Il Gradino exterior tables.
Il Gradino

Effective communication channels are vital in disseminating food safety information throughout the organization. 

Cultivating a Strong Food Safety Culture in Full-Service Restaurants

Creating a strong food safety culture allows restaurants to build credibility, protect their reputation, and avoid stressful, expensive, damaging fallout from any food safety breaches.

Every restaurant experiences its fair share of chaos. During busy shifts, some employees may take occasional “short-cuts”—such as skipping handwashing or not checking the internal temperature of the proteins they’re cooking—to “save time.” In their haste to prep food, they may use the same board to cut raw poultry and vegetables for a salad. Each of these “short-cuts” is incredibly dangerous for the restaurant and its guests. Improper protocols—like not properly washing hands, serving undercooked proteins, and/or cross-contaminating ready-to-eat foods with raw poultry juices—could result in a foodborne illness incident, sickening your guests and potentially ruining your restaurant’s reputation.

Maintaining food safety is critical to ensuring customer health and satisfaction, as well as protecting the reputation and success of your restaurant. A weak food safety culture can have severely negative consequences, including contamination, product recalls, illness outbreaks, and legal ramifications. Building and maintaining a robust food safety culture is paramount to mitigate such risks. 

Roughly 48 million people get sick each year from foodborne illnesses. But when restaurants (and other food businesses) follow proper food safety protocols, they’ll experience a variety of important benefits, including increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as improved employee engagement and retention. Additionally, creating a strong food safety culture allows restaurants to build credibility, protect their reputation, and avoid stressful, expensive, damaging fallout from any food safety breaches.

Every restaurant should do the following to improve food safety compliance and mitigate risks:

Secure Commitment from the Top. Developing a solid food safety culture starts with the commitment of the organization's leadership. Leaders should actively demonstrate their dedication to food safety and set the tone and expectations for all employees. This involves allocating ample resources to food safety training and protocols, participating in food safety initiatives, and communicating the importance of proper food safety practices with their words and their actions. When employees see their leaders prioritizing food safety, they’ll understand that it is integral to the organization's values. And they’ll be more likely to comply if their leaders model proper behavior.

Train and Educate Employees. A knowledgeable and well-trained staff is crucial for maintaining food safety standards. Management should implement regular training programs to improve employees' understanding of food safety protocols. These programs should cover various topics such as proper hygiene, allergen management, safe food handling and storage, and risk identification and mitigation. Ongoing education ensures that employees are up to date with the latest practices and regulations, reducing the likelihood of foodborne incidents.

Communicate Openly. Effective communication channels are vital in disseminating food safety information throughout the organization. Clear and open communication ensures that all employees know proper food safety protocols and guidelines. This can be achieved through regular meetings, visual aids, and signage, and encouraging employees to report any food safety concerns or near misses they observe. Transparent communication also extends to external stakeholders, such as customers, investors, and partners. It’s essential to demonstrate the organization's commitment to food safety to both internal and external audiences, who are demanding this transparency.

Establish Accountability and Recognize Top Performers. Every employee should understand their responsibility in upholding food safety practices. Establishing accountability for food safety throughout the organization reinforces the message that it is a shared responsibility. Conducting regular evaluations, internal audits, and performance reviews helps identify areas for improvement and recognizes employees who consistently adhere to food safety protocols. Rewarding and recognizing these individuals cultivates a positive culture and motivates others to follow suit. Having a strong food safety culture can also help attract and retain like-minded employees, who prioritize safety and want to work for brands that enforce these behaviors.

Emphasize the Importance of Continuous Improvement. A strong food safety culture embraces the concept of continuous improvement. Regularly assessing and revising food safety processes and protocols ensures that your organization remains proactive in mitigating risks. Feedback mechanisms, like incident reporting, food safety audits, and benchmarking against industry best practices, facilitate continuous improvement. Encouraging employees to contribute suggestions and ideas fosters a sense of empowerment and demonstrates that their input is valued in enhancing food safety practices. A culture of continuous improvement strengthens food safety practices and encourages employees to take ownership of—and actively contribute to—the organization's overall success.

Restaurants must prioritize building and maintaining a strong food safety culture. By doing so, they’ll mitigate risks associated with inconsistent adherence to food safety practices. This can be accomplished by securing a commitment from leadership, providing comprehensive training, emphasizing open communication, establishing accountability, and fostering continuous improvement. Restaurants should take these five important steps to ensure the safety of their customers, protect their brand reputation, and comply with regulatory requirements. By integrating these tips into their operations, restaurants can create a culture where food safety is a core value, strengthening their chances of success in an industry where safety and quality are paramount.

Francine L. Shaw, food safety specialist, podcaster, and co-founder of My Food Source, is a successful entrepreneur, author, and speaker who spent 20+ years working in the foodservice industry. Her career has included performing services (operating partner, corporate/private trainer, health inspector, 3rd party inspector, adjunct professor) in various sectors of the foodservice industry. She has written hundreds of articles for national trade magazines and appeared on Dr. Oz, the BBC World Series Radio, and iHeart Radio as a food safety expert.