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Food Safety Culture – Becoming a Global Requirement

What do Codex Alimentarius, the EU’s new draft rule, FDA’s “New Era,” and GFSI Benchmarking Requirements Version 2020 have in common? All are initiating a new or updated focus on Food Safety Culture. This means that all in the food industry – worldwide – will need to be initiating or updating their focus on Food Safety Culture as well.

What does this mean and what are the standards/regulatory bodies doing?

  • Codex Alimentarius. While Codex has yet not issued it as a principle, there is industry expectation that this is to be added soon.
  • European Union. It is because of that expectation that the EU is adding general requirements on Food Safety Culture to its Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 (currently in draft form and out for comment through early August).
  • FDA. As discussed a previous TAG newsletter FDA’s recently published New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint lists Food Safety Culture as one of the four core elements of the approach it will take to food safety over the next decade.
  • GFSI. TAG’s Vice President of Public Health Dr. Rolando Gonzalez was a member of the GFSI technical working group on Food Safety Culture that led to the creation of a position paper, which in turn laid the groundwork for the inclusion of food safety culture in Version 2020 of the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements, released at the February 2020 GFSI Conference.

On the global level, the Codex Alimentarius Commission is expected to adopt a revision of its global standard on General Principles of Food Hygiene (CXC 1-1969) in October, introducing food safety culture as a general principle to enhance food safety by increasing the awareness and improving the behavior of employees in food establishments.

As discussed in a GFSI article, food safety culture is important to enable the industry to track with the dramatic changes in the way food is produced and distributed in the modern world. The two main current methods are regulatory inspection and organizational education/training, but statistics show that a high percentage of outbreaks are caused by infected persons, employee practices, and attitudes or behaviors, so changing employee behavior is critical

Strengthening food safety culture relies on the implementation of an action-based food-safety management system that integrates food science and social-behavioral studies. It needs to be cultivated by corporate leadership, and emphasize food safety and an environment that encourages discussion, sharing, and mutual compromise among individual employees. Thus, it requires the “intentional commitment and efforts of leaders” at all levels of the organization who express “their willingness to foster a food safety culture and to make management decisions necessary for its realization, such as system construction and resource allocation.” A strong food safety culture empowers the workforce to have ownership and pride in food safety, promoting communication with all levels of the organization.

In consideration of the expected CODEX principle, along with the expectations of consumers and trade partners that food produced in the EU complies at least with such global standard, the EU’s revised regulation requires that food business operators shall establish, maintain and provide evidence of an appropriate food safety culture through:

  • Management and employee commitment to the safe production and distribution of food; leadership toward the production of safe food and engagement of all employees in food safety practices; employee awareness of food safety hazards and of the importance of food safety and hygiene; open and clear communication between all employees including that of deviations and expectations; availability of sufficient resources to ensure the safe and hygienic handling of food.
  • Management commitment to ensuring that roles and responsibilities are clearly communicated within each business activity; maintaining the integrity of the food hygiene system when changes are planned and implemented; verifying that controls are performed timely and efficiently and documented; ensuring appropriate training and supervision; ensuring compliance with relevant regulatory requirements; encouraging continual improvement of the food safety management system taking into account developments in science, technology, and best practices.

The regulation also allows for the consideration of the nature and size of the business in its implementation of food safety culture.

In the US, FDA’s New Era Blueprint states that “A strong food safety culture is a prerequisite to effective food safety management,” and sees it as a critical aspect not only for food facilities but also on farms and in homes. Thus, its primary method of implementation will be the promotion of food safety culture throughout the food system, within the agency, and to consumers, using “new, tech-enabled popular mediums and tools, such as Smart Home devices, smartphones, digital platforms, and more to reach consumers with Smarter Food Safety messages.”

The concept of food safety culture is not new, but the increased focus of both standards and regulatory bodies on the concept is. So Whether you have a single facility in the Heartland of the U.S. or a global network of facilities around the world, it is becoming critical that you have a thorough understanding of the concept of food safety culture and a well thought out (and advisedly, written) food safety culture plan – as a foundation. Beyond that, you need to ensure that everyone in your company not only understands food safety culture but that they buy into it and live it. Food safety Culture has to be engrained in the vision and mission of the organization to become a driver for success in delivering safe food to consumers.

It not an easy concept or task, but it has been successfully accomplished by companies around the world – large and small.

If you’re just at the front end of development for your business and need assistance, would like to have your existing plan assessed, or need employee training or education – Give TAG a call today. We can help.


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