An Article by the Acheson Group
“The way we do things around here” – that is the favorite definition of food safety culture for Frank Yiannas, former Vice-President of Food Safety for Walmart, current Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy & Response with the Food and Drug Administration, and author of a couple of books on behavior-based food safety. Recent collaborative work by a group of leading food and related companies from all over the world convened by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) into a technical working group, led to defining food safety culture as “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behavior toward food safety in, across and throughout an organization”. While multiple definitions have been proposed for this subject, what we all agree on is that when food safety becomes a key element of the organizational culture of a food company, food safety standards can be maintained, overall food safety risk reduced, and continuous improvement more readily achieved.
The same GFSI group defined the five dimensions and critical components of a food safety culture within an organization as:
- Vision and mission, or the reason for existence of food companies and how those principles are translated into execution messaging;
- People, referring to the behaviors of humans as a determining factor that impacts the safety of food;
- Consistency, addressing the provision of resources for feasibility of implementation of food safety programs;
- Adaptability, or the ability of an organization to respond to ever changing conditions and demands;
- Hazards and risks awareness, about promoting understanding of actual and potential food safety hazards and risks at all levels throughout the company
In 2017, The Acheson Group (TAG) partnered with Safety Chain in conducting a survey to assess the top challenges faced by food safety and quality teams in preparing for compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requirements, alignment with GFSI audit programs, and day-to-day performance of the company, as well as to gain insights into the tactics employed to overcome those challenges. One of the questions reads: “How Would You Characterize Food Safety Culture at Your Company?”. The responses to this survey question revealed an opportunity for improvement in food safety culture. Half of the respondents indicated that everybody on their team knows their role and its” importance for food safety, but on the other hand, there are 40% that feel that this is only a ‘somewhat accurate’ statement for their company’s food safety culture.
Most respondents indicated that they were confident, or somewhat confident, in their company’s training programs. However, with only about 50% of the respondents indicating that executives at their companies are actively involved; results indicate that there is room for improvement in C-level engagement with respect to food safety culture. While executives do not need to know every detail of the food safety plan, active engagement from the top of the organization helps drive a stronger food safety culture and that directly impacts better overall performance, and enhanced risk mitigation. The process must be driven by management commitment and action. The role of food safety officials is not to take total responsibility for the process, but to hold company and plant management accountable for implementation and deployment of the tools that enable control. Leadership is the keyword!
Evaluating “the way we do things around here” and the level of maturity of the food safety culture within an organization is the first step towards successfully transforming it, followed by crafting a plan to address the multiple dimensions of its existence. A couple of members of TAG: Cameron Prince, Vice-President of Regulatory Affairs, and Rolando Gonzalez, PhD, Vice-President of Public Health, have been intimately involved with helping numerous companies achieve improvements and progress in sustainable development in this area. Contact us if you need assistance with better understanding and elevating the food safety culture within your organization; or want to learn more about how to measure your food safety culture; or are curious about where and how companies most commonly fail when trying to embrace and/or strengthen their food safety culture; or even what are some useful resources that we recommend on this topic!
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