Doing food safety 'til the cows come home

July 21, 2010 | by Paul Mcginnis
Doing food safety 'til the cows come home

From the second I walked through the front entrance, I noticed a difference. Maybe it was the warm, sincere greeting at the front desk or the quick tour and history of the company I was given on the way to the elevator. It could have been the personal hello I received by everyone I passed. Or maybe it was the unique events that occurred after my meeting. I was led to a room to pick out some “souvenirs” from my visit for me and for anyone back at my office. After deciding on a couple, I was then asked if I wanted to go meet the CEO. Shocked, I said sure and away we went. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there so I was given two autographed books that were sitting on his desk. To top it off, as I was leaving, I was given a handful of coupons for a free chicken sandwich.

Little did I know, that my trip to the headquarters of Chick-fil-A in Atlanta, Ga., would have been so amazing. By reading about it, you would have thought I was important and had relationships with a variety of people within the organization. Not true. I was in sales and new to the industry and was there to talk to them about their food safety program for the very first time. But when I left, I felt important and odd enough even encouraged though I didn’t even make a sale.

Culture. The personality of an organization. But what makes up the culture of an organization? Is it the mission, values, and norms of the business? Is it most impacted by the organization’s leader? Do physical surroundings have anything to do with it? Is it simply an attitude? Tough to say, I know, but it is amazing how we can all pick up on the culture of an organization very quickly.

I recently talked to someone saying they wanted to “infuse a culture of food safety” into their organization. We discussed several ways to do this and I wanted to share our thoughts with you.

1. Work it into your mission/objectives

Your mission is what drives everything you do. Somehow find a way to work food safety into the mix. Maybe it’s a bullet under a higher level goal. Whatever it is, connect your objectives to food safety.

2. Find something easy to focus on first

Don’t think you need $1,000, full corporate support and a fully engaged team to start this process. Figure out something simple to do that will put some tangible signs in front of your employees proving food safety is important to you. It could be buying food safety posters. It could be quizzing employees about the basics of food safety. Do the GloGerm example to start one of your team meetings. Print out an article on food safety and give it to your team to read.

3. Celebrate small successes

Be patient and realize culture is not established and especially changed overnight. With that in mind, make sure you recognize even the smallest successes. If you are trying new things to get your employees to wash their hands more regularly, look for that behavior. If you see it, recognize it immediately. From saying “good job” to a quick recognition in the morning meeting, employees will notice this and begin to follow suit.

4. Talk about food safety

I know there are more exciting topics out there to discuss, but if you want to change a culture, you must be willing to have open conversations about it. Start giving brief explanations about the need to clean and sanitize the cutting boards. Explain FIFO and show them how and why you rotate your food. Talk to them about how your guests can be impacted (positively or negatively) by paying attention to the little things. Before you know it, you may even have employees discussing it among themselves and providing ideas to you about your food safety program.

5. Measure your success

This is a little tougher in some cases but important nonetheless. Find a way to measure if you are making an impact – increased glove usage, less food waste, decrease in comp meals, improved health inspection or 3rd party scores. Also look for “softer” measurements – more discussion about food safety in general among your kitchen staff, employees correcting other employees when a process is not being followed.

Infusing food safety into your culture is not easy especially if you are battling a culture devoid of this type of emphasis. But I've seen cultures change and know with the right plan and focus, it can happen.

So as the famous Chick-fil-A cows encouraged me to “Give Chikin A Chance,” let me encourage you to give food safety a chance within your culture.

Topics: Food Safety, Operations Management

Paul Mcginnis
Paul McGinnis is the VP of Marketing for Ecolab's Food Safety Specialties division (formerly Daydots). He is an author and a speaker, and currently serves as editor-in-chief of Food Safety Solutions magazine. www

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