Culture Clash: Food Safety, Profit

Thursday, January 6, 2011 @ 09:01 AM gHale

Like a good, solid security plan, food safety needs to become part of the company’s culture for it to be a successful endeavor.

That begs the question if providing safe food is a priority, why do large outbreaks of foodborne illness occur? Incidents like 2010’s salmonella-in-eggs outbreak sickened more than 1,900 across the U.S. and led to the recall of 500 million eggs.

How the culture of food safety exists within an organization can be a significant risk factor in foodborne illness, according to a new study by a Kansas State University professor.

How businesses and organizations operate above and beyond minimal food safety regulations and inspections, or their food safety culture, is often overlooked, said Doug Powell, associate professor of food safety at Kansas State.

“You’d think making customers sick is bad for business, yet some firms go out of their way to ignore food safety,” Powell said. “Some places are motivated by money and efficiencies. The amount of regulation, inspection and audits just doesn’t seem to matter. And those ‘Employees Must Wash Hands’ signs don’t really work.”

Powell, along with Casey Jacob, a former K-State research assistant, and Ben Chapman, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, examined three food safety failures: an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Wales in 2005 that sickened 157 and killed one; a listeria outbreak in Canada in 2008 that sickened 57 and killed 23; and a salmonella outbreak in the U.S. in 2009 linked to peanut paste that killed nine and sickened 691.

“Creating a culture of food safety requires application of the best science with the best management and communication systems,” Chapman said. “Operators should know the risks associated with their products, how to manage them, and most important, how to communicate with and compel their staff to employ good practices — it’s a package deal.”

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