How to use Food Safety Education to Create a Food Safety Culture

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It’s no secret that the food industry is ridiculously competitive and that many businesses struggle to survive and be profitable.  Having worked as a public health inspector for many years in Canada, I witnessed many food businesses struggle to consistently maintain high food safety standards.  This often led to them loosing customers and eventually being forced to close their doors. Food business owners often have to be the “jack of all trades”.  Responsibilities like managing food costs, recruiting and managing staff (the food industry has notoriously high staff turnover), dealing with the scrutiny of pesky government inspectors (the food industry is also one of the most highly regulated industries) and managing customer service, are only a few of the plethora of difficulties that can overwhelm operators. The complexities of running a food business often means that owners don’t have the time or possibly the skills to focus on and build a food safety culture.  Frank Yiannas, one of the world’s leading food safety experts, relates food safety culture to human behaviour.  He describes food safety culture as the ability to influence the behaviour of staff so they consistently follow safe food practices.  This is the challenge for food businesses. Training staff on safe food practices is a crucial part of building a food safety culture.   For many food business owners, sending staff to food safety training is an expensive endeavour and an added nuisance.  Not only do they have to pay for the staff to take the training, they also have to arrange for and pay to replace them at work.  The real challenge though is how to make sure that the knowledge they receive at the training is actually applied. Here are a few ways to use food safety education to make sure your staff are consistently applying safe food practices:
Make food safety education a regular occurrence

Require your staff to take regular food safety training – this will send a strong message that food safe practices are an expectation of job performance.  You can have your own in-house training or subscribe to on-going training from an external source.  With on-line training available now, it is easy and very affordable to have food safety training on a regular basis for your staff.
Post food safety posters

Posters and other signage can be an important reminder for staff.  For example, hand washing signs at the kitchen door can remind staff to wash hands before entering the kitchen.  Other food safety signage such as food temperatures and sanitation schedules can also be a good reminder for specific behaviours.

Incorporate food safety points during staff meetings

Staff meetings are an excellent time for you to re-educate and enforce your commitment to food safety.  These don’t have to be extended “lessons” but a simple conversation about a specific food safety topic.  Another way you can do this is by engaging the staff and assigning a staff member as opposed to the manager to talk about a specific food safety topic.  Again, this can be brief (about 5 min or less), but when done regularly you’ll be surprised how much information can be covered.

Lead by example

Last but certainly not least, as a business owner or a manger, nothing you say will matter more than what you actually do.  If your kitchen rules state that everyone has to wash their hands when they come into the kitchen, then you must always wash your hands before coming into the kitchen.  Nothing destroys a food safety culture faster than managers/owners who “talk the talk” but don’t “walk the walk”. Running a food business is hard work, but food safety should never take a back seat.  Food safety training, if done properly and consistently, can be a great tool to building a food safety culture and ultimately helping to create a profitable and fulfilling business.
Michael is the co-founder of Food Safety Leaders and has over two decades of food safety experience. He is an adjunct instructor of advanced food safety at Concordia University, and a regular seminar speaker.

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