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Role of Human Behavior in Food Safety

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Posted 18 November 2019 - 09:58 AM

Food Safety is a science of saving life by serving safe food to consumers for its intended use; it starts from farm and ends on table i.e. from farm to table. It remained a serious issue worldwide by claiming uncountable causalities out of food borne illness. Kudos to Pillsbury for designing a process control based food safety system called as HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) to prepare a safe food for NASA astronauts. Later on International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted this system and implemented worldwide throughout the food operation.

During my assignment in Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC), JIGCC project, Jizan, Saudi Arabia appointed a qualified team of Food Inspectors (HACCP level 3) and formulated a Food Safety Group for each three camps (JRTF, JRUP, JSRU/SARU) to implement HACCP system and to comply with ARAMCO Sanitary Code general instructions for food establishment.

HACCP system is not an end product testing but a process control i.e. quality assurance which ensures the safety of foods. Implementation of HACCP strongly depends on pre-requisite programs which include good design and structures, facilities, equipment, approved suppliers, pest control and off course staff’s training. Through using the right certified equipment and designing sound quality manufacturing systems, many food processing facilities are able to significantly reduce food safety risks and develop sanitary environments suitable for food processing. However, one rogue elements will always remain. Humans, regardless of the sanitary environment in which they are working, still contribute the greatest risk to food processing environments.

The prescribed solution to mitigating this risk is to ensure these individuals are given the time, tools and training necessary to facilitate proper food handling practices. However, my assessment of a large number of trained food handlers to date revealed that more than 40 percent of these workers still demonstrate a dangerous gap between their knowledge of food safety handling practices and their actual application of these principles in the work place.

How can we close the gap?

People are dynamic and it’s our psychology that we don’t simply do what we are told, and we can’t be programmed like a computer to perform a perfect duty all the times. My experience to date, confirms my belief that sustainable safe practices within the food sector are best achieved when we go with the grain of human behavior. Only by effecting change in food handlers behaviors we will have an organizational culture, bring about meaningful and continual improvement. It is highly recommended to develop a behavior – based food safety assessment model that helps food operation to build a food safety culture. Food handlers should surveyed to evaluate their understanding of safe food handling practices and how confident they are in their knowledge. By using this tool we are able to identify:

  • Those food handlers who understand what they have been trained in.
  • Those who do not understand certain areas (and what areas those are).
  • Most importantly, those who misunderstand their training but have confidence in their knowledge.

The last groups are those food handlers who follow incorrect food handling practices with complete confidence and influence those around them to do the same. Food handlers who fall into this category are more pervasive than previously thought. My long experience with trained food handlers revealed that one-third fall into this category, posing a great risk to food safety systems throughout the supply chain. Therefore proper food safety training of food handlers by competent persons, according to their psychology and behavior is utmost important tool for the continual improvement in good manufacturing and hygienic practices for the safe guard of foods.


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Posted 18 November 2019 - 10:36 AM

Thanks for your interesting introduction.


I agree getting 100% compliance 100% of the time from people is a huge challenge and should be an area of great focus.


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