The famous Seven Deadly Sins can be traced to the 4th century. They stood as warnings to individuals; if one was to persistently engage in pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath or sloth, it could result in the deterioration of one’s health and eventually lead to death.

Just as the original Seven Deadly Sins were meant to warn and inform people of their human inclinations and frailties, the 7 Deadly Signs of a Bad Food Safety Culture should also be interpreted as warning signs, and a risk to your brand and business.

When regulators profile food businesses to identify those that present a high risk to consumers, government and industry, these are the ‘signs’ they look for. One or more of these combined represent true warning signs for a potential impending incident. If left to fester, these signs could result in increased food related accidents, injuries and recalls – and significant impediments to a positive food safety culture within a business.

  1. Cost cutting
    When there are financial pressures, the first things to take a cut are cleaning chemicals, product and environmental testing, etc, which is a clear sign the business isn’t focussed on knowing how it’s performing, and there are normally clear signs of stress and pressure within the business. There isn’t a food safety culture.
  2. Failing to heed warnings (pride or arrogance)
    Some businesses can’t see, don’t understand or ignore the warning signs within their own food safety system, coming from critical controls and test results. When a behaviour such as carelessness or distraction is identified as a factor in an accident or near-miss, the investigation seldom explores the reasons behind the carelessness or distraction. Ignoring the advice or comments from clients or regulators is worse still in terms of managing food safety risk. “We’ve always done it this way and we’ve never made anyone sick.” Have you ever said this? You don’t have an active and effective food safety culture.
  3. Exceptional and rapid growth
    This can lead to cramped and unsuitable working conditions; the addition of extra shifts; pressure to deliver; short-cuts. Sometimes businesses fall into the trap of caring more about the dollars than their product standards, consumers’ safety and health, and the subsequent risk to business and brand. Food safety is about product standards, reputation and the wellbeing of consumers. Focus your processes and systems around producing a quality, safe product every time, and building a food safety culture.
  4. Poor skills (limited investment in food safety)
    A business where staff don’t have appropriate skills and knowledge, and access to professional development, will be shown up over time. Does management and staff have the commitment and capability to follow procedures every time and be able to identify and resolve issues? If ‘no’ is the answer, start to build a food safety culture by investing in people and training.
  5. Disconnect between management and staff (Poor food safety culture)
    Poor communication leads to lack of responsibility, inadequate knowledge, lack of care and poor problem identification and resolution. Traditions are powerful habits, and if you’ve ever tried to break a habit you know how difficult it can be. A culture is a tapestry of habits that have been sanctioned directly or indirectly. Some traditions are helpful and important, and some are dangerous. The critical element is to not create a food safety culture in which challenging traditions is taboo. A food safety culture that encourages curiosity and is open to change has a higher chance of avoiding contaminated product, recalls and brand damage.
  6. Unjustified confidence in problem solving
    Over-confidence leads to complacency. It can lead to failure to pay close attention, failure to take action when it is required and a lack of zeal. This can be common in food safety. You have a ‘paper’ plan, but no real systems in place. You don’t bother to validate your interventions to make sure they really work. You are too lazy to characterise variability and take it into account. You are too arrogant to analyse for special hazards and risks. You don’t have an active and effective food safety culture.
  7. Poor engagement and communications with stakeholders (anger or wrath)
    The sin of anger is the ire raised against those who impose your rightful duties upon you. Wrathful behaviour shows itself sometimes as defensiveness. You won’t tolerate criticism or learn from it. Wrathful behaviour also appears as rebellion against duties and regulations instead of embracing them. You will recognise the sin of anger when you hear arguments against duties, a refusal to take them seriously in a scoffing tone, and statements that the duties are burdensome or inconsequential. There is no food safety culture.

Food safety is not just a technical discipline, it is an activity that deals with people’s lives and implies moral duties for right and wrong behaviour. A strong and active food safety culture within your business will take care of moral obligations, will help protect your brand and will contribute to the consistent production of quality safe products.

We saw the original version of this article on and thought it was worth sharing. This version has been interpreted from a food safety perspective. To read the original article, click here.