Food safety is more than just training employees on proper procedures. Creating a food safety culture at work involves changing people's thinking about food safety, and increasing their internal motivation to practice safe behaviors every day. This positive thinking contributes to changing and improving practices long-term, which is essentially an expression of the food safety culture. In essence, food safety equals behavior.
Cross-contamination prevention is one critical area to consider when implementing a food safety culture at work. Microorganisms, chemicals and other contaminants can originate from people, soiled food contact surfaces, utensils, or other areas, and increases risk of foodborne illness if not controlled.
2016 study of health department inspections discovered that 9.3% of food establishments had potential for food contaminations during food preparation, storage or display. Also, 9.3% of establishments did not have proper storage and handling of clean utensils, equipment and linens in between uses.*
Preventing the opportunity for biological, chemical or physical contaminants is critical in a foodservice environment. Building in these controls can help take the guesswork out, and enhance your food safety program:
- Identify all potential sources of contamination in your establishment
- Employee education and training, emphasizing the sources of cross contamination in your own operation and potential for causing foodborne illness
- Organize storage areas of cleaning tools/chemicals to be separate from food storage and preparation areas, to prevent cross contamination between them
- Color-coded markers on shelving or product containers in refrigerator to encourage proper storage order of foods
- Develop written cleaning protocols for cleaning and storage practices in your operation (especially cleaning food contact surfaces between tasks and in between raw and ready-to-eat foods: boards, knives, slicers, work surfaces, wiping cloths)
- Have adequate supplies and chemicals handy for proper cleaning of equipment and utensils
- Be aware of transmission routes of contaminants within your operation, and consider using zone isolation and color-coding of equipment and cleaning tools for different areas (e.g., restrooms, kitchen, dining room, production areas)
- Have sanitizer buckets and test strips available for all preparation/service areas. Train staff on their proper use, chemical strength, and wiping cloths storage
Monitor and improve behaviors:
- Model proper behaviors by management, for employees to learn and value proper food safety practices at work
- Enforce and reinforce procedures and practices with your staff
- Perform ongoing evaluations and self-audits of preventive practices (cleaning, storage practices, training sessions) to improve results and efficiency
- Strive for continuous improvements
Building a food safety culture is a cooperative effort between management and staff in a foodservice operation-management establishing guidelines, leading by example and engaging employees to follow these good practices. Positive reinforcement of their successes (e.g., favorable inspection reports, improvements during internal audits) can further help to motivate employees, and encourage them to continue these practices for the long run.
By Cindy Rice, FS, CP-FS,MSPH
*Data from Health Department Inspections