Within a business, the organizational work culture integrates larger groups of people, not individuals alone, and this reflects on how these groups interact and behave. Food businesses are no different, food handlers execute hygienic practices to the extent the leadership within the business requires, allows and encourages. This is influenced by the state of the facility, as well as the management systems and culture in place (Griffith, 2000).
The technical working group from the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) defines food safety cultures as the “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behaviour toward food safety in, across and throughout an organization.”
They also describe the five dimensions of food safety culture based on an analysis of existing models used to evaluate food safety and organizational culture. These five dimensions are Mission & Vision, People, Consistency, Adaptability, Hazard, and risk awareness, which will be delved into further below.
A company’s food safety culture shall be embedded in its mission and vision and is to be reflected throughout the organization. This requires a clear message tailored to each stakeholder group. The company’s food safety policy statement must align this criterion with the business’s strategic objectives. People are a critical component of a food safety culture. The employees’ practices contribute to food safety and have an impact on the risk of foodborne illnesses. It must be a priority to establish a formal food safety structure where all the roles of each individual are clearly defined. A solid food safety culture requires consistency in alignment of the food safety priorities of the company with its people, technology, processes, and resources. This consistency also occurs in the decisions, behaviours, and practices of its people. Adaptability implies the organization’s ability to adjust to external and internal dynamic conditions and influences. In any food business with a strong safety culture, its adaptability can be observed in its capacity to anticipate, prepare, and respond to a crisis. All levels of the organization should be trained about the hazards specific to the industry and be aware of the implied risks. This is reached by using educational tools, monitoring, and the use of disciplinary measures and rewards.
There are currently multiple available tools developed by GFSI scheme owners, regulatory bodies, and industry subject matter experts, among others, to assist with this process. The complexity of the tool chosen varies according to companies’ needs. A widely used approach to measure the food safety culture of a company starts with understanding its current food safety culture state. This can be accomplished in different ways, such as observations, audits, interviews, food safety culture surveys or questionnaires distributed at all company levels. It is recommended to find mechanisms to maintain anonymity to encourage honest feedback, avoid bias and avoid fears of retaliation. The collected data should be quantified and analyzed to identify areas of improvement. The company then should develop mitigation strategies to address the deficiencies found and establish clear food safety culture objectives that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. Once the execution of the mitigation strategies has been completed, the current state should be measured again using the same tools, new objectives set, and the cycle repeated to measure and improve the company’s food safety culture continuously. The above is just an example, however there are multiple ways to accomplish the same goal.
At dicentra, we have successfully developed and implemented numerous food safety culture programs across various food industries in North America to comply with the different GFSI schemes requirements of Food Safety Culture. If you require any assistance, feel free to contact us today!