A new study by a Kansas State University and North Carolina State University professors Doug Powell and Ben Chapman, and their colleagues, finds how the culture of food safety is practiced within an organization can be a significant risk factor in foodborne illness.

"You’d think making customers sick is bad for business, yet some firms go out of their way to ignore food safety," Powell said. "Some places are motivated by money and efficiencies. The amount of regulation, inspection and audits just doesn’t seem to matter. And those ‘Employees Must Wash Hands’ signs don’t really work."

Creating a food safety culture really is part of food safety.  I talked with the Christian Science Monitor’s Patrik Jonnson today about the likely near-term effects that  measure President Obama passed into law today, The Food Safety Modernization Act, will have. 

As part of the most dramatic food safety overhaul since 1938, the FDA will also for the first time have power to unilaterally recall tainted goods, although the agency admits that no producer has so far refused recall demands.

"This is not legislation where you would expect to see an automatic and immediate reduction in the costs attributable to foodborne illness – we may see as many recalls next year as this year – but it sets in motion a process of improving food safety culture," says Mr. Falkenstein. "If you don’t have the culture, the sign in the bathroom that says, ‘Wash your hands,’ is not going to mean anything. Establishing that culture is something this law is going to do."

Powell, along with Casey Jacob, a former K-State research assistant, and Ben Chapman, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, examined three food safety failures: an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Wales in 2005 that sickened 157 and killed one; a listeria outbreak in Canada in 2008 that sickened 57 and killed 23; and a salmonella outbreak in the U.S. in 2009 linked to peanut paste that killed nine and sickened 691.

Powell and Chapman’s study, titled "Enhancing Food Safety Culture to Reduce Rates of Foodborne Illness," is being published by the journal Food Control and is available in advance online at http://bit.ly/hDh9EE.

"Creating a culture of food safety requires application of the best science with the best management and communication systems," Chapman said. "Operators should know the risks associated with their products, how to manage them, and most important, how to communicate with and compel their staff to employ good practices — it’s a package deal."