In light of the new EU regulation requiring food businesses to establish, evaluate, and maintain a food safety culture (FSC), a recent study aimed to gage food safety perceptions and FSCs at mid-sized Italian food operations. While European Commission Regulation (EU) 2021/382 mandated food businesses to manage and assess FSC, the methods for FSC evaluation, implementation, and improvement are undefined and left to individual companies to decide.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Pisa, included three Tuscan operations producing cured meat, dairy products, and frozen fish products. A survey was administered to employees, which found a generally “good” perception of FSC. However, areas for improvement were identified, such as improving training outcomes and teamwork in setting and achieving food safety objectives.

One company’s employees exhibited different levels of FSC perception dependent upon their length of service. More seniority was associated with lower scores. The biggest opportunity for improvement observed at the same company was the outcomes of and investment in employee training.

Additionally, the exploration of the FSC level within each company supported the notion that food safety management system (FSMS) and FSC implementation should be people-focused rather than process-focused. Because food environments are continuously changing and developing, they require a   multidimensional, multidisciplinary, dynamic, and inclusive approach to food safety management that is designed to improve employees’ behaviors. The researchers suggest a systematic and global approach that aligns with specific company needs, indicators, and strategic priorities.

Regarding the development of unique FSC methodologies at individual companies, the researchers underline the importance of guidelines and assessment tools to facilitate the process, especially in the beginning. Questionnaires used in the study included indicators similar to those provided as examples in the FSC assessment tool of European Commission Notice 2022/C 355/01, which was published shortly after the conclusion of the study. The Commission questionnaire comprises five sections with six statements each to be evaluated on a five-point scale. The sections cover the same topics included in the questionnaires developed for the present study: leadership, communication, engagement and commitment, awareness, and resources.