Ways to help measure and develop a food safety culture and apply it in practice have been published by an industry group.

The document was created by the food safety culture group of FoodDrinkEurope. It aims to provide guidelines, practical examples, and tools for food businesses to help them understand, implement, and measure food safety culture and apply the concepts in practice.

“Creating a strong food safety culture requires commitment and active participation from all members of the organization, and it necessitates constant improvement. By placing food safety culture as a top priority, food business operators can reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses, cross-contamination, and food allergies, while building consumer trust and loyalty,” according to FoodDrinkEurope, a trade association representing the EU food and drink manufacturing sector.

Food safety culture consists of the shared values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and practices within an organization that contributes to the creation and maintenance of a safe food environment. It includes the individual and collective actions of all employees, from management to front-line workers, according to the document.

Implementing a strong food safety culture requires top-down and bottom-up approaches. Senior management shall set the tone and lead by example while employees are engaged and involved in the process. This includes providing adequate training and availability of resources.

Food safety culture tips
In 2020, a revision of the Codex Standard on General Principles of Food Hygiene introduced the food safety culture concept as a general principle. In 2021, the European Commission mentioned the term in food hygiene regulation.

Developing a food safety culture requires organizational planning and ongoing efforts in training and communication. It is important to recognize there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, said the guidance.

The document lists a 10-point plan developed by the Central Organization for the Meat Sector (COV) and Dutch Meat Industry Association (VNV).

A tool that can be useful in developing and assessing food safety culture is a survey with a set of indicators or statements related to each component, said FoodDrinkEurope. It can also be used as a basis to verify the culture of a company during an audit.

Other methods include observations of food safety practices and behaviors in a business, asking for input from individuals within the organization, as well as assessments of internal policies and procedures.

Four practical examples are given under the headings leadership commitment, employee involvement and adapted training, continuous improvement, and corrective actions.

For example, appoint a food safety manager or champion to oversee related efforts within a company; hold food safety culture weeks with training and activities; encourage staff to report incidents and near-misses and investigate issues to identify the root cause and take action.

Food safety culture in Italy
Meanwhile, Italian researchers have looked at the perception of food safety culture among employees at three Tuscan medium-sized enterprises making cured meat, dairy products, and frozen fish.

The food safety culture part of the survey had six sections with five or six questions each. Employees were asked to rate their agreement with different statements using a 5-point scale, where 1 meant complete disagreement and 5 total agreement.

Results, published in the Italian Journal of Food Safety, showed a good perception of food safety culture but some weaknesses were identified.

In the cured meat company, statements about teamworking and the possibility of anonymous reports on improper behavior appeared to be shortcomings. At the dairy producer, the level of employee training, particularly new staff, and resources invested in training were critical aspects. For the fish firm, teamworking and the definition of responsibilities could be improved.

Researchers advised the development of models, guidelines, assessment tools, and examples for food safety culture evaluation.

“A strong culture is necessary to ensure people make the right decisions every day at every level of the organization. In the long run, it can also help prevent and mitigate accidents that might harm consumers and avoid scandals that can affect brand value,” they added.

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