Better Food Safety? Consider the Circles of Management, Leadership and Food Safety Cultural Development

This blog has been provided by  Euan MacAuslan, FRSPH, MIFST, MCIEH, MSET, Environmental Health Practitioner, Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills.

Better Food Safety? Consider the Circles of Management, Leadership and Food Safety Cultural Development

In 2003, an article of mine was published in the RSPH Journal, entitled “The boss, the owner, the proprietor … the food hygiene manager?” ( .

The abstract read:

“The ease of opening up a small food business in the UK, combined with training regulations for food handlers, together with the requirement to demonstrate food safety management systems may be an indication that managers need management training in addition to food hygiene training. Enforcement agencies, examination bodies and trainers could play a key part in helping managers to develop effective food safety cultures. They could encourage management, and food hygiene training and development, for small food business bosses, owners, and proprietors. Some of the skills that are missing are identified and suggestions put forward that will benefit those who run small food businesses in the UK.” Nowadays we use the term food safety in preference to food hygiene. But for many (and open to debate) they can mean the same.

This blog will briefly cover management, leadership, and followership in food safety. Individually they are enormous subjects in their own rights, and therefore, I would suggest further reading.

Use Google to search for a pure definition of “food safety management”. It is actually very difficult to find one. Ideas have been put forward. Many are very credible, but for me they do not quite hit the mark.  Often results return with “food safety management system”, or just “food safety” definitions. We often talk about “managing food safety”. What does the “managing” element really mean? It is being responsible for controlling or organising both good food safety standards and food handlers to ensure safe food for consumers. Combining the two, it could be as simple as ensuring personal hygiene standards in a business by providing the resources and being confident that of the food handlers who work there will accept instruction, training and supervision to ensure they do it. This can apply to other areas too, such as the management of temperature control, pest control, disinfection, etc.

What then is needed to enable or encourage a food handler to change their habits? The answer is a process of social influence which is known as leadership. In a food business a leader will enhance the efforts of others, towards the achievement sound food safety.

It perhaps goes without saying that if you do not have followers, then there is no one to lead. For food safety to succeed, there must be people who willingly and effectively follow, just as there must be those who willingly and effectively lead. Ineffective management and leadership may lead to food handlers taking short cuts and consequently food safety standards may decline.  Tamara Box, managing partner for Europe and the Middle East at legal firm Reed Smith once said “Leaders, whether at the top of an organisation or the smallest of teams, are the culture and value carriers,” she says. “They’re the folks who create the image that the organisation is trying to project. They’re role models, responsible for showing how people can contribute to the organisation. They’re the people who ask the good questions and then make sure the people around them get the opportunity to contribute to the answers. Good leaders get the best out of their people.” (

Sound top-down management and leadership will contribute to an effective food safety culture. Staff will follow the manager if the latter’s leadership skills are good Former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said “Leadership is all about followership.”. Effective leaders can get the most out of the people following them, he said, by putting them in a position to succeed with the tools they need to do their job. ( . Most people in positions of organizational authority must assume complicated dual roles as follower and leader. Rare is the leadership position that is not simultaneously a position of followership. Too often, the role of follower is seen as inherently submissive, dependent, passive, and unimaginative. On the contrary, the best and most effective followers share many characteristics with successful leaders, including competence, commitment, composure, moral conduct, and independent critical judgment. (

It is of course, possible to be a good manager of food safety resources, policies, and procedures, and at the same time be a bad leader. Likewise, someone could be a good leader but a bad manager of food safety resources, etc. What is your opinion? Have you any examples in your work environments where you have seen or experienced good and bad management, or leadership, or both combined?

In 2003, when my article was published, the Intermediate and Advanced Food Hygiene/Safety certificate courses existed then. These have since been replaced by, for example, Level 3 in Food Safety in Catering and Level 4 Award in Managing Food Safety in Catering. But do they really inform (or indeed, equip) learners how to manage food safety, or to manage the people who will be ensuring food safety standards in their businesses? For the first part “yes”, but not always for the second part of that question. Good food safety management involves knowledge of what is to be done correctly, people management, leadership, and followership skills too.

“Do you really know where to start when considering management responsibilities for food safety?”. This a question that I would often ask Level 3 and 4 food safety course learners as part of a group work activity. Predictably a list of food safety topics would appear on flipcharts. For example, “Personal Hygiene, HACCP, Temperatures, Stock Control, etc, etc”. But then I would ask “Where would you start and what would you start with?”. This seemed to present a few difficulties. Especially when they started listing what needed to be done. Too often the food handlers in their organisation were omitted.

