Last updated: 24.06.24

How to Develop a Food Safety Culture Program


Any professional working in the food service industry understands implicitly how important it is to maintain the highest possible standards when it comes to food hygiene and safety. However, when it comes to making that ambition a reality, things can become a little more complicated.

Food handlers are likely to be well aware of the need to wash their hands, store food at the right temperature and take care when handling raw ingredients. But translating this understanding into a self-sustaining workplace culture that's geared towards upholding better standards of safety is a much more complex process.

It's important for food businesses to think about the issue of food safety from a more holistic perspective and consider the broader principles and practices they can put in place to ensure the entire organisation is working towards the same goal. In this article, we discuss how to develop a food safety culture and why it’s an important part of ensuring that you keep staff and customers safe.

What Is a Food Safety Culture?

Food safety culture refers to the attitude and approach that everyone in a business has to the topic of food safety and hygiene. It’s influenced by training, leadership and management style, and is a really important part of ensuring that your business adheres to food hygiene regulations.

You can deliver all the training you want and implement official processes, but if your staff aren’t motivated to put these into practice, they won’t make a difference. This is why creating a positive food safety culture is so important; it motivates employees and holds them accountable to keep each other and their customers safe.

Why Is Food Safety Culture Important?

The values and culture of an organisation impact everything a company does and define the way in which every employee approaches their job. As such, it's vital for those looking to change their organisation's food safety culture to understand the purpose of what they are trying to achieve.

Official Safety Regulations

In the UK, there is a range of official food safety standards and regulations that dictate how food businesses operate in regard to reducing the risk of food-related illnesses. Having a food safety culture plan instils the right level of respect and regard for these regulations in your entire team, which means that employees are much more likely to follow official guidance and ensure that they’re compliant with the law.

Staff and Customer Safety

Another, and perhaps the most important reason for a positive food safety culture, is that it keeps everyone safe. When your employees care about maintaining a safe working environment, this reduces the likelihood and accidents and illnesses within the team, which in turn ensures that your business can continue to operate smoothly.

Equally, when your staff are following food safety procedures they’ll be keeping your customers safe from any foodborne bacteria or contaminants. This is important because all customers have the right to feel safe when they’re purchasing food from a business, but also means you won’t face legal charges if a customer does become seriously ill.

Business Reputation

Leading on from that point, implementing a good food safety and quality culture helps to protect your business reputation because your customers won’t get ill from eating your food. In extreme cases, word could spread about an incident and end up in the news or online, but even negative word of mouth can have a disastrous impact on your business.

When your food safety culture is strong you will have minimal issues surrounding the quality and safety of your food, keeping customers happy and only giving them good things to say about your business. Failure to instil a proper food safety culture will lead to lower standards, and this could mean the end of your business.

How to Improve Food Safety Culture

Now that you understand the importance of food safety culture, the next stage is to assess your current culture and decide what needs to be improved. Culture can be a tricky thing to change because it requires effort from all of the people involved in your business, but by developing a multi-pronged approach, the impact of these improvements should be seen pretty quickly.

Complete a Culture Audit

One of the first things you can do when tackling how to improve food safety culture is to audit the current culture around food safety in your business. This might involve looking at the number of food-related health incidents there have been over the last six months, interviewing employees about their attitude towards food safety, and monitoring the behaviour of your staff to measure the efficiency of the current processes and safety measures you have in place.

This should give you an idea of whether you have a positive food safety culture, as well as highlight the areas that you need to start making improvements. Once you have this list of starting points, it’s much easier to make a plan and determine what needs to change.

Confront Employee Attitudes

Simply understanding the right things to do isn't the same as instilling a commitment to upholding food safety standards as a central pillar of working culture, especially when many members of staff have grown used to working with different priorities in mind. Many managers, for example, are conditioned to emphasise revenue generation even at the expense of crucial safety rules.

Staff will often respond poorly to being given a list of additional tasks to complete without sufficient explanation of why they are important, or how they should be incorporated into a day-to-day workflow. As such, it's vital that bosses and employees alike are properly drilled on the purpose and benefits of a stronger food safety culture, with an emphasis on explaining how a better approach to food hygiene will complement their existing goals.

By communicating the benefits of a good food safety culture to your employees, they will understand the motivation behind what they’re being asked to do, which will motivate everyone to carry out risk prevention processes without complaint.

Provide Appropriate Tools and Equipment

Your employees can put a good approach to food hygiene into practice if they’re not given good quality tools and equipment to do this with. Having things like enough chopping boards and utensils to avoid cross-contamination, working dishwashers that properly clean crockery, and appropriate PPE will ensure that employees have everything they need to uphold your food safety culture and that their efforts won’t be impacted by a lack of necessary equipment.

Tackle Presenteeism With Policy

Improving food safety requires a lot of hard work and commitment from all members of staff. But it's important to make sure that the desire to raise standards doesn't manifest as the kind of self-sacrificing overexertion that can cause more harm than good.

A 2015 study indicated that 51% of food workers admitted to “frequently” working while they were ill. This was likely impacted by the fact that most food businesses do not have a written policy on sick employees, with workers shown to be more likely to work through illness when their employers did not have a policy that required them to tell a manager when they were sick.

A strong work ethic is to be lauded, but presenteeism is ultimately adverse to a strong food safety culture and should be tackled accordingly. Staff should be clear on when illnesses present a health and safety risk to customers and their fellow employees and should not be made to feel guilty for taking time off work to recover, as they are ultimately keeping everyone else safe.

Invest in Training and Technology

Instilling a culture dedicated to food hygiene isn't just about pinning a set of rules to the wall. It's also about education, monitoring and constant evolution of workflows over an extended period of time.

Companies that are serious about effecting this kind of change would be well-advised to invest in tools that can help them achieve this. E-learning can be a particularly effective means of providing the necessary food safety training in a way that's engaging, flexible for workers and easy for managers to track. 

You can take a look at our food hygiene and safety e-learning courses here.

Other technological innovations - such as automated fridge monitors, mobile apps and cloud data storage - can provide visibility into how an organisation's safety culture is working in real time. You can use technology to keep monitoring key indicators that your food safety culture is strong, which provides useful data and helps to immediately highlight if standards are slipping.

By making full use of all of the different facilities available, food service companies will be able to take a step closer to achieving the kind of all-encompassing commitment to better hygiene standards that differentiate the best in the business from all the rest.


How do you measure food safety culture?

Measuring the food safety culture of your business needs to involve looking at data and behaviour from different areas. One of the best ways to measure whether your culture is working is by looking at the number of health and safety incidents you’ve had related to the food you serve, but you should also measure and record staff attitudes, whether processes are followed correctly every time, and the level of training and knowledge your staff have.

What are the 4 basic principles of food safety?

The four basic principles of food safety are cleaning, cooking, chilling and cross-contamination. These refer to the main areas that impact the safety of food and food preparation areas, and indicate key things that everyone should think about when they’re preparing food.

How do you create a food safety culture?

Creating a food safety culture begins with ensuring that everyone in a team understands why food safety is important. Once you’ve got a team on board with your plans, you should then outline a range of clear processes to follow to uphold food safety standards and create systems that check and monitor these to encourage employees to maintain the food safety culture and ensure the continued safety of themselves and your customers.


Creating a strong food safety culture takes more than simply knowing basic hygiene and contamination standards. It's about changing attitudes and putting better systems of working in place at all levels of your organisation, which takes time but will ultimately pay off in a variety of ways.

If you’re looking for food hygiene training courses that can help develop a stronger sense of food safety culture in your business, Virtual College offers a range of online food safety training resources that are ideal for teams of all sizes.