Last updated: 11.08.17

Avoiding foodborne illnesses: How to create a stronger food safety culture

Foodborne illness can be dangerous and cause illnesses among staff and customers. However, by ingraining a strong food safety culture, this can be avoided by businesses.

“Company culture includes a variety of elements, including work environment, company mission, value, ethics, expectations, and goals,” according to careers expert Alison Doyle.

For catering businesses, food safety must be core to this and can be the making and breaking of a company. Not only is culture about how things are done and operate within the organisation, but it is also about the complete encompassing of a company’s attitude.

In simple terms, company culture:

1. Determines how staff behave and whether they follow general company rules

2. The behaviour of staff then reinforces the culture

3. An on-going feedback loop is then created

But what about food safety culture?

Dr Rosemarie Pearson believes that food safety culture reflects “the collective attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of all food handlers, supervisors and managers towards food safety and hygiene issues.” This means that the attitudes of staff members is transferred into everyday workplace procedures and documentation, and are also communicated by managers and employees during training through rewards and schemes.

Why is this important?

Without effectively creating and embedding a good food safety culture at every level of a business, misperceptions and negligence during day to day work activities are the key causes of food safety issues.

On a wider scale across the food production industry, food safety within organisations is inconsistently implemented and therefore must be improved. While there are businesses that are aware of risk management and have effective systems in place, there are many that underestimate risk, cut corners and underplay potential health risks not implemented a food safety culture can have. And that’s not to mention the reputational damage and business threat that food safety failings can cause.

How can businesses improve this?

Despite this lack of compliance and consideration for the food safety of others, there are many ways this can be improved. First and foremost, there are ways employees can take more responsibility for food hygiene and safety. Secondly, this can point the way for how a strong food safety culture can be transformed, whether this be role or task based.

For example, companies that have hierarchical structures should break this down and give more responsibility to all members of staff. Not only to ensure their voice is heard when change is being implemented, but to also generate a positive attitude throughout the business.

Instead of being told what to do, enforcing the mantra that includes everyone within an organisation and sees working as a team key to success, a culture that is pro-active when it comes to solving problems will be created. This way, respect will be earned based on a person’s expertise and professionalism, and power, status and rewards will arise from the group's success, rather than only a few individuals.

What are the dangers of ignoring food safety culture?

As of 2019, it will be mandatory for businesses that serve or sell food to display their food hygiene rating to customers. While for food companies that have low ratings this is daunting, there is plenty of time to prepare for this and improve.

On the other hand, the potential gains from a company culture focused on food safety are vast. Companies that can show good hygiene ratings and a focus on food safety can stand out against competitors, as well as providing huge benefits commercially.

When there is an absence of food safety practice, there is likely to be:

  • A higher rate of customer complaints
  • A disinterested workforce with low pay rates
  • High staff turnover
  • High absenteeism
  • Unhygienic conditions
  • Sub-standard filtration, maintenance and food quality monitoring systems

Combined, these cause risk of food contamination outbreaks which not only critically damage a company’s reputation but criminal negligence can also cause a company to go into liquidation.

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