What I've learnt about food safety this week

FAcebook logopngChapter six: Framing.

Framing is how we look at an issue, often in the wrong way. An example in the book erronomics is wandering into a car park and putting the right key in the wrong car. An example within catering is storing all fish together in the fridge; this is reasonable practice unless ready to eat smoked salmon is stored with raw fish. The product has been ‘framed’ incorrectly and it is something I regularly see during audits.

Another example is the falsification of temperature records. As trainers we often emphasise the importance of due diligence, of proving we did everything possible to keep food safety. On more than one occasion I have watched a chef take food temperatures and write down a figure that ‘proves’ the food was safe, for example 4 degrees C. However, when I double check the actual temperature is way above 8 degrees C. The chef has looked at temperature records in completely the wrong way.

The chapter goes on to explain how our decisions can be affected by all senses. In one experiment researchers examined how shop music affected wine purchasing decisions. When French music was played 40 bottles of French wine were sold, but when German music was played bottles of French dropped to 12 bottles.

This reminds me of training advice I once read; that trainers should not criticise the course venue, food, presentation slides etc. To do so will affect how delegates frame (view) the entire course, and this will in turn affect the learning experience and therefore performance and comprehension.

Time also affects our decisions; when the consequences are far off, we take bigger gambles (e.g. long-term health/diet and exercise) but when consequences are immediate, we are more conservative (e.g. crossing a busy road).

We don’t want staff to take risks when preparing food so emphasising immediate consequences such as food poisoning rather than the long-term consequences such as career development makes sense.

This theory also highlights one limitation of food safety audits and inspections; that standards improve when EHO/audits are expected (immediacy) and decline when no visit is expected (long term).

As a result, many companies carry out ‘wild card’ audits in addition to regular audit cycles.

Managers can also remind staff EHO might visit at any time (emphasising immediacy). I recall one site who previously had an excellent record of internal audits and held a FHR of Five. Neither audit nor EHO were expected for some time, however a customer sent a relatively innocuous complaint regarding stains on coffee mugs. EHO investigated the complaint and whilst there identified several food safety issues…

At the same time, long term consequences can not be neglected. In another experiment two groups were asked to choose rental movies. The first group had to select films to watch immediately and the choices were generally comedies, action movies and similar blockbusters.


The second group were asked to select films to watch in the future and they tended to select more highbrow, serious productions.  Similar experiments were carried out with food; choices for immediate consumption tend to be unhealthier than when planning future meals.

My hunch is that if you ask most chefs to visualise their kitchen in six months’ time and write down a description of the kitchen most answers would include high standards of cleanliness, a food hygiene rating of five, producing good quality food and smooth, efficient services.

I doubt many would write down ‘having a laugh and listening to good music’. However, on entering the kitchen at the start of the day the actions of most chefs would include turning on the stereo and having some banter.

Enjoying work and work relations obviously IS important, however long-term goals are also powerful. It is why the first three of Covey’s Seven habits are ‘be pro-active’, ‘begin with the end in mind’ and ‘putting first things first’. It is why Lewin’s Force Field Analysis reminds us change doesn’t happen by itself and we need to develop a vision for a better alternative.


How information is presented will affect framing and one common practice is anchoring. For example, a shop sign “Four cans for £2.00” will encourage customers to buy four cans, whilst the sign “one can for 50p” will not, even though the figures are the same.

The key to anchoring is the first number as people to tend to process information in order. The fictional examples below are for a company with 500 sites.

All figures are the same but presented in different ways. The first example could be used to celebrate success, the second to warn managers of the negative; that poor results could potentially happen to them.


Celebrate success.

400 sites       =         Five Rating

50 sites         =         Four Rating

25 sites         =         Three rating

2% of sites   =         Two rating

2% of sites   =         One rating

1% of sites   =         Zero rating


A warning to managers.

Zero rating   =         Five sites

One rating   =         Ten sites

Two rating   =         Ten sites

Three rating =         25 sites

Four rating   =         10% sites

Five rating   =         80% sites.


In summary, managers and trainers should be aware of framing; that people (including ourselves) can look at things in the wrong way.

Emphasising the immediate impact of poor practices will help promote safe behaviour. However, developing a vision of future performance is also powerful.

Finally, how we present information is important as people tend to process information in order.