Enforcement officers to assess your 'Food Safety Culture'

4 August, 2013

According to Pat Perry, Executive Chairman of leading health and safety consultants, Perry Scott Nash, enforcement officers are being encouraged to assess the food safety culture of a business as part of their enforcement activity.

"Food safety culture is the term used to describe how well food businesses comply with their legal duties e.g. do they have a culture of good standards with an expectation that they comply with the law or do they have a 'slap dash' approach to food safety which means that they often fail to protect food from contamination, or are happy with dirty premises and untrained staff.

Why is it that no matter how often some people are told to change their approach they continue to do what they have always done? That wonderful old saying: "If you always do what you've always done you'll always get what you always got."

Unless a food business owner or manager changes the ways in which food preparation, cooking or display for sale is carried out, poor food safety standards will always prevail. So, things have to change. Culture has to change. One aspect of 'Scores on the Doors' which is assessed by local Environmental Health officers is 'confidence in management'. Many, many food businesses lose their prestigious 5 star rating because there is no confidence in management.

Enforcement officers are being advised by the Food Standards Agency to 'explore the food safety culture of the business' as this will help them determine scores on the doors and what action to take regarding food safety enforcement.

A Food Safety Culture Diagnostic Toolkit for Inspectors has been published by the FSA. In the document, inspectors are recommended to categorise the food safety of the business and then select advice on how to improve the food safety culture.

Here are some of the categories food businesses could fall into:

1. Calculative non-compliers

These food business proprietors/managers intentionally breach regulations for the sake of financial gain, disputing or disregarding potential impact on consumers.

2. Doubting non-compliers

These doubt the significance of the hazard posed by food safety and hygiene and the effectiveness of food hygiene regulations and requirements in managing these hazards. They may understand the requirements but doubt the risks involved. Many express a cynical view to staff and do not promote compliance.

3. Dependent compliers

These businesses wait upon advice or instruction from Regulators and other third parties to make improvements and view food safety and hygiene as something driven by third parties. Tend to view requirements as unfairly complex and that it is unreasonable to expect them to lead in understanding and applying the law. They may also have low levels of knowledge and training. May also not recognise food safety hazards.

4. Pro-active compliers

These businesses understand the hazards of food safety and poor hygiene, poor process controls etc. They accept that legal requirements are effective and necessary. They wish to ensure that food safety controls are effective, appropriate and proportionate. They will implement food safety controls after careful deliberation, having a careful control of costs. Managers take the lead in expecting compliance and high standards. Generally, pro-active compliers will do what they need to do and no more.

5. Leaders

These businesses will be at the top of their game in all aspects of their business including regulatory compliance. They view food safety and hygiene as critical business matters, recognising that high standards of compliance will enhance their reputations. These businesses will achieve more than legal compliance or best practice - they will be innovative in adopting processes and procedures which improve food safety and food hygiene.

I'm sure we can all name companies that fit into each of the above categories! However, the real challenge is to move all those calculative non-compliers into the leaders category. To achieve this, enforcement officers will need to change their approach as the conversion of one type to another doesn't happen overnight.

Different tactics will need to be used - coaching, mentoring and support often work far better than the big stick. Food businesses fined for poor food safety usually pay a hefty fine - all well and good for the depleted public exchequer but really a waste of money as the business will have even less funds available to invest in cleaning up the kitchen, purchasing new equipment or training staff.

Prosecutions and fines do not change behaviour. We have to find something else which will.

So, what category would you fall into? Have you thought about your food safety culture? Are you a calculative non-complier or a leader?

As a food and drink retailer, you need to understand, honestly, what category you fit into and then prepare the right set of tools to ensure that your food business leads the way in standards and quality. In today's retail environment customers know and care about your food safety - now even more than ever with the increasing popularity of 'Scores on the Doors'. If you have less than 5 stars customers may vote with their feet and keep their wallets in their pockets!"

For more information on this or other matters relating to health and safety in the workplace Contact Us.

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