Building a Positive Food Safety Culture in Your Organization

Apr 1

Introduction

Building Food safety culture is key because food safety is about people! Those who consume the food product as well as those people who grow, process, manufacture, and serve that food.

We need capable and proven Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS), well-managed supply chains, suitable premises, and equipment but at the end of the day, it is people who produce safe food!

What people/team members learn from the bigger group in regards to food safety practices, what they usually do, and the norms and behaviors they share are what we refer to as food safety culture.

In this blog post, we will discuss the definition of food safety culture, its importance, and the benefits of having a positive one in your workplace. We will also provide tips on how to create maintain positive food safety culture in your organization.

What is food safety culture?  

Here is the first definition, "the collection of values, attitudes, and practices that determine how food is grown, processed, transported, stored, prepared, and served." (International Food Safety Authorities Network [INFOSAN], 2016).


Also defined by BRCGS as " The attitudes, values and/or beliefs which are prevalent at the site, relating to the importance of product safety and the confidence in the product safety systems, processes, and procedures used by the site"


My favorite definition is from The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), who defines it as "Shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behaviour toward food safety in, across and throughout an organisation." (Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Technical Working Group, 2018).


In simple terms, it is what we learn from the bigger group and what we usually do when no one is watching.

Importance of food safety culture

While it has become a compliance requirement in a number of food safety standards and regulatory requirements, it is a focus area in FDA's New Era for Smarter food Safety initiative, also highlighted in Codex Alimentarrious guidelines - General principles of Food Hygiene CXC 1-1969 2020 version and by Food Standards Australia New Zealand, food safety culture is important because it can help prevent food safety incidents from happening.


Let's say that you are working in a food factory and you see one of your co-workers doing something bad, like not washing their hands when they should, let's say coming back from lunchtime straight to the production line. If you have a positive culture in your organization, you, and others too, are more likely to speak up and tell them that they need to wash their hands. However, if you don't have a good culture in your organization, you might not say anything because you might be afraid of getting in trouble or because you might not want to get into an argument with your co-worker.


But why all of this you may ask? It can help you achieve the following goals:

  • Help to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks.
  • Improve food safety performance
  • Improve communication and coordination among team members
  • Improve compliance with relevant regulations
  • Improve product quality and customer satisfaction
  • Help to create a positive work environment.
  • Help to improve team morale.


Studies by the Queens School of Business and by the Gallup Organization, suggested that a disengaged workforce had:

  • 37% higher absenteeism
  • 60% more errors and defects
  • 49% more accidents.


Where employees' engagement scores are low, organsiations have experienced:

  • 18% lower productivity
  • 16% lower profitability
  • 37% lower job growth
  • 50% fewer job applications


So, investing in your food safety culture and organisational culture, in general, is a winning investment right?

12 Tips for creating and maintaining a positive food safety culture in your organization  

There are a lot of actions that you need to take to achieve noticeable improvements, in the poster below you see the areas to focus on as suggested by GFSI:
GFSI building food safety culture poster 5 pillars
The following 12 tips will help you get started:

Provide full and practical training on the topic and how it applies in your workplace.

The better you train the team who will drive the initiatives the better the chances of actually enhancing the safety culture and gaining the benefits.

At Food Surety we deliver a comprehensive, BRCGS official "An Approach to Product Safety Culture Course" that will ensure your efforts are on the right track and provide you with many necessary tools you need.

Hold formal and regular stand-up training to reinforce food safety principles

Though formal food safety training provides your team members with the knowledge necessary to produce the food safely. Formal and proper food safety training ensures new food handlers have adequate food hygiene understanding, it also gives new employees an understanding that your business really cares about food safety. Remember food safety training may eventually disappear if never revisited. Enhance food safety education by organising standup food handler training sessions regularly.

A good example is to use standup training that is 3-5 minutes long with only one concept. If you want to teach people about food allergy protocols at work or foodborne illness incident handling, you might first ask your staff why the topic is important. Next, you should explain how you can apply it e.g. how to follow food allergy protocols. Make sure you quiz your staff about the specific protocol taught and pay attention to the proper record-keeping part of any refresher courses, it is an ongoing effort that can be made simple by using the proper training techniques and technology. 

