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Establishing A Food Safety Culture In Your Business To Keep It Safe

All business operators in the foodservice industry must make sure that food is safe. The restaurant industry specifically should create and implement a food safety culture that emphasises safety, cleanliness and follow well-established protocols.

According to research the restaurant industry ishas been implicated as one of the most frequent settings for foodborne illness outbreaks, as much as 60%. Three hundred and twenty-seven foodborne disease outbreaks have been reported between January 2013 to December 2017 in South Africa. These outbreaks affected 11 000 individuals. Despite these statistics, foodborne illnesses are underreported in South Africa, therefore in reality this problem is even greater.

Consumers place their trust in and transfer the entire responsibility of food safety to the business operator or the foodservice establishment as they assume that foodservice is compliant with legislation and handle food properly. When a foodservice chain experiences food safety outbreaks such as those that have occurred in recent times both globally and locally, consumers become anxious and food sales decrease. Convincing the consumer to return and support the business takes time and it is best to prevent such incidents.

Preventative controls can address most food safety problems, that means that everyone involved in a food operation from processing to the retail environments must ensure compliance to food safety protocols and programmes that have been put in place by industry. Such protocols apply systems that identify, evaluate and control hazards which are important for food safety from production to consumption. Good processing, storage and preservation are equally important to help retain nutritional value and food safety and prevent food wastage.

A foodservice business must emphasize the importance of food safety as part of the mission statement of their business. Creating and implementing a food safety culture that emphasizes safety and cleanliness and follows well-established protocols will encourage and motivate employees to provide safe food from production to consumption in the food business environment. A food safety culture in an organisation or business is where everyone in the company values food safety more than for example sales, profit or cutting costs. Food safety culture must start from the top with buy-in from leadership where from the top down the importance of food safety is emphasized thus encouraging employees to work toward achieving the mission that must be implemented. All employees must show that food safety is important and is taken seriously by every employee, every shift and with every meal.

According to literature a food safety culture has three components:

  • Tangibles – things that can be seen: equipment, documents and staff activity
  • Spoken values and rules: training, manager’s communications and reward structures
  • Underlying values: intangible values that define an organisation’s cultural framework

Using the tangibles and implementing the intangibles by means of communications and a reward system structure lays the foundations of a sound food safety culture. In any foodservice environment mistakes take place because of excessive pressure and busy periods in a kitchen or food prep area. However, the bottom line should be that no short cuts should be taken to compensate for delivering the product on time as these decisions could lead to a foodborne illness incident and harm or even kill a guest.

Major foodborne illness incidents and outbreaks seem to be increasing, think of the Listeria outbreak in South Africa just a year ago where many people got sick and more than 180 people died. Innocent and careless mistakes can sicken the consumer and ruin the reputation of the industry. Foodborne illness is 100% preventable and can be avoided when a food safety culture is adopted.

A food safety culture can be developed by:

  • Ongoing education/training
  • Regular inspections
  • Implementation of proper food safety protocols

To create and ensure a food safety culture a foodservice business should do the following:

1.Start from the top – company leaders must provide the example and walk the talk.

2. Explain the reasons behind the rules -tell the employees WHY they need to do it, that way your employees will understand the reasoning behind the rules and be more willing and likely to comply to the rules.

3. Train your staff – continuous and on-going training should be done for all staff members to keep protocols implemented up to date.

4. Provide proper equipment to prepare and serve food safely.

5. Keep temperature logs and make record-taking part of the employees’ daily routine.

6. Inspect all food products to ensure that it is safe when delivered. Safety may not be compromised by accepting food that does not meet the safety requirements.

7. Perform inspections to ensure that all employees are complying with the proper food safety protocols and that rules are being followed.

8. Avoid careless mistakes – remind employees that even a minor mistake can sicken a client.

9. Follow food allergy protocols – employees must double check ingredients for food allergic guests.

Establishing and executing a food safety culture need not be expensive, time consuming or difficult. By creating a company culture focused on food safety you will ensure a safer and healthier environment for your clients, employees and business. A business that is committed to upholding a proper food safety culture has dedicated employees, keeps clients safe and saves money in the long-term with less inspections, recalls and possible lawsuits and most important a safe food business.

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