Francine L. Shaw
Francine L. Shaw

By Francine L. Shaw, food safety specialist, co-host of Don’t Eat Poop! A Food Safety Podcast, founder of Savvy Food Safety, and author of “Who Watches the Kitchen?

The Benefits of Implementing a Strong Food Safety CultureDoes your restaurant have a strong food safety culture, where your employees prioritize food safety and demonstrate their commitment through their actions and values? Turns out, there are numerous (and significant) benefits to building (and maintaining) a strong food safety culture.  

For instance, this effort can help you:

  • Reduce foodborne illness risks. Every food business must prioritize food safety and minimize risks, which can sicken customers and damage your reputation. By creating a food safety culture – and prioritizing gold standard protocols – you’ll boost awareness, responsibility, and accountability among your employees. Having a food safety culture empowers employees to follow proper protocols, take ownership of food safety efforts, point out potential problems, and help ensure food safety during every shift.
  • Optimize operations. Creating a positive food safety culture can help improve all aspects of your business performance. This effort can elevate operational efficiency, optimize processes, increase productivity, and more. Additionally, this effort can help your team reduce risks – and the associated financial, legal, and reputational damage of food safety breaches.
  • Comply with ever-changing regulations and standards. Restaurants (and other food businesses) must stay aware of – and compliant with – food safety regulations and standards, which are designed to protect foods, consumers, and businesses. These rules often vary by location and evolve over time, so it’s essential to understand (and follow) the rules so your restaurant can achieve and maintain the proper safety certifications and accreditations.
  • Meet stakeholders’ demands. Having a strong food safety culture can help you adapt to (and meet) key stakeholders’ changing demands and expectations. In our post-COVID world, priority populations (including customers, employees, regulators, investors, the media, etc.) are more aware of cleanliness, safety, and quality than ever before. Prior to COVID, food safety protocols were often conducted “behind the scenes,” but today, stakeholders want to see meticulously clean environments and proper rules being followed. Otherwise, they’ll go eat (or work) elsewhere. A food safety culture can help you anticipate (and respond to) emerging trends, demands, and preferences.
  • Improve customer satisfaction, trust, and loyalty. Implementing a strong food safety culture can increase key metrics, including customer sales, satisfaction, trust, loyalty, and referrals. Since customers expect and demand safe, high-quality food in a clean environment, they’re more likely to visit, trust, and recommend restaurants that demonstrate a commitment to food safety. Additionally, being transparent about your restaurant’s food safety efforts can help differentiate your establishment from the competition, drive traffic, and increase sales in a crowded marketplace.

Improve Your Food Safety Culture

Promoting a food safety culture involves shifting our entrenched beliefs and adopting modern industry practices like minimizing chemical reliance, leveraging advanced technologies, embracing sustainability, and fostering forward-thinking leadership.

To accomplish this:

  • Walk the walk. Developing a food safety culture is more than just having written policies in place. It’s about having food safety be “baked into” everything your team does. It’s not just about what your leaders say – it’s about what your employees do and believe.
  • Train continuously. Provide regular, ongoing food safety training to ensure that all employees understand proper protocols. Empower employees to take ownership of food safety efforts. Conduct regular “refresher” training sessions to keep critical information top-of-mind. And provide “bite size” nuggets of information via texts and emails so employees always have these resources at their fingertips.
  • Explain why the rules are in place. Employees are more likely to follow the proper protocols if they understand why these efforts matter. Therefore, don’t just tell employees to wash their hands often – explain how pathogens can transfer from dirty hands onto foods, equipment, and surfaces, jeopardizing customers’ safety. Be certain that your team understands what could happen if they don’t follow proper safety procedures – e.g., sickening customers, losing consumer trust, damaging your brand’s reputation, etc.
  • Use tech tools. Tech tools – like AI, machine learning, and IoT – are game changers, elevating food safety efforts, boosting transparency, and allowing brand leaders to make smarter, data-driven decisions. Tech tools also help improve risk awareness, so potential food safety issues can be immediately corrected.
  • Rely on better sanitizers and disinfectants. Not all sanitizers and disinfectants are created equally, so ensure you’re using the most effective, safe, and sustainable options. Use products like Hypochlorous acid (HOCL) – which is 80-100x more powerful than bleach, effective at killing 99.99% of pathogens, as well as sustainable, chemical-free, and safe for humans, foods, and the environment. Companies like EcoloxTech offer cost-effective HOCL solutions that are becoming increasingly popular in restaurants and other foodservice settings. HOCL from Ecoloxtech systems has been cleared by the EPA as a no-post-rinse required sanitizer that helps improve shelf life and reduce water consumption and expensive labor costs.
  • Start at the top. If you want employees to follow proper food safety protocols, your food safety culture must start at the top, with leadership commitment, support, and active involvement. Company leaders must do more than just talk about food safety – they must set a good example for employees at all levels of the organization.
  • Allocate proper resources to this effort. Ensure that employees have the tools that they need to elevate food safety efforts. That means providing well-functioning equipment, tech tools to optimize operations, properly calibrated food thermometers, sanitizer that eliminates pathogens, and anything else they need to operate safely.
  • Reward employees for doing the right thing. Spotlight high performers by praising them in staff meetings and featuring them on your website and social media platforms. Pick a Food Safety Employee of the Month. Provide small gifts or financial bonuses to team members that go above and beyond. These seemingly small efforts will go a long way in motivating employees to keep prioritizing safety initiatives.

Cultivating a strong food safety culture is an ongoing commitment, as your entire team works diligently to meet (and exceed) safety goals. This effort takes determination, persistence, and tenacity, but will pay off with increased KPIs, including sales, customer loyalty, employee satisfaction, and improved brand reputation.

Francine L. Shaw is a food safety specialist, co-host of Don’t Eat Poop! A Food Safety Podcast, founder of Savvy Food Safety, co-founder of My Trusted Source, author of “Who Watches the Kitchen?”, and a successful entrepreneur, and speaker who spent 30+ years working in the foodservice industry. Her career has included performing services (operating partner, corporate/private trainer, health inspector, third party inspector, adjunct professor) in various sectors of the foodservice industry. She has written hundreds of articles for national trade magazines and appeared on Dr. Oz, the BBC World Series Radio, and iHeart Radio as a food safety expert.