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Committing to food safety

Have you ever signed a pledge or a petition to show your support and commitment to a cause? Interestingly research in this area has important lessons for us as we strive to develop a positive food safety culture.

According to Koessler in her recent article in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, existing experimental research has shown that voluntary pledges, although non-binding, can induce cooperative behavior. Pledges can help groups to coordinate on collectively optimal behavior and facilitate cooperation (Isaac & Walker, 1988; Orbell, Dawes & van de Kragt, 1990; Sally, 1995). While previous studies have examined the impact of the nature of the decision situation and the properties of pledges, social influence also plays a determining role in the effectiveness of pledges. We understand as social influences the way others’ behaviour or thinking influences own decision-making.

In pledging initiatives, like the above-mentioned, actors rarely decide simultaneously whether to pledge, but some make the pledge decision earlier, which others can observe before they decide about the pledge themselves. Hence, not every pledge-maker makes a pledge purely out of intrinsic interest in the stated behaviour, but some may also be prompted to pledge upon observing others having made the pledge and thus conform (Asch, 1955; Banerjee, 1992; Bernheim, 1994).

Using this research and understanding of human behaviour can assist us in several ways in food safety. Why not implement the signing of a pledge after completing food safety training in addition to signing a training register. This can even be stronger than just signing a code of conduct for personal hygiene requirements.

Taking it a step further we can be the social influence in training by encouraging delegates to confirm what they have learned and commit themselves to implement these learnings in front of their colleagues. This can be a useful recap activity too – I call it a “one page Wonder”. Another powerful tool is having employees sign a pledge wall in the canteen or a place in the plant. Now we have a public declaration of our commitment to food safety. Of course, top management should also be involved. But a word of warning – only do this if you are really serious about food safety.

Below are some great examples from One-page Wonders from a recent training course.