By Anurag Mishra

The word “Culture” is very subjective, and when we discuss this word in an organizational context, then the complexity increases. In simple terms, Culture is a set of (not limited to):

– Different Ideas 

– Values

– Attitudes

– Behaviours and Beliefs 

– Habits

– Customs  

Schein has defined organisational culture as “A pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems. The group found these assumptions to work well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel concerning those problems.”

However, the uniqueness of any culture is that “it takes time” to adapt to a new one or change the existing one, and people are also resistant to adapting or leaving the culture. The same applies to “Food Safety Culture “which is why food business operators need to have a clear strategy when they start working on this critical aspect to ensure food safety in their organisation.

There are a few basic elements of developing culture in any organisation: 

 The Leadership Attitude: Once, a newly joined plant manager established a hand washing facility, which was supposed to be used by anyone entering the food packing house. The Plant Manager saw this practice in his earlier organization and found it to be effective in minimising contamination. As this was a new activity for the plant personnel, they were a little reluctant about it. The Plant Manager started a daily walk with his managers and after entering the packing hall, he would use the hand washing facility properly. He never forced any manager to follow the same. However, because of the human behaviour of following the leader, some managers started washing their hands, and after a couple of weeks, the remaining managers got on board as well. This is how a leader’s attitude changes the game in a developing culture.  

Ownership: Defining Ownership is an extremely important part of the food safety culture, taking into account, all the departments/ associates. Defining ownership for: 

Procurement: To ensure Food Safety while procuring stuff, which may impact the product’s safety. 

Operations: To ensure that they are producing food which is safe to consume. 

Maintenance: To carry out the preventive maintenance/breakdown maintenance etc. on time with care to avoid any contamination resulting from poor maintenance. 

Factors such as training and development, and policies and procedures are also important in ensuring a structure with commitment along with consistency and understanding is actively implemented and followed. 

In my view, models to develop any organizational culture will not be the same in all organizations. It depends on the product manufactured, the size of the business, the people, the environment etc. So, let’s try to decode the Indian Model of developing a Food Safety Culture.

It is a fair statement to make that “If it is not safe, it’s not food “. It is not optional and it is non -non-negotiable. When we plan to implement any non -non-negotiable activity, then in my opinion, one should follow Acharya Chanakya’s way of implementing policies i.e. Saam, Daam, Dand and Bhed. The phrase “Saam, Daam, Dand, & Bhed” is a Hindi saying that translates to “persuasion, temptation, punishment, and division” in English. 

 

In the food safety realm, it holds the following meaning:

Saam: Explain the Need 

Daam: Give Value 

Dand: Side effects or consequences if not done or implemented. 

Bhed: Diplomatic Pursuit 

1-      (Saam):  We should explain the “WHY” factor to the leaders, manufacturing units, supply chain, support functions, and the associates of the organization. This is followed by the “WHAT”, a key factor which can be tackled by communicating properly. Post which is the “WHEN” and this is very critical for the implementation. Be patient with the stakeholders but do not dilute the intent of the food safety. “WHO” is the element that brings ownership.  

2-     Giving Value (Daam):  Food Safety Culture requires a pitch that benefits everyone. Explaining the need to implement food safety practices and what value they will bring to the business is vital. Additionally, if you can calculate the returns, then it will be easier to convince everyone including management. Indeed, returns won’t be in numbers but at the same time everything in the business can be linked with the top/bottom line, so think smartly.  

3-     Consequences if Not Implemented or Not Done (Dand ): Food Safety is not optional and providing safe food to consumers is the prime duty of any food business operator. So, this message should hold utmost clarity. Food Safety lead should be very clear to the management – if it’s not implemented, it will have consequences. It’s all about how effectively you communicate the risk.  

4-     Diplomatic Pursuit: Diplomacy allows you to advance your goals by assisting other departments. For instance, aiding the operations team can minimize wastage, while supporting maintenance ensures timely upkeep, reducing equipment breakdowns and potential contamination. Another diplomatic way of driving the agenda is looping leadership in communication. We all agree that if top bosses are sending any mail or communicating any program or drive, then it will be heard better by all the associates, so looping management in communication always helps you. 

To cultivate a robust food safety culture, prioritize understanding challenges and establish clear policies. Recognise and reward those who exemplify desired behaviours. Additionally, promote participation in relevant internal and external food safety events. In summary, by emphasizing comprehension, recognition, and engagement, organizations can foster a harmonious and effective safety environment.

 

About the author:

Quality and Food Safety Professional

( Anurag.ft@gmail.com)