A tool to diagnose cultures in food business operators (FBOs)

Last updated:
21 March 2013
The study aimed to develop a tool which can be used by enforcement officers for those aspects of food safety culture, attitudes and behaviours that help officers assess ‘softer’ aspects of risk presented by individual food business operators (FBOs).
Study duration: January 2012 to March 2012
Project code: FS245020
Contractor: Greenstreet Berman


Food safety management systems are commonly constructed to include controls such as time/temperature processes, sampling, post-process contamination, hygiene training and HACCP.

An outbreak of E. coli O157 in South Wales in 2005, and the publication of the Public Inquiry Report in March 2009 highlighted the issue of cultures and behaviours in businesses and enforcement bodies and their role in influencing compliance with food hygiene legislation.

Other sectors, such as health and occupational health safety have gone through a similar evolution: first focusing on equipment, workplace and procedures; then focusing on management and the organisation’s mature safety culture ( i.e. a safety culture that has followed the maturity model in an established business).

This is a progressive process, with each stage of work building on the previous one.

Research Approach

The contractor reviewed the existing food safety culture research and tools that were available in the public domain. As no dedicated tool for food safety existed, one was created.

This project included a desktop phase of work, supported by a food safety expert, to ensure that the terms and questions were specific to food safety.

The tool was tested qualitatively by food businesses and food hygiene inspectors in two workshops. The workshop results were then used to produce a draft final tool for review by the Agency.


The first stage of work identified and reviewed existing safety culture assessment tools. A total of 169 questionnaires and tools were identified. A large number of these were variations of safety climate questionnaires and had been used in safety culture research. Fifteen toolkits/questionnaires were shortlisted for potential inclusion in the detailed review. The review of the current tools noted that:

  • none of the tools had been developed specifically to assess food safety culture
  • the typologies used for some tools, and elements of safety culture covered, overlap with those noted in food safety culture research
  • most tools have not been developed specifically for micro or small firms
  • many of the existing safety culture tools have some form of validation
  • a large majority of the tools are diagnostic. These tools also exemplify a way of categorising safety culture within businesses in a way that can be mapped onto advice given
  • a majority of the tools use a triangulation of methods to explore cultures. There are workshops and toolkits that provide examples of how tools can be designed for use in a face-to-face session
  • two tools have been specifically developed for use by inspectors during site inspections
  • the majority of the tools do not use typologies. They are, instead, structured around a number of elements. In almost all cases the maximum number of elements measured is 10, with minimum of five

A number of tools are intended for completion as a survey of staff. They measure the safety climate rather than specifically diagnose safety culture and mapped advice. This is not considered applicable by inspectors during ‘routine’ inspections of micro or small food businesses.

The review also noted that:

  • many of the existing safety culture tools have some form of validation, most notably construct validity
  • none of the tools had been developed specifically to assess food safety culture or for application to micro or small firms
  • a majority of the tools are diagnostic in nature. These tools also exemplify a way of categorising safety culture within businesses in a way that can be mapped onto advice

The combination of food safety culture research and review of existing assessment techniques was sufficient to develop an initial version of a food safety culture toolkit. The initial concept was to:

  • have five to six main headings to categorise businesses in relation to their attitude and approach to food safety management (`category`)
  • have up to 10 elements / indicators per category that can, optionally, be used to produce a more detailed assessment of a business culture
  • provide advice on improvements mapped to these categories

The initial draft of the toolkit was reviewed by environmental health officers and food business operators in two workshops. The workshops provided a basis for the further development of the toolkit. Key changes included:

  • providing an outline of how the tool may, at the inspector’s discretion, be used to generate confidence in management ratings and enforcement decisions
  • amending the categories and elements
  • providing guidance on how to improve safety culture for each combination of category and element.

The final version of the toolkit included five categories of safety culture and eight elements, in a matrix, along with a body of guidance for inspectors on how to improve food safety culture in businesses.