When it comes to food manufacturing, the safety and quality of the food we produce and serve are paramount. Creating a culture of food safety yields not only significant public health benefits in the form of consumer well-being, but also economic advantages. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that millions of Americans are affected by foodborne illnesses annually,1 many of these are preventable. Preventing one food recall2 could save a manufacturer millions of dollars in fines and lost sales from reputational damage.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law in 2011, serves as a guide for proactive food safety measures, with the goal of preventive practices over reactionary measures. While legislation such as the FSMA has helped the industry make progress toward reducing food contamination, food safety and quality cannot hinge on regulatory requirements alone. 

Delivering safe and high-quality food must be a top priority for everyone involved in the food industry, from food manufacturers and suppliers to grocery stores and restaurants, and from CEOs and CFOs to manufacturing plant workers. Food manufacturers can eliminate the risk of food contamination anywhere along the supply chain by creating a culture of food safety.

Why Food Safety Matters

The safety and quality of the food we eat have broad economic, business, and public health implications. Food safety is important for several reasons, including: 

  • Public health protection. Food is not just a product; it is something that humans ingest. When a company manufactures food products, the safety of what it produces directly affects public health. Failure to ensure food safety can result in serious consumer health risks.
  • Customer satisfaction. Food is personal. A single bad experience with a particular food product will leave a lasting impression. Consumers are more forgiving when it comes to non-food items such as clothing, but a bad experience with food can lead to loss of trust and a loss of customers.
  • Cost savings. Complying with food safety regulations and consistently producing high-quality food lead to cost savings in the long run. A strong commitment to food safety and quality results in customer loyalty, repeat customers, good product reviews, and a positive brand reputation. On the other hand, a breakdown in food safety can be costly, both in terms of financial losses and damage to a company's reputation.
  • Regulatory compliance. Food manufacturers and their suppliers must comply with food safety and quality regulations put in place by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), other government agencies, and local health departments. Companies must adhere to these regulations to operate legally, or risk fines, plant shutdowns, and worse if they do not.

How to Create a Culture of Food Safety

Food safety is a shared responsibility among many different points in the global supply chain. To ensure the safety and high quality of food, everyone involved in that supply chain must understand the impact of their role. Food manufacturers can create a culture of food safety across their business in the following ways:

  1. Remind workers of their main goal. Make sure all employees understand that their primary responsibility is to protect consumers and keep them safe. Workers throughout the supply chain should realize that they are not just manufacturing widgets; they are producing food that people will consume. For example, the potato chip they are inspecting could land in their child's lunch. Make connections between the product that workers handle and their own lived experiences.
  2. Conduct regular training. Ongoing training is crucial for maintaining a culture of food safety. Companies should provide onboarding training for new employees and require annual retraining for all staff. Every food manufacturer and supplier should think about the "Four Cs" of food safety—Cleaning, Cooking, Chilling, and Cross-Contamination—so that employees understand the essentials of food safety. Training is another chance to link what workers do every day to what they do in their own kitchens. For example, they would not prepare carrots and cucumbers without properly cleaning and disinfecting a surface that previously held raw chicken. Food safety culture hinges very much on proper training. If workers do not feel that they are being trained properly, then the food safety culture will be impacted negatively.
  3. Educate workers about the regulations and processes that are important to protecting food. Part of formal training and everyday process should include educating employees about various food safety regulations and processes, ranging from FSMA and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). Some regulations may be intuitive, while others may require more explanation. For example, workers understand the purpose of GMPs such as wearing hair nets and changing into clean clothes when they arrive to work. However, best practices around allergens might be less clear. For example, they might trail microscopic amounts of peanut dust into a room, not understanding that products in an allergen-free area could be contaminated. Mandated audits and quality assurance (QA) checks serve as excellent opportunities to refresh training protocols. Food auditors and QA professionals help educate workers on the "why" behind different regulations and processes, which goes a long way toward ensuring compliance.
  4. Empower employees. Employees should be confident playing an active role in food safety culture. This commitment must come from the top down, with quality leaders, management sponsors, and leaders from operations, engineering, marketing, and sales actively supporting the Food Safety and Quality program. Tips for empowering employees include:
    1. Put in place whistleblower policies, which are designed to encourage employees to report any unsafe practices within the organization, without fear of retaliation
    2. Establish an anonymous way to report issues
    3. Recognize and reward employees who demonstrate food safety excellence.

These practices and policies are critical for maintaining transparency and addressing potential issues promptly. 

Common Food Safety Pitfalls

There are a few pitfalls to watch out for when it comes to food safety. If you are aware of the following challenges—and how to deal with them—then you will be better equipped to build a strong food safety culture:

  • Time and money investments. Building a strong food safety culture requires buy-in at the leadership level. It can be time-consuming and costly in the short term, but the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial investments.
  • High staff turnover. Frequent staff turnover in the industry can hinder the development of a deep and lasting food safety culture. Consistent and continual training and education are essential.
  • Language and literacy. If you have bi- or multi-lingual staff, building a strong food safety culture will require more work. If any employees have limited education or literacy levels, then they may face challenges in understanding and implementing food safety practices. This goes beyond making sure trainings are translated for all audiences. It includes making sure daily events, such as pre-shift meetings, are accessible for all employees. Ensure that you translate not only trainings, but also regular meetings, into all languages used by your staff.
  • Supplier compliance. Companies are only as good as their suppliers. Food manufacturers should ensure that all suppliers adhere to Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards by auditing them regularly. Food manufacturers might have their own auditors in-house, but small- to midsize organizations might consider third-party auditors to complete GFSI audits. Some of the largest food manufacturers choose to conduct both in-house and third-party audits to ensure compliance.

Creating a culture of food safety is not only a regulatory requirement, but also a moral and economic imperative. Food manufacturers must prioritize the safety and quality of the food they produce, ensuring that it reaches consumers in the best possible condition. By educating and empowering their employees, adhering to regulations, and continually reinforcing food safety practices, food manufacturers will build a sustainable culture that protects public health, satisfies consumers, and ultimately contributes to the long-term success of the business.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Foodborne Germs and Illnesses." Last reviewed August 9, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foodborne-germs.html.
  2. U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs. "Blue Bell Creameries Ordered to Pay $17.25 Million in Criminal Penalties In Connection With 2015 Listeria Contamination." September 17, 2020. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/blue-bell-creameries-ordered-pay-1725-million-criminal-penalties-connection-2015-listeria.