I’ve been around for quite a long time, visiting food plants for 30+ years. I reminisce back to times where food safety was not a huge concern and restrictions were much more lenient. I can remember standing at the end of a cooling tunnel with my hand out to pick cookies right off the conveyor line. Who could blame me? We all know cookies are always best fresh out of the oven. That surely wouldn’t happen in today’s food plant. Since then, there have been great advancements in food safety. With the introduction of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), there has been a great emphasis on food safety programs within food manufacturing.
Ideally, a food safety program would be led and implemented by the head of an organization, with a focus on what can be done to improve the food safety environment. In the real world, directives are set, procedures are developed, training occurs, and workers do their best to follow through on policies and protocols. Certainly, each organization has its own unique culture that tends to drive behaviors within the company.
There are several situations that can create confusion for any company’s food safety program and culture. The biggest is inconsistent or conflicting goals across the organization. If management’s directive is to meet quotas while the organization is working to stay focused on food safety, which goal is trumped when a shipment needs to go out? Or if an individual employee is evaluated against certain metrics that conflict with overarching food safety goals, who will be overshadowed?
In July of 2020, the FDA released the New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint, a 10-year plan that builds on FSMA. The blueprint has four core elements: tech-enabled traceability, smarter tools and approaches for prevention and outbreak response, new business models and retail modernization, and food safety culture.
Although the FDA emphasized that, “a strong food safety culture is a prerequisite to effective food safety management,” it did not include any criteria in the blueprint, nor did it propose to develop and impose specific food safety culture requirements. Instead, the FDA will identify tools and strategies to assist companies in adopting criteria that are consistent with existing regulatory requirements and internal business cultures, and that are flexible with respect to the nature and size of each company.
Strategies the FDA identifies for a food culture to be effective are:
Establishing a food safety culture needs to be a top-down approach. The leadership team must prioritize the identification and maintenance of practices to influence attitudes and modify behavior in all areas of the company.
Aligning employee objectives, how they are evaluated, and other performance criteria to the food safety goals of the company will go a long way in establishing the culture of food safety.
Encouraging real employee feedback can also reveal vulnerabilities in a food safety system. Management must be careful not to create a system that would cause employees to be reluctant to report concerns over job repercussions. Confidential or anonymous surveys are a good way to get valuable information without giving employees reasons to be hesitant to share information.
Overall, establishing a true culture of food safety is not an overnight process. However, taking steps in order to further the company’s efforts on creating a culture of food safety will eventually lead to an atmosphere where food safety is of utmost importance throughout the organization.
If your organization needs help creating or implementing a food safety plan, please give me a call. I’d love to help!
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