Senior managers to lead the initiative

You need the right group of people from across the organization to actively work on these initiatives, this group has to be led by senior management and company leaders who are demonstrating strong commitment. You need the right group of people from across the organization to actively work on these initiatives, this group has to be led by senior management and company leaders who are demonstrating strong commitment.

Measure the current state

One common method is to use surveys, there are many other methods,  it can be good to collect data on a large scale. After that it is time for submitting data for analysis and prioritising actions to take which is a whole topic in itself, you don't want to use your allocated resources on good initiatives that are not necessarily culture-specific. In my courses and working with growers, food manufacturers, food service industry, I see this happening a lot.

Here is one tip that you, as a food safety expert, should remember, your food safety culture efforts should be focused on improving behaviours! Not the product, not the shelf-life,...

Communicate to and engage everyone at the organisation

Everyone, not only those who serve food or inspect food, including sales, marketing, management, production, quality assurance and technical, warehouse, human resources,... to be included, buy-in is a vital part of enhancing the corporate culture and protecting brand reputation.   

Make sure that everyone in your organization understands the importance of food hygiene in the employees' regular routine and has an up-to-date understanding of food safety protocols and preventing consumer harm and foodborne illnesses. Encourage employees to speak up if they see something that is not safe or if they have any questions about how to safely prepare food.

More Tips for a strong culture at the workplace:

  • Establish and communicate food safety policies and procedures.

  • Encourage team member communication and collaboration as well as reporting food safety violations.


  • Have fun and celebrate team members who demonstrate food safety excellence in producing, handling, or serving food, those who identify non-compliance and isolate potentially unsafe foods, and of course those who have less careless mistakes

  • Use posters to summarise and communicate information minimising language barriers

  • Provide adequate resources and support to help the team maintain proper food safety protocols.

  • Evaluate and update your plan regularly.


Once you have established a positive product culture in your organization, it is important to take steps to maintain it.
Team having pizza together, team engagement to build food safety culture

Conclusion  

Creating and maintaining a food safety culture in your organization is vital to protecting the safety of your customers, employees, and brand. By following these tips, you can help ensure that everyone in your organization has a clear understanding and is working together to keep food safe. Keep up the great work and thank you for reading!

For more tips on creating and maintaining a positive culture or if you are looking for a food safety training provider? Please contact us today!

Frequently Asked Question

Q: How can I get my employees to be more food quality and safety-conscious?

A: One way to encourage employees to be more food safety-conscious is to establish food safety policies and procedures and enforce them regularly. You can also celebrate team members who demonstrate food safety excellence, provide adequate resources and support to help the team maintain proper safety protocols, and evaluate and update your plan regularly.

Q: Is creating a food safety culture something that only large companies need to worry about?

A: No, it is important for any size company. By following these tips, you can help ensure that everyone in your organization has a clear understanding of relevant protocols and is working together to keep food safe.

Q: What should I do to engage team members in food safety culture efforts?

A: Employees should be encouraged to speak up if they see something that is not safe or if they have any questions about how to safely prepare food. You can also provide adequate resources, means, and support to help the team maintain proper protocols.

Q: How often should I evaluate and update my food safety culture plan?

A: It is important to evaluate and update your plan regularly in order to ensure that it remains effective. We recommend evaluating and updating your plan every six months. However, this timeline may vary depending on the size and complexity of your organization.

Q: what if the survey results suggest a lack of positive safety culture? 

Be honest about the state of your culture, be open and ready to hear your team's feedback even if it is not what you hoped to hear. Collect the data, analyse it appropriately to make conclusions that will actually help you take the right actions that can improve the workplace culture. This is a lot better than waiting for careless mistakes to unfold. 

Q: I'm not sure where to start with creating a food safety culture in my organization. Can you help?

A: Yes, we can definitely help! If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to contact us! We would be happy to help.
Author: Ray Haddad
Disclaimer: The information contained on this article is based on research done in the last months and the authors personal experience and opinions. It is not intended to represent the view of any organization they work for or collaborate with. The authors will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information provided in the article.

Latest From Food Surety Blog