It seems the word “culture” is popping up everywhere, as people use it to describe the attitude and behaviors of a workforce.  In my area of food safety, I read a lot of articles and such expressing concern that employees simply do not care about food safety.  People cite the need for training, education, checklists, internal audits, etc., etc.  But none of those things matter if the employee, his or herself, does not care about what they do and why they are doing it.  I agree, most employees do not care about food safety, but realistically, I also think that a lot of those people don’t take pride in what they do.  “It’s only a job.”  So how do you get them to care about food safety when they don’t really care about their job?

The definition of care is:

“the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.”

I recently read that once your basic needs have been met, there is no correlation to more money making you happier.  I think a lot of employees consider their job as a fulfillment of their basic needs.  It’s a paycheck that puts food on their table and shelter over their heads.

When I was working in a restaurant nearly 15 years ago, there was no talk of food safety.  I didn’t even know the concept existed.  I was young, living paycheck to paycheck, just trying to pay my rent.  I hated working in foodservice.  People treated me badly, and it took a toll on my self-esteem.  I was trying so hard to keep my head above water financially and emotionally, that I didn’t take pride in what I was doing.  I didn’t care about the “provisions” of our customers.  I only cared about the provisions of my basic needs.  Would I have taken the extra steps to go through a training?  Yes, because it would have been part of my job.  Would I have gone above and beyond my call of duty to better the restaurant for the well-being of our customers?  Probably not.  I was bitter.  Customers treated me like shit.  Why should I care about their well-being when they clearly did not care about mine?  Treat others as you would like to be treated – I was always taught.

Then I look at our field labor employees.  We regularly train them on food safety issues.  I am out there checking them multiple times a week to ensure they are following our food safety policies.  Do I think the trainings help?  Maybe.  Do I think they genuinely care about food safety?  Not really.  I think that they know I will hold them accountable for following our food safety policies, and they follow the rules to not get written up or deal with the wrath of “Sheriff Lacy.”

Of course, I’m generally speaking.  We have some employees that feel passionately about food safety and fully understand that what they do in the field can have a great impact on their job, our company, and public health.  But I also feel passionately about food safety.  I genuinely care about what I do, which leads me to be the example and hold our employees accountable.  I take pride in what I do, and that’s reflective in my attitude and my performance.

The food safety culture of our company directly reflects how I lead the program, and the culture of our company directly reflects the attitude and performance of our leadership.  But that’s in any job, in any industry.  It’s about finding the right people, not just hiring a body.  Easier said than done, I know.  But passion is contagious.  As John C. Maxwell says,

“People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.”

It all starts at the top.  You can train people all you want, but training, education, checklists, and internal audits themselves are not going to improve the food safety culture of your business.  The culture of a company runs deeper than documentation.  Besides, documentation is after the fact.  Those of us in positions responsible for food safety are so bogged down with following up and collecting documentation, that we can’t actually be out there preventing food safety incidents from occurring. This is where the company culture plays a critical part in business.  If employees genuinely care about it, then they are preventing it.

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