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How behavioural science is changing the way we look at food safety

Quality Assurance managers who leverage the power of behavioural science are discovering the significant impact it can have on food safety practices, revenue and workers’ peace of mind1 . Find out how they’re achieving this and challenging themselves to be the very best.

Have workers ever been blamed for a contamination event at your facility? With poor personal hygiene ranking among the risk factors with the highest non-compliance rate2 , it’s no surprise that they can sometimes be held responsible.


One of the greatest challenges that Quality Assurance managers face is that food safety training and education for workers doesn’t always translate into the desired behaviour, preventing cross contamination and cross contact from happening. And, if you walk the same plant multiple times a day, it’s easy to miss the red flags that alert you to potential problems.


The important first step on the path to a positive food safety culture is acknowledging that, as a leader, people follow your example. Having a distinct understanding of the issues and providing a clear vision for the future is key to workers’ success – and essential for the prosperity of the entire business.


It’s also important to not only ensure workers who need training receive it, but that you hold open discussions with all employees about where they think the issues might lie. Once you know what needs to change, consider workers’ language, literacy and cultural background to make sure your expectations are achievable, and so everyone is set up to succeed.


The fact is though, 95% of our decisions – and workers’ decisions – are made unconsciously3 , which is one of the reasons why behavioural science plays such a definitive role in understanding where and why risk situations occur, and more importantly, how we can prevent them.


Whilst training helps to educate employees on food safety practices, it’s through behavioural science that we can improve its application in the work place.


By asking guests who made reservations at a popular Chicago restaurant, “Will you call us if you change your plans?” rather than, “Please call us if you change your plans”, the restaurant reduced their no-show rate from 30% to 10%4. All with a simple adjustment of changing a request, into a commitment.


So, asking your team at the end of training to make a pledge or commitment to do their part in improving food safety, will help cement their learnings into their actions.

Behavioural science also has a fundamental role to play in the cleaning and sanitising of food equipment, and the areas where food is processed. The risk of a contamination incident arising at this stage is a key area of concern. Simple cost-effective solutions exist though, that can lead to unconscious changes in behaviour to improve compliance.


These can involve using visual cues such as the colour-coding of products to differentiate their usage, improving workers’ memory recall and encourage the correct decision-making processes.


A leading European manufacturer of cakes, muffins and scones was worried about potential contamination issues associated with scrim rolls and industrial rags for cleaning. By implementing colour coded cloths that were to be used for different tasks, they reduced the potential for contamination issues and improved overall hygiene.


Practices and solutions like these helped the Kimberly-Clark Professional team in the development of the Continuum System, which helps Quality Assurance managers empower their employees to drive an enhanced food safety culture. It does this through the combination of behavioural science with products designed with compliance in mind to improve contamination control practices.


“We’ve combined over 140 years of experience in hygiene and cleaning with the principles of behavioural science, and incorporated them into the design of our products, to positively influence the way they are used,” says , of Kimberly-Clark Professional.


“The goal is increased compliance and effectiveness of contamination control practices,” she says. “But executed in a fashion that supports a smooth integration into your facility.”


Quality Assurance managers who are invested in creating safe food cultures understand that success takes more than a commitment to food science, training and inspections5. To change workers’ behaviour, you also need to focus on behavioural science – including workers’ physical environment – and the organisational culture. In doing so, you can create an environment that positively impacts the programs and people you manage, and help foster success across your entire organisation.


Are you this kind of leader? Why not take the Food Safety Culture Challenge and test yourself?


Designed by masters for masters, the Food Safety Culture Masters Challenge allows you to test your proficiency on the latest hygiene and behavioural science research. Find out if your knowledge and expertise measures up against other masters in your field.


Click here to take part in the Food Safety Culture Masters Challenge. And why not share it with your colleagues and invite them to take the Masters Challenge too.


1Based on a 2016 Continuum implementation in a food processing facility in Latin America and measured by an external lab partner.

2FDA, 2009.

3Zaltman, G. How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Markets. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003 (p. 50).

4“In War Against No-Shows, Restaurants Get Tougher”, The New York Times, 15 Oct, 1997. https://www.nytimes.com/1997/10/15/dining/in-war-against-no-shows-restaurants-get-tougher.html

5Yiannas, Frank. “Food Safety Culture Creating a Behavior-Based Food Safety Management System.” Springer New York, 2009.vv