SafeFood and Positive Reinforcement

There have been plenty of books devoted to the power of positive reinforcement. This is based on the principles advanced by behaviorist B.F. Skinner with his reinforcement theory, one of the oldest theories of motivation. It has been used in many areas of study to include animal training, raising children, and motivating employees in the workplace. Simply put, positive reinforcement will encourage continuation of the praised behavior. On a recent car trip in Scotland, we saw this applied with the road signs that tracked your speed. If the car was within the posted limit, a happy face appeared with the message “good job!” Of course, the idea is the driver will want more of that positive feedback and stay within speed limits. Ok, so how can this work in a foodservice setting? Do we really need to have a celebration every time an employee does what they are supposed to do? If that were the case, there wouldn’t be much food served! And the reinforcement message would become meaningless because that was all staff heard. But strategic use of positive reinforcement should be used by management – as well as co-workers. When an employee is observed taking the extra steps to ensure safety of food such as calibrating a thermometer so it gives an accurate reading, or rotating stock in the cooler, or refilling the soap dispense at the handwashing sink – these all minimize the risk of a glitch in the system. Another guru in the world of management, Kenneth Blanchard, has a book entitled Catch People Doing Something Right. Although published in 1999, the message is still relevant today. Good Job Everyone!



Catherine Hemphill Strohbehn has been a faculty member at Iowa State University in the Hospitality Management Program for 30 years. She is a State Specialist with Human Sciences Extension and Outreach at Iowa State University. As part of her work, she conducts research, develops educational materials and provides programs to help retail foodservices use their resources effectively and ensure safe food is served. Cathy is a registered dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a Certified Professional in Food Safety from the National Environmental Health Association.

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