Food safety management systems are commonly constructed to include controls such as time/temperature processes, sampling, post-process contamination, hygiene training and HACCP. Food safety culture is viewed as how and what the employees in an organization think about food safety; and the food safety behaviours that they demonstrate.  From a cultural perspective, employees will learn these thoughts and behaviours from other people in the organization.  These thoughts and behaviours cascade throughout the organization and thereby have a sustained influence on people’s performance – whether this is for better or worse.

An outbreak of E. coli O157 in South Wales in 2005, and the publication of the Public Inquiry Report in March 2009 highlighted the issue of cultures and behaviours in businesses and enforcement bodies and their role in influencing compliance with food hygiene legislation. Other sectors, such as health and occupational health safety have gone through a similar evolution: first focusing on equipment, workplace and procedures; then focusing on management and the organisation’s mature safety culture (i.e. a safety culture that has followed the maturity model in an established business).

We reviewed the existing food safety culture research and tools that were available in the public domain. No dedicated tool for food safety existed. This work developed a tool for use by inspectors in identifying aspects of good/poorer safety cultures in food businesses, for use with all sizes of businesses. The desktop phase of work was supported by a food safety expert to ensure that the terms and questions were specific to food safety.

The initial draft of the toolkit was reviewed qualitatively in two workshops by environmental health officers and food business operators. The workshop results were then used to produce a draft final tool for review by the Agency.

The final version of the toolkit included 5 categories of safety culture such as ‘Proactive compliers’ versus ‘Dependent compliers’ and 8 elements such as ‘Leadership provided on food safety and hygiene’, in a matrix, along with a body of guidance for inspectors on how to improve food safety culture in businesses. The food safety culture categories are qualitative descriptions that align to how a business ‘scores’ on each safety culture element. The results of the assessment link to guidance, within the toolkit, on how to improve food safety culture within organizations.

You can view the report here.