“It has been said, what we know and what we believe is of little consequence. It is what we do that is important. When it comes to food safety, this point is certainly true.”
- Frank Yiannas, author of the book, Food Safety Culture, Creating a Behavior-Based Food Safety Management System
A Culture of Food Safety
What does a culture of food safety mean? Think of it as your school community’s behaviors and beliefs about food safety. You will have a culture of food safety when food-safe behaviors are second nature to the members of your school community – your school nutrition team, school administrators, teachers, parents, and students – and these behaviors are consistently practiced to help keep students healthy and safe.
Creating Your Culture
Basing your food safety efforts on sound science lays the foundation for a culture of food safety. You must know not only which practices are important to keep food safe (e.g., temperature control of food), but also why these practices are critical (e.g., food held out of temperature can grow microbes that can make your students sick). Developing plans, policies, and procedures will be an important part of building food-safe schools. They will establish expectations and standards and create a food safety blueprint for the entire school community. The action steps and resources in the Action Sheets in Part 2 will lead you in developing these plans, policies, and procedures. Some resources will also provide insight into the roles other members of the school community play in these efforts.
So, you have developed plans, policies, and procedures to address food safety issues – now what? Have these measures made a significant impact on the safety of food within your school community? Remember, it is often what we do that is important. How are you helping all members of your school community change their behaviors and make food safety second nature to their daily activities? As the school district’s expert in food safety, you should consider these questions and take on a leadership role.
Leading a culture of food safety means more than managing food safety practices. It calls for you to use established and innovative approaches to communicate and partner with various groups to weave those food safety practices into day-to-day school activities. The communication strategies in Part 3 offer guidance on approaching and engaging these groups.
Using the Action Guide
Creating food-safe schools takes time and hard work. The Action Guide will help you recognize where you’re starting and what you can build over time. Once you have a complete blueprint, with all the necessary pieces in one place, you will have a valuable and lasting tool. The biggest reward, of course, is getting closer to the goal—creating a culture of food safety that will safeguard the health of the children in your school community. Now, let’s get started!
Let’s take a closer look at the three parts of the Action Guide.
Part 1: Reviewing Your Current Food Safety Efforts: A Checklist for Food-Safe Schools
Completing the checklist is your first step. Use it to determine the current status of your food safety efforts. The results will help you identify both strengths and areas that need improvement. You will be able to see which activities are already in place, which need updating, and what new steps are necessary.
The principal questions in the checklist correspond directly to the action steps identified in the action sheets in Part 2. The secondary questions correspond to content that can be found in the resources listed in the action sheets.
Part 2: Taking Action To Build Food-Safe Schools
Each action sheet addresses a specific area of food safety by providing you with background information, action steps that will help you build your framework, and resources for the in-depth information you will need to develop or strengthen that area. The first action sheet describes the food safety requirements of the National School Lunch Act. Understanding these requirements will give you a firm foundation for building food-safe schools. The remaining action sheets provide information that will help you meet and go above and beyond the requirements and improve on your foundation. These action sheets include information on a school food safety program based on HACCP principles, training and education, employee health and personal hygiene, produce safety, managing food allergies, food defense, responding to food recalls, and responding to a foodborne illness outbreak.
Note that each action sheet corresponds to a section in the Action Guide checklist. When you’ve completed your checklist, you will be able to see which areas need your attention. You can then turn to the matching action sheet for guidance in improving your food safety efforts. The resources found on each action sheet are also collected together in the resources pages at the end of Part 2.
Part 3: Communicating With the School Community To Create a Culture of Food Safety
As you build food-safe schools, you will need to communicate with your school community and other groups. You can ask for their input and encourage them to become long-term partners in working toward shared goals. Part 3 includes tips for communicating with key groups—school administrators, teachers, parents, students, school nutrition managers, school nurses, your local health department, emergency management planners, and cooperative extension educators. This part also offers communication strategies specific for each group, and resources to support these strategies.