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Food safety culture – what is it and why is it important?

Culture is a fuzzy word and it can be difficult to relate to a food business. Its all about people and their behaviour and is the ‘softer’ side of food safety. In a food business we are all acquainted with the ‘harder’ side of food safety – taking temperatures, keeping the premises clean, managing waste, keeping records and getting food out to the customer. But marrying food safety and culture together is the ‘new’ concept and it’s how everyone (owners, managers, employees) think and act in their daily job to make sure the food they make or serve is safe every time and of good quality. A strong food safety culture starts at the top but needs everyone's support across the business. It can protect the brand, create a positive working environment, protect the business from financial loss and making people sick.
So how does a business go about developing a food safety culture? Start by doing a health check of the business – ask questions of all staff including top management about leadership and staff engagement, who has responsibility for food safety, what the standards are and what they should be, how committed everyone is in ‘doing the right thing’, measure how issues are dealt with and how problems and complaints are addressed and finally look at your relationship with the regulatory authorities. You can’t manage what you don’t measure!

Leadership starts at the top so using the information from the health check start shaping and building the culture with supervisors and managers getting actively involved in food safety. When standards are set and everyone knows what drives the business then attitudes can change. Managers and supervisors must lead by example – as the old saying goes "walk the walk and talk the talk”.  Sharing knowledge, train staff and creating an environment where everyone will feel confident to raise issues which could be important for food safety.  Don’t forget this is the ‘softer’ side of food safety.

Thanks to Lorraine Oman Ashby Food Safety  and member of the FSPA for this article