Food Safety: Reaction or Culture?

By Julieta Querol, Owner and operator, Leap Translations

Current FDA regulations for the food industry focus on food safety practices to prevent outbreaks of food-borne illness. Food manufacturers must have in place H.A.C.C.P. (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) plans detailing how they will maintain clean operations while handling and processing food.

So… is that enough?

Will running clean operations be sufficient to prevent even sporadic outbreaks of food-borne illness that sicken and even kill us?

In my early years visiting kitchens and food plants to assess food safety compliance, I learned that in order to achieve and maintain steady success, culture is key. I found a remarkable difference in the facilities of companies where food safety was not just something they did to maintain a high audit score, but it was actually part of their culture.

“The food safety problems we face have one thing in common — they are largely preventable,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods.

Prevention is key, but it comes from understanding the possible hazards and monitoring those critical control points regularly. It only takes one person not washing their hands properly after visiting the restroom, then returning to preparing food, your food and mine, to get hundreds sick.

“Prepare food as if your family and loved ones will be the ones eating it,” is a common phrase at the back of the house in companies where the food safety culture is strong.

Understanding food safety, having a strong H.A.C.C.P. system in place and monitoring it daily should be part of a company’s culture at all levels, not just within the operations. It has to come from the top.

When food safety is part of every business decision, it generates a healthy culture where it is not only a step in prevention, but a belief system of its own.