Updated: Jan 6
One of the biggest investments that a food operation can make is not just in the physical aspects of equipment or inventory, but in its employees. According to Google Dictionary, "culture" is defined as the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group. The team of employees working in a restaurant are a social group that needs to have specific attitudes and behaviours to achieve common goals within the establishment. In most cases, the people we work with in a restaurant, will become like a family and we will often see these people more than our own families upon choosing to work in the food service industry. We are often required to work most holidays with our coworkers rather than spending holidays traditionally with our families at home. In a sense, our work culture becomes a second home and our coworkers become a second family.
When us and our coworkers share a similar wavelength of the work that needs to be accomplished, the responsibilities we share or uphold singularly, and strive to push the business forward, it results in a good cultural work environment for the staff and management. The collective attitude of this culture will help maintain an operation's reputation, helps to protect the employees and culture, as well as helping to save costs within the operation.
Often in food service operations, you will hear the saying, "You're only as good as the last meal you served." This phrase helps back of house employees operate with a standard for every single meal being served to a customer. It also sets a standard for food safety among staff, which is a large component in food safety culture.
Food safety is a serious matter and can be the difference between life or death for customers when food is handled improperly. It requires training courses, training other employees, breaking bad habits and being conscious of food safety at all times in the workplace. Food safety becomes engrained in the culture of the operation and employees. It is so much more than a course that needs to be taken every five years, a section in an employee handbook, or a subject of discussion at weekly staff meetings. Food safety culture is based on the decisions an operation and its employees make on a daily basis. The structure of molds and the presence of bacteria were only discovered in the 1660's. Due to modern science, we now understand bacteria and its presence within the universe much better now, however, bacteria have existed since the beginning of time. As a result, science is constantly evolving and discovering new ways for industry workers to make food as safe as possible. Scientists discover new bacteria and pathogens frequently.
Another important component that contributes to the food safety culture of an establishment is one that is fairly unavoidable within the industry: employee turnover. Often times in food service operations, it is difficult to retain employees due to the demanding aspects of the job, the use of seasonal employees during peak seasons, and students as part time staff returning to school. Due to this difficulty, it is imperative to properly train all staff in food safety, or ensure that they have prior training before starting the job. Having a lack of cash flow can also bottleneck the food safety culture of an operation if the employees do not have the proper tools or equipment necessary to ensure that food is kept safe. For example, if a fridge is in ill-repair and another refrigeration unit that is not meant to be holding larger quantities of food is used as a result. Or a new part-time dishwasher is not trained properly and does not realize that the dishwasher has run out of a certain chemical. Food handlers need to be constantly aware of all the ways to enforce food safety culture within the establishment in a consistent manner.
Food safety culture begin with the owners of an establishment who promote a vision and set a standard for the food safety practices within the operation. This standard becomes how management is trained and as a result, how the employees are trained. Often times, it can become like a broken telephone system, where bottom level employees are missing specific details or training that the owners or managers expect. The best way to mitigate this issue is to ensure that everyone receives proper training and food safety practices within the establishment are consistent.
Trust is also a very important piece of the puzzle when it comes to food safety culture. Customers put their trust in the establishment that they will receive excellent service, safe and delicious food, a good atmosphere and a great meal overall. Employees trust that management, supervisors and owners have the customers' and employees' best interest in mind and that they are doing everything in their power to provide an excellent food safety culture within the establishment. Protecting customers and employees should always be more important to the staff of a food service operation than the bottom line.
Food safety culture is more than understanding the biology or chemistry of food and how it reacts with the elements, bacteria, or chemicals. Food safety also includes behavioural sciences by studying and transforming bad habits into good habits, implementing behaviours to prevent cross-contamination or other risks within the establishment.
Understanding the risks involved with food safety within an establishment is extremely important. Teaching staff about safe preparation techniques, equipment safety, proper sanitation procedures, cooking techniques and specific products is paramount. Being consistent in these practices is equally as important as training, equipment safety and the skill level of the employees.
Trust can bring out the best in people, but it also requires time to develop trust within the food safety culture. It can be a good way to motivate individuals, but it is not more important than training staff properly to achieve set standards prior to cultivating that trust, because it does take a significant amount of time for some people. Creating standards and implementing procedures to ensure that food being served to customers will result in an established customer base while cultivating the trust of employees.
