Improve Food Safety Culture by Eliminating Complacency

Is having a food safety program enough to create a food safety culture?

No. Why?

Because it doesn’t ensure that these procedures are followed or that importance is placed on them.

Food service operations have policies for circumstances that impact food safety, such as reporting employee illness and avoiding exposure of potentially infectious conditions. As such, you have procedures to require employees to report illness and avoid working while contagious. However, what happens if your operation is short-staffed? Are we tempted to reward an employee who comes in to work sick in such situations thus sending a cultural message that it is better to work sick? Similarly, you have food safety policies regarding disposal of product that may have exceeded date mark constraints.  Are we tempted to disregard this policy in favor of cost savings thus sending a cultural message on when to enforce food safety?

How do you achieve food safety culture? It requires more soft skills than science.

The top level of management must set the tone for adherence to food safety procedures through financial resources and positive reinforcement. How organizations and people spend money is an indicator of what they value. Tools and resources needed to perform food safety behaviors should be provided and when barriers are identified, management must implement interventions to remove them. Management must support acceptable food safety behavior and reinforce that not following those guidelines is not acceptable, encouraging others to follow suit, creating ‘social norms’ for food safety.

While the food safety culture of organizations differ, according to Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner, Food Policy & Response at the FDA and author of books on the topic, those who are successful have common traits.

  • Set and share clear expectations surrounding food safety.
  • Train and educate employees, noting that education presents the ‘what’ and why it’s important, while training is the ‘how’ and gets specific in terms of implementation.
  • Your communication about food safety provides a strong and consistent message of reinforcement.
  • Share goals pertaining to food safety, which are measurable and demonstrate progress.
  • Finally, implement consequences to support food safety; positive reinforcement for doing a good job, corrective actions for improvement.

What gets in the way? According to Yiannas, complacency is a common culprit. Getting used to getting by doing it things the same way with no problems is not a guarantee of safety and may just be luck. Successful organizations should ensure all members know the value of food safety to your organization. Reminding what they should be doing to support it and that they will be valued for doing will keep their thoughts and actions focused on prevention and food safety top-of-mind.

For more blogs on food safety please visit www.foodservicesafe.com.  If you would like to learn how to establish a food safety culture in your operation, please contact John Gescheidle at 847 254 5405 at John@foodservicesafe.com.


Wan, Samie, and Brian Marterer. “Building a Stronger Food Safety Culture.” Food Safety Magazine, 15 May 2018, www.foodsafetymagazine.com/enewsletter/building-a-stronger-food-safety-culture/.

“What Is an Effective Food Safety Culture & What Are the Obstacles to Its Development?” Global Food Safety Resource, Safe Food Training Hub, 7 Dec. 2017, globalfoodsafetyresource.com/effective-food-safety-culture-obstacles-development/.