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Uncovering the Strategies to Establish Food Safety Culture in Food Service Facilities

food safety food safety culture haccp gfsi codex food service

Food safety culture is critical to wellness of food and overall success of a restaurant's food safety control system and given the significance, Codex Alimentarius and HACCP has embraced food safety culture as a point of focus in the current revision. This article will help food service leaders in establishing food safety culture and knowing why it is necessary and how it can benefit the organization.

Food safety being a shared responsibility of all supply chain participants in farm to fork continuum, is not always technical but also behavioural. Food service operators share equitable responsibility of ensuring safety of food in the supply chain. Every year, an estimated six hundred million people are sickened by contaminated food. Studies have documented poor management commitment and improper food handling practices as major causes of food safety failures in food service facilities. Food poisoning accusations have cost food service operators loss in consumer base, reputation damage and product liability litigations. Increase in number of food-borne illnesses and outbreaks have emphasized the need for stricter food safety interventions to protect public health. Therefore, the need of the hour necessitates food service leaders to establish food safety organizational culture as a food safety intervention to facilitate production and service of food in safe and sanitary environment and protect customers from food safety hazards. Food safety culture reflects organization's genuine commitment the food safety compliance and noticeable safe food handling behaviors, attitude and practices embedded in employees.


Model an Upstream Food Safety Cultural Framework


Well first of all, food service leaders must create an organizational structure that effectively manage organizational resources. Blend organizational vision for food safety compliance, performance benchmarks and key performance indicators to track and accomplish food safety goals. It is important to implement and document food safety management system that outlines the processes, instructions, procedures and reports required to ensure food safety. Food service leaders must develop competency model by determining factors that contribute to food safety failures through efficient root cause analysis, identifying key processes and team members and establishing clearly defined reporting structures. This will help in laying the groundwork for effective food safety leadership and communication. Put emphasis on standardizing processes and procedures (Time temperature requirements, cleaning and sanitation control, allergen control and employee hygiene- to name a few) to eliminate risk of deviations and implement a monitoring system to ensure reduction in possibility of food safety issues. It is worthwhile to invest in continuous improvement activities to achieve optimal levels of proficiency and viability in performance and processes. Emphasize on recruiting food safety focused employees and build their capabilities and competencies by determining training need. Create reward systems that encourage employees to consistently practice safe food handling behaviours. Long-term culture sustainability can only be achieved by evaluating current culture's effectiveness, identifying gaps and taking consistent corrective action.


Showcase Commitment Based Food Safety Leadership


Employee's values and opinion on food safety often differ from those of the organization. It is commonly seen that individuals with positional power demonstrate more safety-related behaviors in comparison to individuals down the hierarchical level. Main obstacles in implementing and maintaining food safety culture are casual behavioral approaches, practicing non-standard processes and poor managerial commitment and attitude towards food safety. Food service leaders must demonstrate strong leadership by committing to food safety compliance, allocating resources and communicating food safety expectations clearly throughout the organization. Build leadership at all levels by encouraging managers to oversee food safety processes and reinforce food safety behaviours. Emphasize the importance of being proactive about food safety and getting involved in training, inspections and other food safety related activities. This will help in strengthening employee commitment to food safety. Sanitary design criteria should be considered an essential prerequisite for food safety and integrated into the planning and design process. Sanitary design standards, a strategic consideration of premises and equipment facilitate maintaining hygienic environment that is essential to mitigate food safety risk. Providing sanitary working conditions demonstrate senior management's commitment to food safety culture and can help influence employee behavior and increase commitment to food safety.


Showcase Leadership Centered Towards Risk-Communication Approach


Effective communication and engagement is important for survival of food safety culture. It is important to know how concerned employees are about food safety and how aware they are of consequences of food safety failures. Employees must realize their role in food safety and their accountability to food safety failures. Food service leaders must effectively communicate why food safety is important and how food safety is one of the top organizational priorities.


Employees should be given clarity on work responsibilities, critical control points, food safety policy and conformance standards. They should have complete understanding on risk associated with food products, the possibility of a hazard arising in the event of a loss of control, and the seriousness of the resulting illness or accident in order for them to understand how their poor food handling practices may jeopardize public health safety. Positively influence employee attitude and behavior so that food safety remains at the forefront of their minds and they consider it as their social responsibility. Food safety culture cannot be integrated and ingrained in employees when the sole focus is just to meet minimum applicable statutory and regulatory compliance. It is vital to train employees in risk and hazard specific to their area of work. Developing employees through training and awareness programs on hygiene and sanitation, supply chain risk assessment, preventive measures, food safety, corrective process behaviors and regulatory conformity will drive food safety culture. Food service leaders must shift from competency model to capability model by empowering skills, driving accountability and creating collaborative teams. Empower employees to respond to food safety concerns when there is an occurrence of process deviation.


Recognizing employees for safe food behaviors and practices is critical for boosting morale, improving engagement and strengthening food safety commitment. Posting posters and signs in the kitchen outlining food safety behaviours and practices is one major intervention to inspire staff and increase attention to food safety. Comprehensive involvement of quality control, purchasing and internal audit teams with food safety-focused responsibilities is principle to long term survival of food safety culture. Employees feel valued and have a sense of acceptance when they are educated, kept informed and recognized, resulting in increased employee engagement. Restaurant audit schemes consider food safety culture a key component in food performance management. Prevalence of an active safe food culture and employee’s knowledge on food safety hazards and practices could easily be evaluated in audits through observations and interviews. To be audit ready at all times, food service facilities must demonstrate success in the context of food safety related activities and strengthen food safety culture as part of continuous improvement.


The primary aim of establishing a food safety culture is to share common values and belief and eliminate behavior and procedure-based food safety risks. The culture must be integrated within organizational structure as a preventive measure. It should also be noted that implementation, monitoring and enforcement under dedicated leadership is pivotal for culture to grow. Once integrated and maintained, it benefits organization in form of improved governance, increased dedication, better cooperation and consistent compliance with operational processes and standards at all levels and by all team members. In view of legal obligations, food service leaders must strive to leverage behavioural change to improve food safety standards. As a matter of fact, customer may differ in food preferences but the pursuit of safe and wholesome food is universal.


Author Biography:


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Dhruv Kishore Bole
MBA - Hotel Management I CGSP I PCQI I HACCP I ISO 9001:2015 I FSSC 22000 V5 I Lean Six Sigma I cGMP I FPM I Revenue Management I Allergens I OHSMS I FOSTAC - FSSAI


Dhruv Kishore Bole is a hospitality and food safety specialist with qualifications in hotel management, food safety and quality management system. He has extensive experience spanning over twelve years in operational and training roles. His expertise centers on hospitality operation, food and beverage services and food safety. He has attended numerous workshops and conferences on customer service, leadership and food safety and quality and is certified by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India in food safety competencies. He is an empanelled trainer with Hero Mindmine and IL&FS Skills. He is a member of Quality Council of India and an instructor and proctor with ServSafe for India region.

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Hi Mr.Dhruv, Just read your interesting article. I wanna ask about Approaching Method to employees about food safety culture. Are there any differences between employees of food manufacturing and hotel/restaurant? I am asking this because I'm gonna work at hotel as a food safety manager and i only have experience at food processing plant at the same position. Thank you Brgds Dharmadi