Building an Effective Food Safety Culture
Food safety is paramount for any food business. Maintaining high safety standards minimizes the risk of food safety incidents, protects your brand’s reputation and, more importantly, keeps unsafe food off the market. But adhering to appropriate food safety standards is not always easy. Shortcuts are tempting, especially when safety tasks are considered difficult, expensive or time-consuming. In the food industry, however, there is no room for shortcuts. An organizational culture that prioritizes food safety is vital to the production of safe food.
Your company’s food safety culture reflects the stance, values, ethics, and expectations with regard to food safety. Like branding, a food safety culture is often more felt than seen. This means your business likely already has one, even if you are unaware of it. The easiest way to identify what constitutes your existing safety culture is to answer the question: “How are things done around here with regard to food safety?”
What is the general attitude towards food safety in your company? Do employees take pride in the responsibility to produce safe food? Are safety tasks considered necessary evils that must be performed? By identifying the prevalent attitudes and perceptions towards food safety, you would be better prepared to dismantle an existing negative culture and build a more effective food safety culture.
What’s an effective food safety culture?
The right attitude and mindset toward food safety are extremely important. An effective food safety culture is one that is built consciously and actively by an organization. Similar to branding, your safety culture should not be left to chance; you should consciously instill the right set of food safety values.
Former VP at Walmart and current deputy commissioner, Food Policy and Response, at the FDA, Frank Yiannas, identified five common themes consistent among organizations that have great food safety cultures. They are:
clear food safety expectations
food safety education and training of employees at all levels of the organization
great communication - ongoing conversations around food safety
measurable food safety goals
clear consequences for food safety (positive and negative).
When you have a strong food safety culture, it means that employees, senior-level management and everyone associated with food production:
recognizes food safety as the priority,
understands that there is no room for underhanded practices,
takes pride in maintaining high food safety standards, and
is willing to do the right thing, even without supervision.
A strong food safety culture is a win-win for everyone. It ensures the production of safe food and minimizes the risks of food safety incidents. It also promotes an impeccable brand reputation and positive brand image for your business.
So, how do you build an effective and lasting food safety culture?
Start with a food safety plan
The Food Safety Modernization Act already requires food businesses to have documented food recall and safety plans. A food safety plan helps you identify all possible hazards in the line of production and the ways you can mitigate these risks. This plan should act as the roadmap for building the desired food safety culture.
Focus on changing behavior
While beliefs, feelings, and ways of thinking are an important part of a safety culture, these elements are often difficult to measure or change. An article, “Building a Stronger Food Safety Culture” in the May 15, 2018 issue of Food Safety Magazine suggests that companies should focus on changing behaviors in order to drive culture changes. This can be done by:
defining the behaviors that employees have to demonstrate
creating an environment that encourages the desired behavior
personalize the risks of food safety incidents
defining the positive and negative consequences of food safety.
Adopt a top-down approach
A leadership and management team that is strong on food safety is key for building an enduring food safety culture. When employees feel a strong commitment on the part of leadership towards food safety, it is easier for them to follow through on expected safety actions.
Senior-level management should always be involved in food safety meetings, training, and events. For even greater impact, it’s important that the food safety team has direct access to top-level management. The message should always be clear: everyone is involved in food safety, including (and especially) the CEO.
Building an effective food safety culture is easier with FoodLogiQ’s software solutions. Whether it’s managing recalls, monitoring suppliers or improving your food safety programs, FoodLogiQ provides the tools that help you prioritize food safety and communicate this change throughout your supply chain. To learn more about our solutions, request a demo.