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Food safety culture – a legal requirement?

More than a year ago now, the European Union (EU) adopted a regulation requiring food business operators to establish and provide evidence of an appropriate food safety culture and detailing the steps they must take to satisfy this obligation.

On 3 March 2021, the European Commission adopted Commission Regulation (EU) 2021/382, which amends an existing food safety regulation ((EC) No 852/2004). EU 2021/282 adds the following new chapter to EC No 852/2004:

Food Safety Culture

1. Food business operators shall establish, maintain, and provide evidence of an appropriate food safety culture by fulfilling the following requirements:

commitment of the management, in accordance with point two, and all employees to the safe production and distribution of food;

leadership towards the production of safe food and to engage all employees in food safety practices;

awareness of food safety hazards and of the importance of food safety and hygiene by all employees in the business;

open and clear communication between all employees in the business, within an activity and between consecutive activities, including communication of deviations and expectations;

availability of sufficient resources to ensure the safe and hygienic handling of food.

2. Management commitment shall include:

  • ensuring that roles and responsibilities are clearly communicated within each activity of the food business;
  • maintaining the integrity of the food hygiene system when changes are planned and implemented;
  • verifying that controls are being performed timely and efficiently and documentation is up to date;
  • ensuring that the appropriate training and supervision are in place for personnel;
  • ensuring compliance with relevant regulatory requirements;
  • encouraging continual improvement of the food safety management system of the business, where appropriate, taking into account developments in science, technology and best practices.

3. The implementation of the food safety culture shall take account of the nature and size of the food business.

FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas has long identified food safety culture as a priority, and he tweeted about the new regulation, calling it a “[s]ignificant milestone.”  It is important to note that Food safety culture also is a priority area within the United States, and it is one of the four pillars of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) New Era of Smarter Food Safety. However, there are no FDA regulations or guidance documents defining food safety culture.

There are no requirements in UK food legislation relating directly to food safety culture. However, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) developed a Food Safety Culture Diagnostic Toolkit as far back as 2012 for its inspectors. This investigative tool is for the use of local authority personnel undertaking food hygiene inspections to help identify aspects of food safety cultures prevailing in food businesses and as a framework to influence business values.

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand have also produced useful self-assessment tools with a guide to what good safety culture looks like. It is clear that successful and sustainable food safety must go beyond formal regulations. A behavioural-based approach will help to drive compliance.

Where would your company fit on the FSA Food Safety Culture Diagnostic Scale if you were inspected? Should South Africa adopt a similar approach?



Calculative non-compliers – Intentionally breach regulations for the sake of financial gain, disputing or disregarding the potential impact on consumers without assessing the potential impact on people and making decisions without due deliberation or consideration of regulations or other requirements.
Doubting compliers – Doubt the significance of the hazard posed by food safety and hygiene and the effectiveness of food hygiene regulations and requirements in managing these hazards.
Dependent compliers – Wait for advice or instruction from regulators and other third parties to make improvements, they view food safety and hygiene as something driven by third parties.
Proactive compliers – Understand that hazards posed by poor food hygiene and poor process controls are significant and accept that requirements are effective and necessary.
Leaders – View food safety and hygiene as critical business issues that must be tightly managed because of their potential business benefits. They provide visible leadership by continually reviewing food safety and improving food hygiene.