Some food businesses may have an owner and/or manager who does not actually work in the kitchen or is remote from the premises for much of the time.  In this case how can they really demonstrate food safety management responsibilities?

For a possible answer it is necessary to have a documented plan that is explained to and understood by all staff in a business (no matter what size of the business) which has a logical plan that can be implemented and verified. It also ensures that managers and supervisors do not solely concentrate on good food hygiene practices at the expense of not considering their food handlers. As an example, and if you have not already found it, I would strongly recommend turning to the back of the fly-cover on the 19th Edition of Hygiene for Management written by Richard Sprenger, and published by Highfield International Ltd. It is a very good way to get learners to think about their responsibilities as circle with six distinct key stages. Additionally, the circle gives learners some idea where to start. (The circle has been reproduced below by kind permission of Richard Sprenger.)

To illustrate the continuous circle’s use, an example is given below. (NB: these do not represent all activities.)


  1. Set the standards and provide the resources: Consider both external and internal standards. External standards could be found on the FSA’s website, the Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice in the Catering Industry, standards learned on Level 3 or Level 4 courses, public health, and local authority organisations. Internal standards include existing documented policies, procedures, and practices. If dedicated handwash facilities soap, paper towels, nail brush, hot and cold running water, and the time to wash hands are not provided then how can the standards be implemented.
  2. Communicate the standards: What is the best way to communicate what you want to be done? Team meetings, one-to-ones, posters, use of intranet or internet, reminder posters, videos, digital messaging, etc. Show staff when and where to wash their hands to achieve the standards.
  3. Implement/Devise systems to achieve the standards: Spot checks, training, reminders, team meetings, hygiene comments book for staff to use if things are not working or working well, consumer feedback.
  4. Effectively supervise, motivate and train: Effective supervision cannot take place if the supervisor has a similar level (or less) of training and knowledge that those they are responsible. It is not achieved by sending someone on a certificate course every three years. Supervised practical implementation is required until someone is confident in doing the job. Supervisors must set handwashing examples. Demonstrations are required given by the supervisors. Explanation, demonstration, implementation, and practicing (EDIP) are key.
  5. Monitor/analyse/compare: Observation, CCTV, use of swabs or UV reactive creams and dusts can be used. Compare the findings with previous periods. Research the internet and speak to others in your field of work to identify the techniques they use.
  6. Adjust and continuously improve performance: Any adjustments must be explained to staff and not imposed on them without consultation or instruction and training. Offer incentives for performance improvements, it could be as simple as moving the handwash station to a more accessible area.

Try some for yourselves. It could be as simple as taking four headings, e.g., Cleaning, Cooking, Chill, and Cross-Contamination. Or more complex, such as Food Allergen controls in a restaurant, or unloading of chilled high-risk foods in a retail premises.

There are various leadership cycles and circles too. Below is an example of Pillars of Safety Leadership (from

A food safety culture would include management and leadership circles. BRC gives an example of how to put food safety culture at the centre of everything you do at . Their example is illustrated below.

In my book, Effective Food Hygiene Training (first published by Ltd in 2003 [now out of print]) I quoted Mark Twain. He said, “It is noble to be good, and it is nobler to teach others to be good – and less trouble!”. Good management could be defined as the after of getting four food handlers to do the work of four food handlers.” 18 years on, that is now too simple. In 1993, an IPM consultative document, Managing People- the Changing Frontiers, stated that “There is an increasing awareness that all managers will need a better understanding of how to manage and lead people…. However, the implications in terms of training and development required are not yet fully appreciated.” As indicated in the beginning of this blog, I do not believe the syllabus of Levels 3 and 4 in Food Safety have moved on sufficiently to include not only management skills, but also the all-important leadership skills. If food is to be safe, and food poisoning prevented, there must be good communication between decision makers and risk-takers or observers. Managers and supervisors still need better training, above all they must have a higher level of training than their subordinates.

In conclusion, for those would be owners, managers and supervisors who lack skills in management, leadership, and followership it is still too easy to open a food business in the UK. For the time being learners will continue to attend Level 3 and 4 food safety courses. However, these qualification syllabuses must address issues of these three skills if food safety is to be implemented properly. At the very least learners need to know how to apply the circles of responsibilities discussed above to ensure proper food safety management and maintenance of a consistent food safety culture.

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