U.S – As a basis for its work on food safety culture with industry, consumers, and within the agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published a systematic assessment of the scientific literature on the subject.

The analysis covered a total of 79 publications that satisfied the review’s qualifying requirements.

The FDA is of the opinion that more has to be done to change people’s attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs in order to significantly reduce the burden of foodborne illness. Effective food safety management requires a strong food safety culture, it notes.

The New Era of Smarter Food Safety strategy, which was released in 2020, places a strong emphasis on promoting FSC throughout the food system. The blueprint presents a 10-year strategy for developing a safer food supply.

The literature review provided a great platform for the FDA to better understand the most recent research on FSC, including how it is defined, created, and maintained by various organizations, and how it is evaluated or quantified.

While food safety culture is defined in various ways in the literature, the review identified the most frequently cited definition of FSC as the aggregation of the prevailing, relatively constant, learned, shared attitudes, values, and beliefs contributing to the hygiene behaviors used within a particular food handling environment (Griffith, Livesey, and Clayton 2010).

The literature review also uncovered various important factors that influence an FSC as well as challenges and obstacles in creating and upholding a robust and efficient FSC.

The key determinants identified consistently can be summarized as leadership, communication, commitment to food safety, risk awareness, environment, accountability, and employee knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and values. 

Barriers identified in the literature include over-reliance on food safety management systems, prioritization of cost-saving and money-earning; organization size; frequent staff turnover; and optimistic bias.

The literature also describes some best practices to promote FSC, including promoting FSC as a necessary and critical business matter for all employees; branding the organization’s commitment to FSC; framing FSC with an “ownership mentality,” and promoting FSC throughout the organization’s supply chain.

More research needed to assess validity of tools

About a quarter of the articles in the literature review discuss methods for assessing FSC within organizations.

Most of the FSC assessment tools developed were survey instruments meant for dissemination to personnel at different levels within an organization, including upper management, middle management, and food handlers. 

Other methods mentioned in the literature for assessing FSC in an organization include third-party audits, verifications of certain kinds of data, focus groups, and observations of actual behavior.

However, the study notes that more research is needed to assess the validity of these tools across different organizational settings, as well as across different countries. 

While only a few studies have directly examined the relationship between FSC and outcomes, the research to date suggests that improving FSC within organizations does have some measurable positive effects. 

Nevertheless, more empirical studies are needed to fully demonstrate the connection between FSC and outcomes, including microbiological environment and other risks for foodborne illness outbreaks, reductions in contamination incidents, and improved economic effects.

According to the review, there is very little on how government agencies can promote a strong FSC across the food supply chain, with only the FDA’s implementation of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety1 initiative and the EU’s promulgation of FSC regulations as examples.

In addition, there is a dearth of literature on FSC for the consumer or for food-related regulatory agencies, perhaps because the concept of FSC itself draws upon theories of organizational culture. 

As a result, there is a gap in the literature about what a strong and effective FSC would look like among general consumers and how FSC is defined in a regulatory agency. 

Similarly, the literature on FSC does not take into consideration employees’ diverse political, familial, racial, and other cultural identities or how these identities may influence an organization’s FSC.

The FDA will use this research to inform its continued efforts in support of food safety culture. 

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