Developing and fostering a culture of Food Safety should be a goal of choice for every business in the Food and Beverage Sector. What does Food Safety Culture mean? Why should my organization contemplate that as a principle to strive for? What key elements are required to help facilitate a transformation to a culture of Food Safety?
"Culture" in respect to our thoughts below refers to a set of mores, beliefs, values or shared principles - in essence, it is what permeates an organization and motivates - or alternatively in a worst case scenario breeds contempt and indifference - with respect to the core fundamental values and day-to-day activities within our organizations. From a Food Safety perspective, it comes from a point-of-view, acceptance and belief that everyone within a company has a "shared" and equal responsibility and regardless of their role, has a direct impact from the purchase of raw material through to product consumption.
What is food safety culture?
A work environment in which all employees share the responsibility for food safety. Their behaviour demonstrates that they know what needs to be done and are motivated to do it because they understand that food safety is central to everything they do. ("Food Safety Culture Program", OMAFRA - Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs)
In today's computer-savvy world, anything negative or suspect relating to Food Safety spreads quickly with a deep and ricocheting effect ultimately having a costly impact on the bottom line. It stands to reason therefore, that protecting our businesses at all costs from those things that would challenge our Food Safety programs should be paramount in our minds. That being said, developing a "culture" of Food Safety should ensure that every person within the company is dedicated to those core program values and beliefs - from the President or Chair of a company through to the Shipper-Receiver - each understanding and believing in their fundamental role in the organization and particular impact on Food Safety. Food Safety is not all about instituting or getting systems underway - for we know that programs last only so long as the people who support them - so in essence to be successful, a culture embracing the root values and belief systems of the company must be in place.
Food Safety Culture: Why Bother?
* Positive impacts on employees - commitment, loyalty, satisfaction, reduced turnover
* Positive impacts on company - increased productivity, improved financials, happier customers, reduced risk, avoidance of catastrophic losses
("Food Safety Culture Program", OMAFRA)
Providing an opportunity for employees to become committed and engaged on an issue of importance, leads to increased job satisfaction and reduced turnover - and it also opens the door for more communication, innovative ideas, suggestions for improvement, sharing through team work efforts and so forth. The employees know their jobs the best and understanding the direct impact that they may have on an issue of such importance lends to job ownership and empowerment.
From the company perspective, it affords an organization a wonderful opportunity to clearly demonstrate your food safety programs and activities with customers, suppliers and consumers in a proactive manner that demonstrates initiative, good leadership and commitment to producing your products in the safest manner and means possible. With an engaged workforce and a plan in place, the company can respond in a timely and orderly fashion if it should be needed and mitigate the costs that might otherwise ensue through litigation, recalls and fines, product losses and insurance costs, etc. A strong program and culture surrounding Food Safety should enhance your abilities to maintain and grow your business confidently.
What is needed to develop a culture of food safety?
There are a number of articles emerging relating to building and developing a Food Safety Culture. Frank Yiannas, a subject matter expert in this area, published a book in 2009 entitled "Food Safety Culture: Creating a Behavior-Based Food Safety Management System". As we are most familiar with - food safety awareness is at an all time high and every day new and emerging threats are recognized. He mentions that:
"Achieving food safety success in this changing environment requires going beyond traditional training, testing, and inspectional approaches to managing risks. It requires a better understanding of organizational culture and the human dimensions of food safety…. You must change the way people do things. You must change their behavior. In fact, simply put, food safety equals behavior."
Taking that perspective into consideration, I pondered what some key elements might a company want to ensure is in place to guarantee success? Perhaps you have some thoughts you might wish to add from your own experiences?
Commitment from Senior Management
It stands to reason that Senior Management must fully support an initiative of this nature - they need to walk the talk and believe in the concept as much if not more so than every plant employee. Good leaders lead by example and motivate their workforces by doing so. Developing a "culture of food safety" means integrating it into every aspect of the organization as an integral business function - a function that has properly allocated resources, measurable goals and reporting requirements. The cost savings could be tremendous.
Communication throughout the Plant
As with any program, communication is essential for success. Communication opens the door for involvement and ideas - not only from within the plant but also from customers, suppliers and consumers. A good communication plan continually enforces the message and keeps people informed of the latest initiative and motivated towards measurable and achievable common goals.
As mentioned above, Food Safety is everyone's responsibility - regardless of role or function within the company. From the moment raw material is ordered until consumption, every employee has an impact in some way at some time on that product. Good leadership, guidance and commitment to those core values will enable others to place their faith and best intentions forward in an effort to take on that responsibility. And in doing so, will work more effectively and efficiently as a cohesive team to achieve the results that lead to success. Responsibility is key when it comes to culture.
There are a myriad of ways to build knowledge - from in-house experts through to networking, training, etc. The web is full of opportunities to tap into as well. There is a Blog entitled "Ask Dr. Bob" with PMA's Chief Science Officer, Dr. Bob Whittaker, (http://askdrbob.pma.com/foodsafety) who has written several articles on Food Safety Culture. He mentions that "Food Safety is centered on risk assessment and risk management." He emphasizes the importance of using your Supervisors and Managers and leveraging their experiences - they become "owners" in the Food Safety Program and in essence "advocates and partners in your company's food safety performance." Adding to the opportunities to expand knowledge, like we do at EMC Canada, we encourage you to stay abreast of emerging technologies and not to be afraid to reach out to Trade Associations, Commodity Groups, Sector Organizations, Universities and Colleges, Government Regulators, etc. Resources are everywhere!
We grow through improvements and building on new ideas - our journey's for perfection are never ending! Establish good communication, develop idea and suggestion boards, encourage innovation, challenge the status quo, learn from others in industry and continually drive improvement opportunities!
Adding to the thoughts above, are some suggestions from the OMAFRA Food Safety Culture Program on Techniques and Practices for Employee Engagement and Measuring the Performance of Your Program that may be of interest to you in this regard. Please touch base with Marcus Horowitz of OMAFRA at 519-826-3644 firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn more about this awesome Program! In addition, by clicking on the following link (http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/food/foodsafety/processors/events.htm) or by visiting the OMAFRA Website and selecting information on the Food Safety Traceability Programs - you will be able to access information on upcoming Training Events such as the Advantage Series, HACCP, GMP, Certification Audits, Traceability and the new Food Safety Culture Programs.
TECHNIQUES AND PRACTICES FOR EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
- Recruitment and hiring practices
- Communications and feedback processes
- Training activities
- Employee motivation practices
Appreciation for Work Done
- Recognition and rewards system
- Regular feedback
- Top management involvement
- Adequate tools and resources
- Stated priorities and consistent decisions
- Clearly stated and reinforced vision, mission & values statements
Measuring Progress of your Food Safety Culture - Why is it important?
- Allows corrective action if efforts aren't working
- Shows what does and doesn't work
- Improves performance, leading to continuous improvement
- Tracks the business impact of a food safety culture
Developing and fostering a culture of Food Safety should be a natural progression for any company in the Food and Beverage Sector. It is a common sense business decision. Where are you on this path? Where does food safety come into your priorities? What can you start doing today?
"A food safety culture - a strategy for business excellence"
("Food Safety Culture Program", OMAFRA)
Have a wonderful week everyone!