Nearly every food industry conference holds a workshop or panel discussion on food safety culture and those discussions tend to focus on the need for food manufacturers to assess, manage, and communicate food safety risks to foster a strong food safety culture. Here, Lone Jespersen, principal at Cultivate, answers my questions on taking the necessary steps to foster a culture of safety at your company.
Food Online: What does having an effective food safety culture mean and what does it take for companies to achieve it?
Jespersen: Having an effective food safety culture means that food safety is always the center piece of your company’s daily operations. This is achieved through dedication from senior leaders to start a cultural transformation within the company on food safety. It is essential to clearly define the food safety responsibilities for each person and determine what will be required to deliver on this responsibility. Job descriptions must include detailed food safety responsibilities and on-boarding programs must include role-specific food safety information and awareness. Any on-the-job training must include food safety procedures with clearly-defined reasons for their inclusion in the training program. Senior leaders must understand not only their responsibilities, but the responsibilities of others on their team to help ensure a cohesive and thorough adherence to food safety throughout the manufacturing process.
Food Online: What are some consequences a food manufacturer may face from having a poor culture of food safety? What impact will not properly assessing food safety risk have on a company’s bottom line? How can senior leadership help all levels of the company understand those consequences?
Jespersen: The consequences are clear; a company could endanger public health, employees could lose their place of employment, and the parties responsible within the company could also face criminal prosecution. In addition, as much as 20 percent of sales have been shown to be wasted in a company with a poor culture of food safety. If unsafe product reaches consumers, the financial impact can be significant and devastating to a company.
Food Online: What can food manufacturers do to better assess and manage their risks?
Jespersen: It is important that a company first assesses and understands its organizational food safety culture before it can effectively manage its risks. My research is centered on the food safety maturity model that helps organizations assess whether they are in an early or later stage of maturity in their food safety practices. Depending on where on that scale an organization falls, the tactics for managing risks will be different. In a low-maturity organization, senior leaders need to emphasize the emotional connection and dedication to food safety with employees. In a high-maturity organization, a cycle for continuous improvement will be in place that helps to build personnel cognitive capabilities that supervisors can use to engage teams in food safety improvements.
Food Online: How can a company measure the strength of its current culture of food safety?
Jespersen: There are a number of evaluation tools available, and depending on the company, it is important to select a method that fits its needs and wants. Look for our recent peer-reviewed article in Food Control for more detail.
Food Online: What tools are in a food manufacturer’s arsenal to develop a strong food safety culture and continuously improve their organization?
Jespersen: A strong food safety culture begins with a strong foundation in food safety practices and senior leaders who understand and believe in the importance of fostering a strong food safety culture. Employees should receive necessary trainings in the production of safe food such as GMP’s, HACCP, BPCS, or PCQI. Senior leaders should also consider further educating themselves by taking part in trainings on food safety culture and attending industry events. On June 13, I will be joining the GMA Science and Education Foundation and Food Online for their web chat, Food For Thought: Establishing, Maintaining, And Improving Food Safety Culture, where I will answer attendees’ questions regarding food safety culture in real time.
Most importantly, by always making food safety the center piece of daily operations, senior leaders in food manufacturing can help to foster a greater understanding among its employees of the important responsibilities they have in the production of safe products for the consumer. Within any reputable food or beverage manufacturing facility there is an inherent commitment shared by all those involved in the production process to ensure that a product that comes off the line is safe for consumption.
About Lone Jespersen
Lone Jespersen, M. Sc. Food Science, is the Principal of Cultivate Food Safety, an organization dedicated to the pursuit of creating culture-enable success for food processors and manufacturers. Jespersen holds several food industry certifications, including a Six Sigma Black Belt and is a Third-Party Auditor for BRC Global Standard for Food Safety Issue 7. Prior to founding Cultivate Food Safety, Jespersen held several roles over the last decade with Maple Leaf Foods, including Director of Six Sigma, Director of Food Safety Strategy, and Director of Food Safety and Operations Learning. Jespersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.