We have heard about it, read about it, and tried to wrap our head around it – but what really is Food Safety Culture and what do we need to do about it?
Let’s start with the basics.
Food Safety Culture is defined as:
Shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mind-set and behavior toward food safety in, across and throughout an organization.
Global Food Safety Initiative – GFSI
Firstly, a workplace culture forms within every business by intention and just naturally. That company logo shirt that is provided your first day to wear with pride, team lunches to celebrate birthdays, and the relationships that are formed from working side-by-side with employees that have a common backgrounds and goals.
So now through the lens of establishing a food safety culture, we must understand current state and how to evolve them into a focused effort on strengthening food safety values, beliefs, and norms. They must work in concert with each other to truly effect change at all levels.
Assessing our food safety culture requires a deeper look at those drivers and influencers within our workplace culture such as; the decisions we make to stop the line from producing non-conforming product and levels of communication when changes or decisions are made. We don’t realize how ‘visible’ these actions and words are to those that might not be directly involved. Perception may have a greater influence on food safety culture than we realize and how can we improve unless we start paying attention to more than just our food safety plans and finished product.
Let’s take a moment to challenge your perception of your company’s current food safety culture. Where would your rank these top principles that every company must have to confidently state, “We have a strong and robust food safety culture.”
- Senior Management is engaged at all levels in the organization.
- Team meetings are held frequently and everyone contributes.
- Communication is conducted frequently and is not one-way.
- Employees are positively recognized for bringing up issues and/or suggestions.
- Audits are not a last minute priority and team would welcome it unannounced to “show off”.
- Decisions made are not focused on the amount of profit or loss but on Food Safety first.
- Policies and procedures are not just pretty documents but are effectively implemented, monitored, and continuously improved.
- Programs are not reactive but proactive – built to prevent the issue from occurring in the first place and/or to be quickly identified.
- Employees are motivated and empowered to ensure food safety.
- Leadership leads by example and committed to food safety.
Although our primary goal is to not just understand the drivers of food safety culture and how to influence it, but how to put programs in place that improve them over time and ultimately protect product, employees, customers, and consumers.
So once we have checked with everyone’s perception through surveys, interviews, team huddles, and soliciting ideas, we can then develop a plan to take our food safety culture from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Establishing initial benchmarks and goals through key metrics that are not product or business KPI’s but are people focused initiatives that improve status quo. Researchers note that it takes 2-3 years to change a culture and based on how ‘in trenched’ your current values, beliefs, and norms are will determine the level of effort that will need to be put in place to create a strong food safety culture. One that is not just established for audit compliance but in place for the future growth of your business and ensuring food safety in all that we do!