What is Your Food Safety Culture?

Take the quiz.

One responsibility of a food service operator along with maintaining food quality, service standards and controlling labor and food costs, is to serve safe food. How is it done consistently on a daily basis at a level that gives you comfort? Are the behaviors & habits of your employees regarding your food safety culture at the same or higher level as their upselling?

They have an incentive to build their guest check because it increases their check average & tips, but do they have the same motivation & behaviors to insure that the plate of food they are serving doesn’t cause the customer to become sick? We are talking about a food safety culture that should permeate your operation. Do you have one? Do you know what it is? Have you worked in one? First, let’s define what a food safety culture is. Let’s break it down by individual definitions.

Food Safety

It’s a scientific discipline describing handling, preparation, and storage of food in ways that prevent foodborne illness. This includes a number of routines that should be followed to avoid potentially severe health hazards


A culture is a way of life of a group of people–the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation. So, using the above, food safety should be a way of life for your staff. I am going to ask a few questions and then give you some responses that would indicate whether you have a

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Your Food Safety Culture

  • What do any of your communications with your employees & customers say about food safety? (Examples: employee handbook, mission statement, menu, websites, etc.)
  • What is the purpose of an inspection by the health department?
  • What does your food safety training consist of?
  • How much does an employee know about food safety before they ever touch food?
  • What behaviors are indicative of a food safety culture?
  • How often do you talk about food safety?

Management should demonstrate that food safety is important to them by the amount of emphasis it gets in relationship to everything else, in both writing and in a constant message of word & deed. We should be just as proud of a great health inspection as we are with a complimentary letter or review. A food safety culture comes from effective management and leadership of the staff and the procedures to produce end products.

A health inspection is a snapshot of your operation on the day they are in your facilities. The report indicates the operation’s ability to hit the food safety benchmarks of temperatures, condition of facility, etc., but also the behaviors and work habits of your staff. Use the inspector’s knowledge and report to improve your overall food safety culture.

Training consists of 2 parts:

Educating and conveying knowledge – employees need to know correct temperatures, proper hand washing techniques, cleaning and sanitizing standards, etc.

Teaching, developing, observing and correcting – employees need to apply their knowledge effectively and understand why, how and when. As the manager or supervisor you are mentoring, coaching, correcting and praising their behaviors using an on-going methodology.

Management should establish a minimum standard of food safety knowledge and insure that the employee is observed or accompanied by a senior employee so proper behaviors and habits are instilled in the employee from his initial work shifts.

Behaviors are observed when an employee doesn’t realize they are being watched. I personally make it a habit to put a manager or supervisor in between me and the operation so I can observe the behaviors of their staff over their shoulder. Do the employees take temperatures? Is there bare hand contact? Are cutting boards & utensils, cleaned and sanitized between food products? Are foods stored correctly on the line and in refrigerators? What are the visible employee hygiene standards? How is the hand washing and glove use? Even during inspections, employees will slip into their normal behaviors. It is what comes naturally.

Food safety should constantly be integrated into your conversations. During line-ups, your walk-through and meetings. Use current events in the news, acknowledge and praise good food safety behaviors and correct and use as a training moment, poor food safety behaviors.

Always refer to the definition of a food safety culture. For more information on this subject, I recommend the book Food Safety Culture by Frank Yiannas. Next month we will be addressing two roles that involve the Board of Health- permits and hearings.

Philbrook Food & Beverage Consulting & Training specializes in preparing food service establishments to address all food safety issues by assisting with the development of programs, staff & facilities. We offer customized on-site and public training in HACCP, Food Safety, Allergens and Integrated Pest Management. Check out our class schedules and contact info at philbrookconsulting.com for more information.