The term “food safety culture” is widely used, but not widely understood. Fundamentally, it means making food safety a valued, integral, and indivisible part of a company to achieve and sustain reduction in risks. This concept is important as it creates uniformity across locations and franchisees.
Food safety programs may sometimes be seen as something that the Quality Assurance Department wants to “add-on” or is being mandated by corporate offices, without communication as to why they are being implemented. However, when it becomes a priority, this shift positively impacts all levels within a franchise to safeguard the business and mitigate risk. With this in mind, how should a franchise create a culture of food safety and, once created, how can you determine if it’s working?
It starts from the top.
When changing how a franchise functions, thinks, and talks about food safety, leadership must be aligned. If you don’t have participation at every level, then it will not be a united franchise ethos. If leadership incorporates food safety into written statements and when they speak to their team, others will see this and will adopt methodologies from management to line level. When embracing this change, strive to put the mission into action. For example, encourage leaders, including those from above the restaurant level, to implement policies surrounding items including handwashing and wearing proper hair restraints. Line level workers need to believe in the fairness of the expectations set out for them. While learning facts about safety is beneficial, it is observing action that drives this shift home.
Provide skill and will.
It’s important to teach skills and reinforce through motivation. Regarding training, food safety shouldn’t be a separate exercise. Instead, it should be infused into everything. When you’re discussing loading a dishwasher, discuss food safety and how correctly handling dishes helps to ensure proper cleaning and sanitizing. When you’re teaching how to fry a chicken, discuss food safety and how to know when the chicken is fully and safely cooked. When food safety is not incorporated into every training touch point, it appears to be optional, when it should be a priority. Beyond training, it is personal stories that motivate employees to commit to food safety culture. It’s not effective to simply tell food workers they have to avoid contacting ready-to-eat food with their hands because studies show they could have invisible norovirus germs. A better approach is to use stories about a real norovirus outbreak and how it affected not just those who got sick, but everyone who worked at the location. This storytelling educates on the “why” behind policies for employees to understand that their actions could affect not just them and their families, but also their friends, coworkers, and the franchise brand’s reputation and livelihood.
Build momentum across the company.
When a culture of food safety is created, it is incorporated into company values, budgets, job descriptions, and performance indicators. For budgeting, food safety may manifest itself by supporting technology, including purchasing automated temperature monitoring system for walk-in coolers, online training with electronic checklists that can be completed on a smartphone, and more. Budgets may also incorporate items such as food safety certification courses for managers. These budgetary choices are an investment in your team that in turn can offer significant ROI for your brand. When a cultural shift occurs, it will also be evident in job descriptions. For example, for managerial jobs, a requirement could be to acquire and maintain a Certified Food Safety Manager credential. A job description could also require completion of internal food safety training and compliance with franchise hand washing policies and wellness policies.
Assess how your culture is working.
Any periodic measurements of food safety should demonstrate the results: regulatory inspections, self-assessments, third-party assessments. While assessment scores are only a measurement and do not drive change, it’s what a franchise does with an assessment that matters most. With regular and consistent assessments, it’s been shown that teams perform best when feedback purposefully highlights the positive attributes of what the team is doing, as well as suggesting opportunities for change. When a team is complimented on a procedure, they are more receptive to hearing critique and changing behaviors. It is a difficult feat for one person to change culture. Franchises can also consider recruiting an advisory committee, with representatives from across the brand, to serve as champions of change and tie new food safety initiatives into other projects, such as when a new menu item is introduced to infuse food safety training.
The concept of “food safety culture” has been an industry buzzword, but is only effective when put into action. Through encouraging genuine, comprehensive behavioral shifts, your franchise will protect the brand, safeguard employees and sustain a reduction in risk, thus propelling your company for exponential growth and ROI.
As Vice President for The Steritech Institute at Steritech, Chris Boyles is responsible for the Consulting, Training and Quality Assurance functions within Steritech’s Brand Standards Business. He manages the design and implementation of configured audit programs that meet and exceed clients’ expectations. Chris holds a M.S. in Microbiology and B.S. in Biology, from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and the Certified Professional – Food Safety credential from the National Environmental Health Association.