By Francine L. Shaw, Co-founder, My Food Source
Prioritizing a strong food safety culture is crucial for brands to prevent product recalls, foodborne illnesses, and reputational damage. This article explores critical ways to build a strong food safety culture by strengthening relationships with consumers and suppliers, building trust, improving communication, and utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enhance safety and transparency.
Restaurants should follow these 8 steps to build and maintain a strong food safety culture:
- Build trust. In today’s business climate, where sustainability and transparency are paramount, earning trust has gained even more significance. Building trust starts from the top. Leaders must demonstrate a strong commitment to food safety by setting clear expectations, allocating adequate resources, and actively participating in food safety initiatives. When leaders prioritize food safety, it sends a powerful message to employees that this is a top priority for the organization. To establish trust, businesses should demonstrate integrity, uphold ethical standards, be transparent in business practices, and deliver on commitments. Restaurant brands should promote accountability and demonstrate a strong sense of responsibility towards food safety standards. They should also build credibility by establishing expertise and reliability. Restaurants should always provide high-quality products, services, and customer support. And they should consistently ensure that their actions align with their stated values and principles.
- Be transparent. To nurture strong connections, businesses should communicate clearly and consistently, especially about food safety information. Provide stakeholders with updates on food safety initiatives, including traceability, sustainability, environmental impact, and social responsibility efforts. Transparency instills confidence and strengthens relationships. Also, cultivate a culture of active listening. Pay attention to consumers’, employees’, suppliers’, and investors’ feedback, suggestions, and concerns. Engage in two-way communication to understand these important perspectives. Foster personal connections. Humanize relationships by forging personal connections based on empathy and understanding. Show genuine concern for your stakeholders’ needs and aspirations. Understand – and adapt to – your stakeholders’ preferred communication channels, including social media. Use AI-powered chatbots to accelerate response times on social media channels.
- Utilize AI to enhance safety. Leveraging AI technologies can significantly improve food safety practices. AI-driven systems can help monitor and identify potential risks, analyze supply chain data for quality control, and provide real-time insights on food safety regulations. By integrating AI solutions, businesses can proactively identify and address food safety issues, reducing the risk of contamination and reinforcing consumer trust.
- Boost training and education. Regular and comprehensive training programs are essential to enhance employees’ knowledge and understanding of food safety practices. Training should cover various aspects of food safety protocols, such as personal hygiene, allergen management, proper handling and storage of food, and identification and mitigation of food safety risks. By investing in employee education, restaurants empower their workforce to make informed decisions and prioritize food safety in their daily practices.
- Establish open communication channels. It’s essential for your restaurant to establish open and clear communication channels for the effective dissemination of food safety information within your organization. This includes maintaining good communication between different departments, utilizing visual aids and signage to reinforce food safety practices, conducting regular meetings to discuss concerns, and encouraging employees to report food safety incidents or near misses. Transparent and open communication fosters a culture of collaboration and accountability, and this is critical to building and maintaining a strong food safety culture.
- Engage with suppliers. Collaboration and partnership with suppliers is essential for maintaining high food safety standards throughout the supply chain. Regular audits, quality assessments, and transparent communication channels with suppliers help ensure the safety and integrity of raw materials and ingredients from the point of origin to the point of consumption. Restaurants can minimize potential risks and strengthen their food safety culture by selecting trustworthy and reliable suppliers and establishing solid partnerships with them.
- Communicate with consumers. Maintain strong relationships with consumers and spotlight your commitment to food safety. Brands should proactively tell key audiences – including customers, prospects, and influencers – that their organization prioritizes food safety and consistently follows gold standard protocols. Engaging consumers through clear labeling, educational campaigns, social media, and responsiveness to their concerns helps build trust and loyalty, promoting a food safety culture from production to consumption. Today’s consumers are smart and savvy. They do their due diligence and support brands that work diligently and consistently to keep them safe.
- Consider ESG principles. Increasingly, ESG matters to key stakeholders, including employees, customers, prospects, investors, and potential investors, and this can be an important element to building your strong food safety culture. Incorporating ESG principles into food safety practices demonstrates a commitment to sustainability and social responsibility. This contributes to a positive brand image and attracts consumers who support responsible businesses. Tech tools, like AI, can be instrumental to ESG efforts, helping to evaluate and optimize environmental impacts across the supply chain. AI can also identify areas for energy efficiency improvements, reduce waste, enhance sustainability practice, and monitor the supply chain to ensure ethical and fair labor practices.
Prioritizing a strong food safety culture is crucial for restaurants to prevent food safety breaches, product recalls, foodborne illnesses – and the financial, legal, and reputational damage that could occur as a result. By focusing on trust, effective communication – and leveraging AI technologies, considering ESG principles, engaging consumers, and collaborating with suppliers – restaurants can create a robust food safety culture that protects public health, maintains consumer confidence, and ensures the long-term success of their organizations.
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.