SAN DIEGO, CA – AIB International kicked of BEMA Convention 2022 Workforce Edition with its presentation, “Food Safety Culture for Senior Leaders.”

Led by Peg Ray, the company’s senior manager of product development and innovation, this workshop covered issues related to food safety culture (FSC), including the values, attitudes and beliefs that promote behavioral norms within companies.

“The factors that collectively contribute to the culture are visible environment, it’s literally how you look,” Ray said. “It’s the uniforms, the cleanliness, the factory conditions, the big picture and the mood.”

Ray showed a series of images of food plants at various levels of organization and cleanliness. In each example, Ray explained how the state of the plants, whether organized or not, directly reflected the values of senior leadership and the company as a whole.


While the physical state of a food plant is a tangible way of evaluating FSC, the mood of plant employees is just as indicative. The way people at the factory react to an inspection or audit, their knowledge of food safety or quality policies, and engagement levels are all tell-tale signs of how the mood is impacting FSC. Having the right people for the job makes a major difference.

“We want them to believe in food safety,” Ray said. “We want them to have a good attitude, and this leads to good behavior.”

Ray tied back the impact of mood to five psychological barriers: optimism bias, illusion of control, cognitive dissonance, attitudinal ambivalence and paranoia. All of these barriers impact the progress of FSC in a company.

Another barrier she emphasized was FSC that is simply going through the motions. Rather than a proactive, engaged FSC in a company, going through the motions looks like cutting corners, scraping by on inspections and audits and more.

“In most cases, our raining addresses what we need to do but it doesn’t address why,” Ray said. “When we don’t know the why, we start not to follow the what.”


Ray expanded on this with examples of the impact that cutting corners and devaluing food safety practices has on the food plant. She points to the way audits and routine maintenance are treated and prioritize can have an influence on morale and overall FSC.

Failure to learn from mistakes is another key indicator of a failing FSC.

“Companies that have strong FSC don’t accept mediocrity,” Ray said. “They strive to improve and learn from their mistakes, and you don’t want to be average or pretending.”

All of these conflicts regarding FSC stem from four common attributes according to Ray: management commitment, learning and behavior reinforcement, food safety measures, and metrics.

The commitment of senior level management is highly visible on the plant floor, Ray notes, and plant employees take notice. The action of leaders “speaks volumes” to employees about how seriously to take food safety measures.

“Remember that you lead by example,” Ray said. “Nurture a positive food safety culture by removing barriers that impact the ability of individuals from contributing to food safe. Make it easy for everyone to do things right.”


Providing plants with the resources needed to uphold the FSC makes it easier for employees to follow suit. Whether it be having more accessible hand washing or fully stocked supplies like gloves in common use areas, Ray notes that providing employees with what they need further enables the expected behavior.

In addition to giving employees the physical materials needed to succeed, empowering them to uphold food safety standards can make a difference in a plant’s FSC. One of the companies Ray spoke with — which has a strong FSC — authorizes plant employees to shut down a line if a product is unsafe. As a result of the policy, there were two line shutdowns in the span of six months that prevented an issue with the product going to the public. The power given to the employees reflects the value of food safety to senior management.

“Consistency drives improvement be consistent with the signals and messages sent to the company team,” Ray said. “It will be confusing to your employees if the message constantly changes.”

Additional reinforcement includes informational signs placed in specific areas of the plant, positive responses to employees following food safety protocol, and consistent messaging in and around the plant relaying food safety information for employees to be mindful of.

With the investment in resources to uphold plant food safety practices, educating and empowering employees to embrace FSC, and senior management leading the way through their own practice, FSC can lead to an established culture around food safety and positive outcomes.

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