The food industry is highly regulated to protect food products and the people who make, transport and serve them. But what we've learned over the years is that regulations are effective only when fully embraced by people throughout organizations. Their commitment to food safety must be embedded deep inside their company’s culture.
Culture draws on fundamental values that give us that gut feeling about what’s right and wrong. A mature food safety culture can positively impact a company’s food safety risk management by giving employees the confidence to speak up when they see something wrong, while an immature culture might encourage employees to ignore perceived hazards because of anticipated negative feedback.
That’s why the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) last year added food safety culture elements to their benchmark guidance document that determines the maturity of a company’s food safety culture based on five dimensions:
- Vision & mission – look at a company’s food safety values and its ability to set clear expectations.
- People – factor in key stakeholders related to the company’s governance, communications, learning organization and recognition programs.
- Consistency – determine how well a company aligns food safety priorities with people, technology, resources and processes.
- Adaptability – gauge if a company is agile enough to quickly adapt to changes, embrace continuous improvements and implement effective mitigation protocols.
- Hazards & risk awareness – determine if employees understand food safety hazards and their active risk awareness role.
By using GFSI’s Food Safety Culture Position Paper, many organizations will benchmark their performance on these dimensions and identify areas that are less mature. They can then build mitigation steps to help address these gaps and measure their performance over time to determine their effectiveness in strengthening their food safety culture.
Data from the recent Global Food Safety Training Survey (https://www.alchemysystems.com/resources/ebooks-and-research/) indicates 30% of food organizations have executed a food safety culture assessment. Current research indicates most food companies are in the early stages of culture improvement plans and fall into the low to medium maturity levels.
Your food safety culture maturity might mirror your company’s overall workplace culture. For example, does your workplace culture encourage trust, accountability and open communications? If not, then chances are good your food safety culture won’t either.
Most companies track and reward their employees for no accidents. Do you have a recognition program for individuals and teams that achieves food safety goals like first pass sanitation, decreased GMP non-compliance and improved cost of quality?
It’s easy to focus on operational productivity and efficiencies at the expense of food safety. If your senior leaders don’t routinely communicate the importance of food safety, your employees will not value food safety compliance.
Does your company include food safety performance objectives and measures for every position in the organization? And if asked, would your employees be able to recall the last time they received safety training and the topic covered?
What is the level of trust in your organization? Do you trust your employees’ food safety knowledge enough to encourage them to stop the production line when they see a food safety risk? Do your employees trust their management team to respond positively when an issue is identified and reward them for their food safety risk awareness?
Are you collecting data to identify trends and improve food safety performance? Many companies collect data for audit compliance and carefully file the information away, never using it for continuous improvement. Do you have a change management process? Change in our industry is inevitable given the shifting customer requirements, new regulations and fluctuations in vendor sourcing.
These are all questions to ask when assessing your maturity level. As you develop and enrich your food safety culture based on GFSI’s five dimensions, you’ll find new opportunities to enhance your company’s overall culture and improve the way you work with customers, employees, investors and your community. In the process, you’ll fortify your defenses against costly food recalls and public lawsuits that can damage your brand.
Unlike regulations that restrict actions and punish companies, a food safety culture promotes behaviors that help build and promote best food safety practices, drive improvements across your entire organization and reduce your food safety risks.