What is Food Safety?

This is part one of a four-part series on building a food safety culture in your establishment by Francine L. Shaw, president, Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc.

Many operators tell me that they have established a food safety culture, but when I ask what that means, they struggle to give me a confident answer. So how do you build an effective food safety culture? During the next four weeks, I will give you key answers to this question.

Food safety begins with understanding the importance of this issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 6 Americans gets a foodborne illness every year. When food safety policies and procedures are established, correctly followed and prioritized as part of a foodservice company’s corporate culture, mistakes are significantly reduced, profitability is increased, employee morale is amplified, employee turnover is lower, absenteeism is lessened and the company’s reputation remains secure.

If food safety is neglected, the risk of food contamination can cause foodborne illness outbreaks, which can not only critically damage a company’s reputation, but can also result in criminal negligence, expensive lawsuits and can even cause a company to go into bankruptcy.

A company’s culture is multifaceted. It’s about shared group values, attitude competencies, goals and patterns of behavior that embody a corporation. Building a corporate culture takes time and effort. Company leaders must have a desire to incorporate food safety into their culture, and must be willing to invest in resources, think strategically and assess the organization honestly when leading a culture change. Senior leadership must be willing to be a positive reinforcement in the cultural change (“walk the walk”).

While it’s important to do well on health inspections, meet regulatory requirements and pass third-party audits and internal inspections, establishing a food safety culture surpasses these things. It involves a commitment to continually operate in a safe manner, being pro-active at eliminating hazards, training and educating employees, establishing clear and consistent food safety protocols, and protecting guests and the business–every day, with every component of every meal.

Each restaurant’s needs are going to be a bit different, and what works for one may not work for another. But everyone’s goal is the same–keep guests safe. To make this happen, management must implement a food safety management system, which will consist of food safety programs, procedures and measures that actively control risks and hazards through the flow of food.

Active managerial control, an example of a food management system, is a proactive approach to food safety and utilized by many companies nationwide. This system includes having a certified food protection manager on staff, defining standard operating procedures for critical steps, and monitoring effectiveness along the way.

These principals can also be applied to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), a system based on the idea that significant biological, chemical, or physical hazards can be prevented, eliminated or reduced if they’re identified at specific points within the products’ flow through the operation. The success of a HACCP plan depends on educating and training all levels of the organization, and emphasizing the importance of employees’ roles in producing safe foods, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

I was working with an organization whose senior leadership insisted, “We’re doing HACCP,” yet the employees were not properly trained in basic procedures, the company was using outdated training materials and their temperature logs were not correct! It’s imperative that foodservice leaders understand food safety and its importance. If you’re going to attempt to implement a HACCP plan, you must understand it and know how to do so, otherwise it’s of no value to your business.

After you’ve decided what food safety system you’re going to implement, your procedures should be monitored and constantly re-evaluated. As you’re creating and implementing your plan some important items to remember are:

  • Make training fun
  • Lead by example
  • Explain why
  • Follow up
  • Use job aids

As we continue this four-part series, I’ll be focusing the 2017 National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) campaign theme “The Culture of Food Safety.” We have seen some unbelievable food safety issues occur over the past few years. Most notably is Chipotle, which is recovering from yet another norovirus occurrence after an unprecedented run of foodborne illness outbreaks in 2015. To prevent these occurrences, we must all create a food safety culture within our work environments.

Have questions about how to get your restaurant or establishment on board with a food safety culture? Leave your questions in the comments below!

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Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers numerous services, including consulting, food safety education and inspections, crisis management training, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training, and more. Her team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, hotels, casinos, and convenience stores. Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, Food Safety News, and Food Management Magazine.

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