There is no doubt about it; it is getting more and more difficult to be a successful food processor or manufacturer. The supply chain continues to grow and become more complex, food safety regulations across the globe are becoming increasingly stringent, consumer preferences are constantly evolving, and the food industry’s workforce seems to be continuously changing. All of these trials amplify the importance of managing risks, keeping the public safe, and maintaining consumer loyalty to your brand. So, what can you do to manage this incessantly-growing number of risks?
It is imperative for you to create a culture of food safety. It is also important to note that food safety culture is not a food safety program. While both are systematic approaches to food safety, a food safety culture means influencing thoughts and behaviors of everyone within an organization by maximizing safety and minimizing risks.
Creating that culture is easier said than done, and keeping the list of risks in check — 24/7 and companywide — is no easy task either. A good food safety culture really means that everyone within your organization shares the same mindset, values, ambitions, and practices of food safety. This means everyone, both upstream and downstream, who has anything to do with your company’s product— suppliers, purchasers, shippers, cleaning and sanitizing staff, warehouse workers, line workers, and everyone in between — need to be uniform in this mentality. That’s quite a challenge for even the smallest company.
Making food safety the top priority with your company helps reduce the risk of contamination and other safety events. However, everyone must buy into this idea. Working from the top of the company all the way down to its lowest levels, the utmost importance must be placed on food safety. In doing so, employee knowledge, opinions, and behaviors will be bolstered to reflect the company’s food safety practices.
While just about every food-making company can agree that safety is the top priority, the ability to create a culture that promotes safety is where things get tricky. The cogs of food safety culture really depend on leadership, priorities, perceived risks, safety protocols, ownership of those protocols, and communication. Your company’s ability to implement and follow these things truly depends on its ability to take a complete approach to managing food safety risks.
So, what can you do to get there? As previously mentioned, this is no easy road to achieve a good food safety culture. But, if push came to shove, I would say the two most important tools to getting there are education and corrective actions.
Education involves conveying all the knowledge of your company’s food safety practices, protocols, best practices, values, attitudes, behaviors, and objectives to every worker at every level of the company. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to this, as each company’s food safety practices and protocols will be different.
Next, employees should be able to apply that education to real-life examples and understand the why, how, and when of it. This can be instilled into employees by having senior staffers continually observe employee behaviors. However, this can be a delicate procedure as behaviors are only genuine when an employee is unaware they are being observed. A good way to garner candid behaviors is to place other staff members between you and the employee being observed, sort of an “over-the-shoulder” approach. Employees will perform actions that are natural to them, which gives you the opportunity to either instill corrective actions or offer praise for adhering to protocol. Obviously, the corrective action will depend on several criteria — the proper procedures and protocols of the company, the severity of the offense, and how many times the employee has routinely committed the offense, to name a few. Despite the outcome, praise or correcting the behavior, coaching should always mention your company’s food safety practices and why the practice is necessary to reinforce the attitude and objectives of the company.
While education and corrective actions play an important role in establishing and maintaining food safety culture, they are just a small piece of the puzzle. Communication at every level of the organization, thought leadership from the top of the company flowing downward, training, on-going improvement of food safety programs, and a constructive working environment are all pieces that will help you create a culture that fosters food safety.