Risk, Issues & Crisis

August 13, 2019

‘Think local’ to drive food safety culture improvement


A strong food safety culture has always been fundamental to the operation of a good food business. Now, food safety culture has become even more of a hot topic, following the recent inclusion of a new clause in issue 8 of the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety and the publication of the Global Food Safety Initiative’s position paper on the subject.

The BRC clause requires food business operators (FBOs) to ‘define and maintain a clear plan for the development and continuing improvement of a food safety and quality culture’. As FBOs start to get to grips with mapping and improving their food safety cultures, unexpected challenges are starting to emerge.

How FBOs can start to improve food safety culture:

  • Understand the problem(s)
  • Approach the introduction of a food safety culture programme as a change management project
  • Tailor activities to meet local challenges
  • Pay particular attention to local leaders
  • Ensure consistent messaging throughout the organisation.

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling back,” said American actor Sam Waterston, and although he didn’t have food safety culture in mind, the sentiment certainly applies. Whether striving to maintain an already strong food safety culture, or aiming to improve a weaker one, every FBO must try to make food safety culture consistent in the face of constant change – from new staff, changes in the market, new regulation, altered business priorities, acquisitions and so on. For this reason, a food safety culture programme becomes, to a greater or lesser degree, a culture change programme. And that brings with it specific challenges.

FBOs with high employee turnover, such as those employing agency staff on a production line or casual staff in a food service environment, have the task of ensuring that every new recruit is inducted in the organisation’s food safety processes and then follows them unfailingly at all times.

Conversely, FBOs with a high proportion of long-established employees can also face challenges when trying to change the culture, having first to overcome the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ attitude.

Furthermore, although an organisation should embody a single culture throughout, this is frequently not the case. A food manufacturer might have several sites, each of which has a slightly – or significantly – different culture. A food service operator might have hundreds of outlets with variations between them, or might be a franchisor, which puts it a step further removed from day-to-day operations.

Such differences may be partly the result of the characteristics of the employee cohort. But perhaps the crucial factor in determining the strength of food safety culture is the attitude and style of the local leadership. If the local leader – site director, factory manager or restaurant manager – does not demonstrate a strong commitment to food safety, then it is unlikely that their employees will either, even if the senior management team at head office recognises its importance.

This insight was adopted from an article originally published by New Food Magazine. Take a look at how FBOs should address these challenges here