Many food processing companies have implemented a food safety management system to comply with the severe measures to deliver hygienic and safe food. Nevertheless, consumers can be exposed to unsafe food, with food poisoning as a result.
Research at Ghent University shows that human behaviour and corporate culture may have an impact on these problems.
Researchers Elien De Boeck, Prof. Liesbeth Jacxsens (faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University) and Prof. Peter Vlerick (faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Ghent University) took a closer look at food companies and their management systems.
“Food safety is often looked at from a purely technological approach”, Ms De Boeck said. “Many companies choose to obtain a food safety certificate merely because their customers demand it; not because they are intrinsically motivated to improve their company’s hygiene and food safety.
“As such, certificates risk to become merely a checklist with requirements and lose their original goal: to safeguard and improve hygiene and food safety.
“A certificate is no guarantee for safe food. Some companies with certificates still encounter food safety problems.”
Their study shows that in many cases, food safety problems are caused by the behaviour of individual employees, who are, in turn, influenced by the corporate culture with respect to food safety and hygiene.
Ms De Boeck added: “As a company, you make choices: for instance, how do we manage food safety? Is it our priority to produce safe and hygienic food, or to increase production? This organisational culture reflects on all aspects in production and processing, and on the behaviour of employees. If you give employees sufficient time to do their job well, they will get the signal that quality and food safety are more important than quantity. Furthermore, stress and burn-out are clearly linked to a weak food safety culture.”
A strong leading management and efficient communication seemed crucial to realise a better food safety culture, according to the study.
“Every food processing company should have strong leaders on crucial positions”, Ms De Boeck added. “These people have a positive influence on the behaviour of individual employees.”