The potential factors that can influence an organisation’s food safety culture: Part 1 – Human behaviour

27 Jan 2022

The potential factors that can influence an organisation's food safety culture – Part I Human Behaviour

Human behaviour is increasingly recognised to affect food safety performance significantly. Recognising individual responsibility for food safety is a prerequisite for effective food safety measures (Ball et al., 2010). According to Griffith et al. (2010a), human behaviour impacts decision-making and existing food safety performance. This has triggered the use and implementation of psychological models, behavioural mechanisms, and systems to identify and strengthen food safety culture (Nyarugwe et al., 2018). Powell et al. (2011) included that the study on FS-culture requires a combined assessment of personal characteristics, organisational standards, employee behaviour, FSMS, and the context in which an organisation operates.

Research has indicated that training programs for food handlers are inconsistent, and program assessment is rarely implemented (Roberts et al., 2008). Training programs focus on several food-handling behaviour strategies, but the assessment of improvements in knowledge is a poor indicator of behavioural change (Webb & Morancie, 2015). For mentoring and training, the far more important purpose is to influence behaviour (Laschinger et al., 2014). Studies have shown that the observation of food processing practices is perhaps the only reliable measure of the effectiveness of analysis and evaluation that support food safety culture (Chapman et al. 2010).  According to Powell (2014), assessing staff’s food-handling activities through internal evaluations, externally led reviews, and inspection findings will provide food safety culture measures. Senior management can use the outcomes of these activity assessments to improve procedures and further strengthen the company’s food safety culture (Newman & Nollen, 1996).

The definition of FS-culture is not properly acknowledged by all levels within the organisation, which include middle and top management (Griffith et al., 2010a). Particularly in developing economies since there are still knowledge gaps on what FS-culture is, how it can be measured and strengthened, and the relative significance between FS-culture elements and the performance of food safety practices (Nyarugwe et al., 2018). The type of food safety culture within an organisation may justify why food-handling employees prefer not to adopt established food handling procedures and why training does not change practices, despite being very necessary (Griffith et al., 2017). Employees must implement practices that reflect the shared set of values of an organisation with a strong food safety culture and point out the challenges of others (Sharman et al., 2020).

In practice, significant modifications to a Food Safety Management System (FSMS), such as procedural changes, can be difficult to implement, particularly when managers or supervisors must break old behaviours and form new ones. Their actions when implementing change are critical in order to set a good example for the employees (De Boeck et al., 2017; Wilcock et al., 2011; Sharman et al., 2020). Top management or supervisors should show their workers that they are aware of current food safety issues by using various tools and incentives to learn from the failures of others and learn that food safety is crucial (Schein, 2004; Zanin et al., 2021). The higher the degree of cooperation between senior management and employee attitudes on safety, the more likely they are to develop positive behavioural attitudes like “handling food safely is good for the company and important for customers” (Griffith et al., 2010a). Kussaga et al. (2014a) further mentioned that companies should implement regular on the job food safety and hygiene training and refresher courses for their employees, including the employees in leadership positions. In addition to the incidence of food safety hazards and regular changes in food safety regulations, there is a need for sufficient expertise to implement the requirements of standards and control of food safety hazards. Therefore, food safety performance depends on the competence of food handlers (Seward et al., 2012).

Herscovitch and Meyer (2002) mention that many employees and employers find change stressful and acknowledge that the relationship between commitment and resilience may be more complicated. According to Yiannas (2009), traditional food safety management systems that concentrate on “process, food science, and a simple explanation of food handler behaviour” should be replaced by systems that “incorporate people as well as process, behavioural science, and the perception that behavioural change is complex and not focused on mere provision of factual knowledge”. Changing attitudes so that employees understand why new standards are being implemented and how unhealthy behaviours result in unsafe food is just one part of the transition to a strong food safety culture.