Food safety culture is becoming a buzzword in the food safety industry. Experts and academics assume that if you change the organization's food safety culture, everything will be safe. This is the wrong assumption about food safety culture because it assumes that employees will adopt new behavior to protect public health by talking about food safety. It does not; leaders have to start by examining the current health and culture of their organizations. I will share three things that leaders can do right now to improve their food safety culture.
Leaders have to start by examining the organization’s culture overall. They have to examine team attitude, habits, values, assumptions, behavior, and knowledge. What kind of behavior do they reward? Any behavior that gets rewarded tends to get repeated. Are they rewarding behavior that leads to better food safety habits? Most organizations that I interact with are more concerned about employee’s attendance than employee’s health. They have strict attendance policies that force food handlers to show up sick to work. Sick employees are walking vectors that may cause foodborne illness. If leaders want to build a better food safety culture, they have to work closely with their human resources departments to draft policies that support food safety values.
In the second step, they have to incorporate architecture design to support food safety. Chipotle’s restrooms open inward, forcing the employees to touch the doorknob every time they use the restroom. Walmart solved the problem by taking the doors off. Another example to consider, if you build a bigger restroom and place the sink outside the stall, it encourages employees to wash their hands more often. It adds another level of accountability.
In the third step, leaders have to hold food their suppliers accountable by creating and encouraging certain behaviors such as 3rd party inspection of their suppliers, providing their suppliers with specific criteria that they have to meet every day. The most important thing is creating open communication between the supplier and the organization built on trust and does not penalize the supplier if they report any wrongdoing as long as they plan to fix the problem.
There are a lot more steps that organizations can follow to build a better food safety culture, but these are three fundamental things that they can do right now.
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