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Behavioural psychology can encourage good food hygiene

By Rick Pendrous+, 09-Sep-2013

Related topics: Manufacturing, Hygiene, safety & cleaning

Companies need to adopt the latest behavioural psychology techniques if they want to get their staff to “do the right thing”, a leading food hygiene expert has advised.

Firms need to get smarter in ensuring staff always use the correct hygiene practices and procedures, according to David Edwards, executive director of NSF International.

“I do think that the way to get cleverer is to use behavioural science 'nudge' type principles that are more than what might loosely be described as just good management,” said Edwards. He suggested that the use of “variable rewards” and elements of ‘Game theory’, which examines strategic decision making, would help in encouraging the desired behaviours.

‘They knew they should’

Edwards came to this conclusion following discussions with retailers and others in the food supply chain who had expressed concerns that, despite appropriate training of staff and the use of hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) procedures, workers didn't always apply the techniques they knew they should.

The goal is working out how to “hard wire compliance or ‘doing the right thing’”, said Edwards. “It's about people; it's about cultures; it's about other things that stop people doing the right thing.”

He suggested that psychological techniques could be combined with the use of technology to help encourage the correct behaviours. He gave the example of radio frequency identification tags on lapel badges that display red colour warnings if workers move into high-risk areas without washing their hands, etc.

‘Not enough’

“One of the behavioural techniques is creating empathy for the people you are making something for, who you might hurt,” Edwards added. “NSF does a lot of [hygiene audit] inspection around the world and it has its place but alone it is not enough.”

Edwards will be speaking at Food Manufacture's Food safety conference: What have we learnt from recent crises, which takes place at the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull on October 17. For more details visit FoodManEvents.