FDA releases systematic review of the scientific literature on food safety culture

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a systematic review of the scientific literature on food safety culture. The review was conducted as part of FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint, released in 2020, which outlines a 10-year plan to create a safer food system and includes supporting and promoting food safety culture (FSC) as a key pillar. FDA advises that a “strong food safety culture is a prerequisite to effective food safety management."

Background & Scope

FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety, a 10-year plan to create a safer food system, is grounded on four pillars: (1) tech-enabled traceability, (2) smarter tools and approaches for prevention and outbreak response, (3) new business models and retail modernization, and (4) food safety culture. FDA conducted this literature review on FSC as part of the fourth pillar and designed it to answer three research questions:

  • What is food safety culture?
  • How is food safety culture created and promoted?
  • How is food safety culture assessed and measured? 

To conduct the review, FDA applied an algorithm to identify potentially relevant articles from literature published between January 2009 and April 2021. Ultimately, the search identified 79 “in-scope” articles which make up the final review. 2

Key Findings

What is food safety culture?

According to the review, the most frequently cited definition of FSC in the literature comes from a 2010 British Food Journal article, which said that food safety culture is the “aggregation of the prevailing, relatively constant, learned, shared attitudes, values and beliefs contributing to the hygiene behaviours used within a particular food handling environment.” The review found that in contrast to food safety climate, a similar but not identical concept, FSC is associated with taking place over an extended period of time and is framed as the prevailing beliefs, behaviors, assumptions, and practices of an organization. The review identified a gap in the literature about how FSC is defined on both a broad regulatory and individual consumer level. 

How is food safety culture created and promoted?

The review concludes that the following are the key determinants that contribute to the creation of FSC: leadership; communication; commitment to food safety; risk awareness; environment; accountability; and employee knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and values. Best practices for promoting FSC cited in the review include “promoting FSC as a necessary and critical business matter for all employees, branding the organization’s commitment to FSC, framing FSC with an ‘ownership mentality,’ and promoting FSC throughout the organization’s supply chain.” Interestingly, although the literature review included a scan of social media to examine how FSC is promoted among organizations, consumers, and regulatory agencies, the scan revealed little active discussion or promotion of FSC on social media. The review also notes that there are very few tools available to help industry with creating and promoting an effective FSC and very little in the literature on “how government agencies can promote a strong FSC across the supply chain.”

How is food safety culture assessed and measured? 

Finally, the review addresses the question of how food safety culture is assessed and measured within an organization. The review concludes that most of the assessment tools discussed in the literature are “survey instruments meant for dissemination to personnel at different levels within an organization.” Other methods discussed in the literature include third-party audits, observations of actual behavior, focus groups, and hybrid approaches. According to the review, the assessment tools tend to measure similar constructs, namely leadership, communication, risk awareness, infrastructure or resources, adaptability, consistency, and individual values or commitment. However, according to the review authors, “more research is needed to assess the validity of these tools within different organizational settings as well as across different locations around the globe.”

The review also analyzes six empirical studies that directly examined the relationship between FSC and outcomes such as microbiological hygiene, safety behavior, and economic impact. Some of these studies found that improved FSC or leadership that is supportive of FSC improved employee food behavior (e.g., hand washing). The review also includes three case studies of foodborne illness outbreaks that all cite poor FSC as having contributed to the outbreak. The reviewers conclude that although only a few studies  have examined the relationship between FSC and food safety outcomes, “the research to date suggests that improving FSC within organizations does have some measurable positive effects,” although more research is needed to demonstrate the relationship between FSC and reduced contamination incidents and other outcome measures.

Conclusion and Next Steps  

The review is significant because it will likely inform the agency’s thinking regarding what FSC is, how it is created and promoted within an organization, and how it can be evaluated by FDA in the regulatory context. In a Tweet shortly after the review’s release, Frank Yiannas, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, urged stakeholders not only to read the review but to “apply it to your work [and] put these principles into practice.” 3


We will continue to monitor developments in FDA’s approach to food safety, including  initiatives under the New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us with questions.  



Authored by Maile Gradison, Andrea Bruce, and Rachel Buff.

1 FDA Releases Blueprint for the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, Hogan Lovells (Jul. 15, 2020), https://www.engage.hoganlovells.com/knowledgeservices/news/fda-releases-blueprint-for-the-new-era-of-smarter-food-safety. 
2 FDA New Era of Smarter Food Safety: Food Safety Culture Systematic Literature Review, U.S. Food & Drug Administration (2022), available at https://www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/advancing-food-safety-culture-science-not-slogan-systematic-literature-review. Peer-reviewed literature, white papers, and technical reports were deemed “in-scope,” while book reviews, conference abstracts, and proprietary documents were excluded. “Seminal works” published prior to 2009 were included.
3 @FrankYiannasFDA, Twitter (Dec. 12, 2022, 9:25 PM), https://twitter.com/FrankYiannasFDA/status/1602489972984057857.


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