Food Safety Culture

The success of implementing and maintaining a food safety program depends on having a positive food safety culture.  A food safety culture is the values of an organization with regard to food safety.    An organization with a strong food safety culture demonstrates to its employees and customers that making safe food is an important commitment. 

The impact of food safety culture on the success of a food safety program is often overlooked, resulting in it not achieving its objectives. Food safety must be treated as a way of doing business and not just something that is discussed at a weekly meeting.
Key elements of a successful food safety culture include:

  • Strong Leadership - The strength of an organization’s food safety culture is a reflection of the importance of food safety to its leadership.  Leaders are necessary to identify food safety goals and provide focus to keep everyone on track to achieve success.
  • Engagement – Enable individuals to contribute to the food safety strategy.  Employees who are involved with the design and implementation of the food safety program are more likely to “buy in”. 
  • Management Visibility – Management needs to “walk the talk” or in other words be seen following the food safety program.  Employees are watching; if management doesn’t follow the rules they will lose credibility and employees will not follow the food safety program. Management needs to lead by example. 
  • Accountability – Employees must be held accountable for meeting job expectations that relate to food safety.  When employees are held accountable they are more likely to perform tasks correctly, even when no one is watching.
  • Effective Communication – Information needs to be shared regularly.  Management needs to communicate food safety expectations and employees need to be heard when voicing concerns or suggestions for improvement.
  • Following Best Practices – Focus on meeting or exceeding industry’s best food safety practices and not just meet minimum regulatory requirements. 


Changing Behaviour


The day-to-day behavior of an organization’s employees and management defines and reflects its food safety culture. When a facility implements a food safety program the need to make behaviour changes is often necessary.  Employees need to be shown that the risks are real and may have consequences.    Employees are more likely to be supportive if they can relate and see a benefit to following the required practices.   


Management’s Role  


Management is responsible for creating a positive food safety environment.   This is very important since once a negative food safety culture is established it is very difficult to change.  Management must provide the following:
  • A suitable environment, equipment and tools that are in good repair and are made of materials that are easily cleaned. 
  • Policies and procedures that clearly tell the employees how to make safe food.
  • Training to ensure employees are aware of and understand the policies and procedures.
  • Communication that emphasizes the importance of food safety, gives credit for good practices being followed and lets employees know where improvement is required.
  • Empowerment of employees to voice their food safety concerns and make them comfortable pointing out to management and each other where proper practices aren’t being followed.
  • Support of programs that evaluate the effectiveness of food safety programs (ex: internal auditing).
  • Financial and human resources to support the food safety program and when necessary to address food safety concerns.
  • Consequences for those who do not follow the food safety program.


Communication


Communication is an essential part of a food safety culture. Communication can take many forms and a combination of strategies may be most effective.  Some examples are:
  • Regular information sharing (ex: meetings, conversations, memos or newsletters).
  • Visual demonstration of proper food safety practices (ex: posters or signs).


Do You Have a Positive Food Safety Culture?


Ask yourself the following questions to evaluate your commitment to food safety: 
    1. Is it reasonable for people to expect my company to follow a food safety program?
    2. Do I believe my food safety program is important for preventing food safety issues?
    3. Does my attitude about food safety affect the success of my company’s food safety program?
    4. Am I able and willing to share my food safety concerns or ideas for improvement?
    5. Do I believe that completing food safety tasks is important and a good use of my time? 
    6. Am I willing to invest my company’s resources in food safety?

Answer yes to these questions to be part of a positive food safety culture and to achieve sustainable food safety success.

 

For more information, email the CVO/Food Safety Knowledge Centre or call 204-795-8418 in Winnipeg.