Food safety culture goes beyond the need to comply with standard requirements; it is more about the behavioural attitude towards daily activities in an organisation that is committed to ensuring food safety. An organisation that has strong food safety culture puts consumer safety at the core of its business.
What is Food Safety Culture?
The Global Food Safety Initiative defines Food Safety Culture as shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behaviour toward food safety throughout the organisation.
An organisation must develop a culture favouring a harmonious combination of formal and informal aspects, which ultimately contributes to a positive food safety culture. According to PWC, organisational culture is the self-sustaining pattern of feeling, thinking, believing and behaving that determines activities within the organisation. It is determined by a combination of formal and informal aspects referred to as the organisation’s DNA. The formal elements include; the structure of the organisation, information, motivators, and authorities. Informal factors include; networks, commitments, mindset and norms. The organisation’s DNA makes the organisation’s culture, and if food safety is not prioritised within the DNA fragments, then the organisation itself has a bad food safety culture.
Why is Food Safety Culture important?
Food safety culture is important because it assures a strong behavioural attitude towards good food safety practices in an organisation. This culture builds a strong foundation even for the next coming years as the behaviour and attitudes are maintained throughout and assessed to close the gaps or deficiencies, which improves the organisation’s performance.
A positive Food Safety Culture has the following characteristics:
- has a management team with a strong commitment towards food safety
- makes food safety a high priority
- encourages open communication throughout the organisation
- discourages unethical and unacceptable behaviour
- seeks to empower people
For a positive food safety culture to manifest, employees must be aware of management’s expectation to respond to any situation, they must know that they are expected to respond ethically, and incentivised for good food safety behaviours and decisions. The top management has to instil strong food safety culture right from the start: food safety culture should inform recruitment, job orientation, performance management, and employee promotion. Having these in place may trigger good behaviour in the organisation and, ultimately, a good food safety culture.
A negative food safety culture would be an employee who arrives at work and proceed to a food handling facility without changing into appropriate protective wear in the presence of a food safety leader and senior management. This case shows that Top Management is not committed to ensuring food safety, and if this behaviour occurs daily, and no one sees anything wrong with it, it influences the organisation’s culture.
Who benefits from Food Safety Culture?
Organisations that maintain a positive food safety culture benefit immensely as they:
- earn the public’s trust in their products
- may save lots of money from not having product recalls
- may not have food safety incidents, which protects consumers
- may improve internal communication and
- encourage the involvement of all interested parties
Most importantly, a positive and well-entrenched food safety culture ensures that food safety remains a priority in the organisation and minimises the risk of foodborne illnesses or deaths.
In conclusion, organisations must invest in developing good food safety culture because that benefits all interested parties and may lead to good performance. Positive food safety culture must therefore be the ultimate goal for any organisation that wants to thrive.