Food processors must develop a complete culture of food safety that goes beyond such basic measures as regulatory compliance if they are serious about tackling the issue, according to new research.
The study – Enhancing food safety culture to reduce rates of foodborne illness – highlights managerial commitment and strong communication about food safety practices as key to minimising risk of product contamination throughout the supply chain.
The findings by Kansas State associate professor Doug Powell et al suggest that just meeting conditions laid down in regulatory, inspection or audit systems is not enough and may explain why significant foodborne illness outbreaks still occur.
"You'd think making customers sick is bad for business, yet some firms go out of their way to ignore food safety," said Powell. "Some places are motivated by money and efficiencies. The amount of regulation, inspection and audits just doesn't seem to matter. And those 'Employees Must Wash Hands' signs don't really work."
Food safety culture
The scientists said that while external scrutiny systems have a role to play in maintaining the safey of food, “the burden for food safety lies primarily with food producers”.
A top down commitment to safety in any company is seen as vital to building a lasting and comprehensive food safety culture as “the formation of the values and beliefs and attitudes within a workforce regarding food safety is almost entirely dependent upon the knowledge, standards, motivation and leader ship of the person in charge”, noted the study published in the journal Food Control.
Operators knowing the risks associated with their products and keeping abreast of emerging risks are foundations for a good food safety culture. Ongoing evaluation of procedures, supplier requirements and front-line staff requirements are also necessary, added the group.
A culture of food safety must be prioritised over efficiency savings and preparation should be in place to manage the situation in the event of a foodborne illness outbreaks.
“Creating a culture of food safety requires application of the best science with best management and communication systems,” said the researchers.
The need to take personal responsibility along with frequent information sharing and communication are other vital tools – including the formation of a separate food safety mission statement, budget list detailing the role of each worker, said the paper.
The distribution of so-called Infosheets that may contain news stories about a foodborne outbreak and put information in context for food handlers was also pinpointed.
Companies should be transparent about their food safety measures as a means of providing reassurance to consumers and can use a good safety record as a marketing device.
“A framework of science-based practices that are thoroughly documented and supported by a culture of food safety may inspire confidence in producers, processors and retailers,” said the research.
Enhancing food safety culture to reduce rates of foodborne illness by Douglas A. Powell, Casey J. Jacob, Benjamin J. Chapman
Source: Food Control