Following proper food handling procedures will allow a cook to keep the public safe, as well as help managers keep employees and customers safe. It is important to implement food safety practices and strategies, and once they are consistent and the trust is established, revenue will follow. Trusting that employers have implemented proper food safety strategies can take time and patience, but it is also very easy to betray the trust of employees as well. For example, if a food borne illness is linked to the establishment causing customers to fall ill and an owner hides the truth, it can not only break the trust of employees, but it can ruin the customer's trust and in turn, the establishment's credibility. These kinds of infractions can also lead to prison sentences, fines, or permanent closure of the establishment, especially since the media is very quick to portray these events in an attempt to keep consumers safe.
According to Wikipedia, "Listeriosis is an infection caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The outbreak originated from lines 8 and 9 of the Maple Leaf Foods Bartor Road facility (Establishment No. 97B) in Toronto, Ontario. There were about 220 possibly contaminated products, each stamped with the code "97B" near the "Best before" date. Since the bacteria travelled through deli meats, which are cooked (and as a result are usually free of pathogens), the contamination likely occurred during packaging. The outbreak was first noticed in July 2008 when regular surveillance detected an increase in cases reported. Federal inspectors usually spent less than 5 hours a day at the plant in the months before the outbreak of the illness, sometimes as little as 70 minutes. Maple Leaf Foods had instituted a voluntary recall before the outbreak was linked to their plant; upon confirming the link, they expanded the recall to all products from the Bartor Road facility. In a press conference, President and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods Michael McCain stated, "Tragically, our products have been linked to illness and loss of life. To those people who are ill, and to the families who have lost loved ones, I offer my deepest and sincerest sympathies. Words cannot begin to express our sadness for their pain."[...] the entire plant underwent intense sanitation, which began August 21. About 80 workers were involved in the cleanup, with additional outside experts and microbiologists supervising the operation. They used peroxyacetic acid, quaternary ammonium compound, isopropyl alcohol, refrigeration gel and a granular compound to disinfect the parts of the apparatuses. About 600 employees were to attend a four-hour training session on Listeria and on cleanliness, and about 250 employees were laid off while the plant was being cleaned. The recall reportedly cost the company $20 million, about ten times the original estimate. Four separate class-action lawsuits were filed in Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. The lawsuit in Ontario claimed damages of $350 million. The lawsuits were settled in December 2008 for $27 million.
According to the Foodborne Illness Outbreak Database, in 1992, the Jack in the Box restaurant chain was found to have contaminated hamburger patties. By the time a recall was issued, only 20% of the hamburger patties remained, which was equal to 272,672 hamburger patties. This product tested positive for E. Coli, but upon tracing, it was unable to be linked to a specific farm or production plant. The restaurant chain had ignored the U.S. Department of Health's recommendation to increase the minimum internal temperature for ground meat to 155°F, resulting in a total of 708 people who fell ill due to the failure to implement proper food safety standards.
Both examples of foodborne illness outbreaks were a result of the negligence of management and the lack of ability to fix the problem after being informed by employees that certain food safety measures needed to be implemented within the establishments. These are examples of poor food safety culture, which tends to be common in larger-scale operations. As a result, employees become skeptical, lose trust in management, and lose confidence in their job overall. When employers value money more than the safety of customers and employees, it can cause many people to fall ill, and the consequences can even be fatal in some cases. It is the responsibility of food handlers to report any issues or fixes required within the food safety culture of the establishment to managers, so that the entire workforce can ensure that all critical control points within the establishment are analyzed to produce safe food. Protecting the customers is the only way to ensure that an establishment retains a good standing in the eyes of the public.
“Foodborne Illness Outbreak Database.” Www.Outbreakdatabase.Com, www.outbreakdatabase.com/details/jack-in-the-box-restaurant-chain-ground-beef-hamburgers-1992/. Accessed 27 Oct. 2020.
Wikipedia Contributors. “2008 Canada Listeriosis Outbreak.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Nov. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Canada_listeriosis_outbreak.
Margaret Spence Krewen, et al. Advanced.Fst : Food Safety Training in Canada. Toronto, Ont., Traincan, 2012.
Labensky, Sarah R, et al. On Cooking : A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals. Don Mills, Ontario, Pearson, 2018.