practices and ongoing reinforcement4. An assessment of the current state provides an insight into what is actually happening within an existing food safety culture against established expectations and direction.
The food business must be able to ‘think and draw conclusions’ quickly in response to threats and opportunities. This level of ‘agility’ is measured in preparedness and competence in ‘anticipating’, ‘responding’ and ‘adapting’ to change4. This may include a crisis management plan in place to deal with critical situations, followed by a review that promotes a learning culture built on openness and a desire for continuous improvement. Problem solving must focus on root causes and no simply apportion blame to people.
1. Griffith, C J. (2014). Developing and Maintaining a Positive Food Safety Culture. 1st Edition. Highfield Publishing Ltd. Doncaster UK.
2. Yiannas, F. (2009). Food safety culture: Creating a behavior-based food safety management system. New York: Springer Science
3. Yiannas, F. (2015). Food Safety = Behavior: 30 Proven Techniques to Enhance Employee Compliance:Springer.
4. Global Food Safety Initiative (2018) ‘CULTURE OF FOOD SAFETY: A POSITION PAPER
FROM THE GLOBAL FOOD SAFETY INITIATIVE [online]. Available at: http://www.mygfsi.com/images/A_Culture_Of_Food_Safety/GFSI-Food-Safety-Culture-FULL-VERSION.pdf