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What Is Food Safety Culture?

FSMS listeria antimicrobial EcoLab Food Safety Culture
Jill Hollingsworth

by Jill Hollingsworth / VP, Food Safety and Retail Industry Relations, Ecolab

A food safety program is only as good as the organization’s commitment to food safety and the actions of the people who make up the organization.

Think about this: An associate sees a utensil fall on the floor. No one is around to see what happened. Will they make sure the utensil is replaced with another one? Will they know that the one that fell needs to be cleaned and sanitized? Do they know to wash their hands after picking it up? How sure are you that they will do the right things?

You believe your organization has the best food safety practices – but what about behavior? Do your associates have the proper training to know what to do and the commitment to do the right thing?

That is what food safety culture is about. It is not only knowing what to do but also taking the right action because you believe in the principles of food safety and know you can reduce risks, protect consumers and enhance your organization’s reputation, even when no one is watching.

The Global Food Safety Initiative defines food safety culture as “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behavior toward food safety in, across and throughout an organization.”

Importance to Retailers

A culture of food safety isn’t something you can just mandate. It isn’t inherently part of a food safety plan, and it needs to be constantly reinforced. To begin, consider these aspects of a food safety culture:

  • How do your associates think about food safety?
  • What are your associates’ attitudes toward food safety and the emphasis they place on it?
  • What are the food safety behaviors your associates routinely practice?
  • What is your team’s willingness to learn more and openly discuss concerns and possible improvements?
  • Is there a commitment from upper management to support and prioritize food safety?

According to FDA Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas, “You can have the best policies, written procedures, rules and laws on the books, but if they’re not put into practice by people, they are absolutely useless.”

Commit to a Process

If you want to take your food safety program to the next level, it’s time to develop a food safety culture within your organization. The good news is that there are steps you can take to make it happen. It will require a top-down commitment, time and buy-in from your team.

The steps:

  • Measure where your organization is today, including food safety training, communication and goals.
  • Analyze the results and identify strengths and gaps.
  • Develop strategies and action items that fill the gaps and lead to behavior change.
  • Frequently reassess and adjust to ensure sustained and continuous improvement.

To learn more,  visit foodsafetyculture.com/.

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