Auditing Food Safety Culture

Why is Food Safety Culture Important?

Food safety culture is an important predictor of the effectiveness of food safety management systems as it speaks to an organization’s attitudes, practices, and beliefs surrounding food safety. For several reasons, having a robust food safety culture is critical for food and beverage companies. These include:

• Protecting consumers
• Complying with regulations
• Protecting brand reputation

What Factors Should Be Considered?

Understanding the concept of food safety culture in an organization would necessitate a close examination of the following factors:

• Leadership and commitment
• Employee engagement
• Communication
• Continuous improvement
• Compliance

Auditing Food Safety Culture

Auditing is seen as a valuable method for assisting firms in identifying areas where their food safety culture falls short. By identifying these areas, organizations can take steps to improve and reduce the risk of food safety incidents. Additionally, food safety culture auditing helps to increase transparency and accountability within organizations, which can help to build trust with stakeholders, including customers, regulators, and the public. Lastly, regulatory authorities and recognized food safety management system schemes are increasingly requiring food safety culture auditing, emphasizing the significance of food safety culture in their monitoring.

There are, however, several challenges associated with auditing food safety culture.

• Subjectivity: Unlike compliance with regulatory requirements or industry standards, auditing food safety culture involves assessing the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of individuals within an organization, which can be subjective and difficult to measure.
• Limited data: There are few established metrics or objective data sources for assessing food safety culture, making it difficult to evaluate progress or compare results across organizations.
• Resistance to Change: Auditing food safety culture may uncover issues or areas for improvement that may require changes to established practices or behaviors, which can be met with resistance or pushback from employees.
• Confidentiality: Employees may hesitate to provide honest feedback or speak candidly about food safety practices and issues, particularly if they fear negative consequences or retaliation.
• Organizational complexity: Food safety culture is influenced by factors such as organizational structure, management practices, and communication channels, which can vary significantly across different types and sizes of organizations, making it challenging to assess and compare.
• Time and Resource Constraints: Auditing food safety culture requires significant time and resources, including the development of audit criteria, conducting interviews, reviewing documentation, and analyzing findings.

Due to the subjective nature of the assessment, making a judgment at the end can be difficult. However, some strategies can help to increase the quality of the assessment, to name a few:

• Use Objective Metrics: While food safety culture assessment is subjective to some extent, there are some objective metrics that can be used to measure the effectiveness of the organization’s food safety practices. For example, an audit may measure the rate of foodborne illness incidents, training completion rates, the frequency of internal food safety audits, and the findings identified.
• Balance Document Reviews with Interviews: As the assessment is heavily based on observations of behavior, attitude, and shared values, it is critical to balance time spent on protocols and procedures with time spent on interactions with employees.
• Examples and Sampling Size: Including specific examples in the report can help to illustrate the findings and provide greater objectivity. Giving specific examples of employee behavior or practices inconsistent with food safety protocols can help identify improvement areas. The assessment, however, should ensure the right size of sampling to avoid errors in reporting.

By Tülay Kahraman
18 March, 2023

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