More than 100 delegates joined speakers from the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotana Hotel Group and Taylor Shannon International at the SGS Special Session “Shaping Food Safety Culture in Food Service – Challenges, Opportunities and Key Drivers”, held at GFSI 2016 in Berlin.

Led by Peter Hvidberg, Global Business Manager, Travel & Hospitality, SGS, the session explored the global threat posed by unsafe practices in both food production and handling.

Setting the Scene

Opening the session and introducing the topic, Mr Hvidberg set the scene with statistics to demonstrate the extent of food and waterborne disease outbreaks in Europe. A recent report published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), confirmed that in 2013, the European Union (EU) saw:

  • 5,196 food-borne and water-borne outbreaks
  • 43,183 human cases
  • 5,946 hospitalisations
  • 11 deaths

In these figures, 22.2% of outbreaks were associated with restaurants, hotels, cafes, pubs and bars (EFSA Journal 2015; 13(1): 3991). The figures speak for themselves, but in the 21st century social media can exacerbate the reputational damage to businesses. Bad news travels faster now than ever before.

To ensure food and consumer safety, as well as to protect businesses and brands, some of the areas that need to be addressed include:

  • Safety system failures
  • Breaches of food safety regulations
  • Processing problems
  • Human errors
  • Handling and preparation mistakes
  • Food safety knowledge gaps
  • Food safety culture

It is apparent that there is a definite need for a more co-ordinated approach across the whole food supply chain. 

Global Scale

Building on the introduction, Dr Angelika Tritscher, Head of Risk Assessment and Management, WHO, introduced the audience to the WHO’s global foodborne disease report. Every year, foodborne disease outbreaks, from all sources, cause:

  • 33 million healthy life years to be lost
  • 1 in 10 people to fall ill
  • 420,000 deaths

At face value these numbers hide the disparity between age groups and rich and poor areas. Children under five years of age make up only 9% of the global population, yet they suffer 38% of foodborne illnesses. Diarrheal diseases account for more than half the disease burden, and non-typhoidal Salmonella causes the most deaths.

Food service, said Dr Tritscher, can help prevent this. The WHO's Five Keys to Safer Food [1] are simple, logical actions that need to be consistently adhered to by everyone involved in the food service industry.

Barriers and Drivers

Mr Muhammad Ihsanullah, Director of Food Safety & EHS, Rotana Hotel Group explored the human factors that hinder and drive food safety in the hospitality sector.

No one issue is at the root of food safety failures, but there is a combination of factors. In its majority, the food service industry relies on compliance behaviors, the personal actions that must be carried out by each individual consistently. However, in a truly international industry, businesses and organisations face a raft of barriers, such as employees’:

  • Cultural background
  • Upbringing
  • Misconceptions
  • Traditions

Cultural norms do not always translate into compliance with food safety regulations. For example, in some countries, it is not common practice to use thermometers in cooking, or refrigerators. 

Training and education is the route to success, in combination with supervision, leadership, motivation and employee engagement. Food safety is the responsibility of everyone in a food service organization, and it must ingrained into business practices.

Food Safety Culture

With extensive experience in the food service industry, Dr Joanne Taylor, Training and Research Director, Taylor Shannon International, helped the audience improve their understanding of what the term “food safety culture” really means, and how it impacts an organization. Dr Taylor explained that this culture is essential to the success of a business, and that the failure to understand and consider organizational culture can badly impact a company. It’s about more than just good systems. Once implemented, a system must also be consistently applied. A successful organisational culture is built on four pillars:

  • People
  • Processes
  • Purpose
  • Proactivity

The people pillar touches on some of the issues raised by Mr Ihsanullah, such as employee empowerment, training and communication as well as reward and teamwork. Processes looks at how people and the processes they follow are managed, whether departments are working together to a shared objective, and if systems are effective or a burden. In the purpose pillar, a successful food safety culture should communicate food safety to everyone, be promoted as a core value with improvements being seen on the ground in employees’ objectives and everyday activities. Proactivity relates to a wider understanding of customers, risk foresight, learning lessons and sharing improvements/best practice across sites.

Following the presentations, participants joined lively discussions on the key barriers and drivers to compliance behaviors within a food service establishment, and how a food safety culture can build on the foundations of established food safety management systems to improve performance in the food service industry.

Free Webinar Summary

Watch SGS’s free on demand webinar: GFSI Special Session Recap for a summary of the key discussion points from the SGS sponsored GFSI Special Session on ‘Shaping Food Safety Culture in Food Service – Challenges, Opportunities and Key Drivers’.

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For more information, please contact:

Dr Evangelia Komitopoulou
Global Customised Solutions Manager – Food
t: +44 (0) 7824 089985


The Five Keys to Safer Food Programme