How to create a food safety culture in your business.

For most restaurant or kitchen staff, ‘food safety’ is a dreaded phrase that conjures up boring training sessions or tedious forms. If you’re a manager there’s also the prospect of surprise health inspections.

For most of us, food safety is all about avoiding foodborne illnesses and contamination. With 48 million people getting sick each year in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, it’s no idle concern. Just one bad egg on your team can get you in a serious pickle.

So, what if you could build a team culture that educates your staff to own and proactively manage food safety themselves? What if there was a way to minimize the human error inherent in restaurant operations while empowering your staff at the same time?

People power

While it may have a painfully dull name, the new philosophy of “Behavioral Food Safety” is actually logically simple. Blending ideas from psychology, food science and organizational management, it reframes food safety as collaborative process.

The approach boils down to the premise that people will do right when they understand the implications of failure.

And while it’s true that people still represent the biggest risks in food handling operations, most traditional food safety approaches are designed through a rules and punishments-based approach.

But shifting from a process to a people model takes a lot of trust and that’s something that has to be built over time.

So how does getting your team food-safety woke work? How do you build their knowledge and confidence and get to a point where you can let go? According to the International Food Safety & Quality network, behavioral food safety hinges on activating four key employee characteristics: motivation, awareness, capability, and knowledge.

woman sorting through box of tomatoes in kitchen pantry

Don’t preach, teach.

First and foremost, employees must be armed with good information and be receptive to learning it.

After they get the facts, get your team’s hands dirty by showcasing food safety practices in action. Make ongoing reminders informal and fun.

One great way to reinforce awareness is through automated digital checklists that not only walk your team through common food safety and handling procedures. And when you combine those digital checklists with automated, cloud-based kitchen sensing tools, you can see that things are functioning right, day in, day out in real time.

Carrots not sticks.

Motivation is a key factor in ensuring your staff feel empowered to tackle food safety.

Again, active participation is the best way to get real attention but making people feel like they’re seen, valued and respected makes ideas sink in on a whole different level.

Ask questions that make them have to figure out the solution. See how they would handle different hypothetical situations. Mix things up with some role playing. Anything that disrupts the typical learning model, makes it personal or makes it part of culture has a higher chance of sticking.

And good old-fashioned recognition and reward have a big part to play as well.

High fives, high scores.

Positive reinforcement for good actions helps staff feel noticed, confident and primed to do good work, which in turn inspires it others. This can be as simple as high fives, employee recognition awards, social posts, or even set up as a milestone for promotions or raises. Mobile apps that help manage food safety processes and provide food safety training can also be used as a way to track progress and performance.

The bottom line is: invest in your people and they’re much more likely to invest in the job.

Does this all require a little extra effort? Yes. But the potential for increased performance, happier teams and greater peace of mind will pay endless dividends.

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