By Sumedha Jalgaonkar
A new buzz word “food safety culture” has become very popular in food processing industries lately. Along with concepts of food safety compliance and conformance, the most discussed concept in food processing industry now a days is “food safety culture”. One of the very important reason for it is introduction of the concept of food safety culture as part of the requirements of the standards like BRC, SQF and other GFSI certification schemes. So when organizations start developing food safety culture, they go with developing documentations like SOP, checklists and records for the same. Also when auditor do assessments for food safety culture, food safety culture is judged by system, documentation, checklists and records for monitoring and verification of effectiveness of food safety culture. However, food safety culture is a “practical” concept more than a “theoretical” concept. Along with objective evidences of SOPs, checklists and records, the food safety culture will be judged by some practical approach of the organization towards food safety.
What is food safety culture?
Food safety culture is the values of an organization with respect to food safety. The culture especially means “doing the things with responsibility, awareness and integrity even when no one is watching”. It is just not about understanding of importance of food safety but also knowing what is individual’s role in protecting it.
A strong food safety culture helps a facility both to prevent and catch deviations in their processes that impact the safety, quality, and legality of their products and also likelihood and severity of a recall impacting that site.
Just like the concept of PRP and HACCP, food safety culture also proves to be “preventive measure” for ensuring food safety in organization.
Here is the list of a few important factors which are crucial for developing, consistently maintaining and improving food safety culture of the organization:
For any organization, the culture in the organization is defined by the leaders/ top management of the organization. Their awareness and actions decides the culture of organization positively or negatively. To give an example- one day while performing audit, I was entering into a food processing area along with the plant head. After completing all the essential activities in change room, we were just about to enter processing hall. Suddenly a food handler came and said to plant head “sir you are wearing wrist watch, please remove it before entering the processing area”. I was astonished to see the reaction of plant head. He said” Oh I am sorry. I almost forgot to remove it. Thank you for reminding me before we enter the processing hall”. This is something we say demonstrating leadership while “lead by example”. Top management need to first be aware enough to understand and follow the practices and create suitable environment for food safety to be followed by everyone in his/her organization. Thus leadership defines food safety culture of the organization.
2. Empowerment of employee:
Above mentioned example is equally applicable for empowerment of employees along with leadership. The food handler could stop and say something about noncompliance of jewelry policy by plant head only because he felt empowered to do so. Empowering and trusting the employees to take decisions and talk openly about food safety issues, problem solving and continuous improvement is the key strategy for ensuring food safety culture within organization. Empowerment and trust of employees can be achieved through transparency in communication and supporting each other.
3. Encouragement and appreciation:
The environment and culture of the organization, the actions of top management should reflect into encouragement and appreciation of employees. In one organization where I did project for food safety management system implementation, I observed a very good practice of giving award to employees who had done exceptional work in food safety or contributed in problem solving and continuous improvement. These employees then share their story and actions with everyone in that award ceremony. By this kind of practices within organization, the person awarded feel appreciated and other hearing the story of awardees feel motivation and inspiration to do better things. When employee gets appreciation, they are more likely to follow rules and procedures, be more adoptive to changes and will be ready for greater contribution towards food safety. They will always do much more and much better than expected. On the contrary if employees feel fear, discouragement and not appreciated, they will not feel responsible and accountable for their actions and the results of the actions.
4. Responsibility and accountability:
The culture of the organization should be such that every employee should feel the sense of his/her responsibility as well as accountability in case something goes wrong. The trust and environment in organization will make employees work with greater sense of awareness and understanding of importance of food safety. Responsibility will see if the activity assigned to the person is done or not while accountability will ensure that the activity is completed appropriately and effectively. Food safety culture requires employees to understand responsibility and accountability towards food safety.
5. Team work:
Team work is one of the very important ingredients in the recipe of of food safety culture of organization. Team work often results into developing good culture in the organization along with ensuring food safety. Example In one organization where I started food safety system implementation project, in kickoff meeting, director was mentioning proudly about nearly 80% women food handlers and their excellent team work. In every step of implementation, I realized how true and important team work in implementation of system in that organization was. While on the other hand if organization lacks the team work, developing and maintaining food safety culture will be “impossible task”.
6. Awareness and training:
Food safety culture is not a “fixed” formula or concept. It is a concept which has to be constantly evolving for better and better food safety culture in the organization. Creating awareness by providing valuable trainings importance of food safety, will motivate employees to learn and do better things contributing in continuous improvement and thereby refining food safety culture of organization. Trainings about values of organization, benefits of ensuring food safety and ways and means to achieve food safety will form a strong foundation for food safety culture of the organization.
While developing food safety culture within organization, these factors should be taken into consideration which is responsible for creating strongest and deepest relationships of organization and employees. If people started believing that the organization and top management is interested in their well being, the foundation of the food safety culture strengthens.
Thus when food safety culture foundation is strong, it goes beyond slogans, procedures, checklists and records and benefit the organization for proactively for food safety endlessly and effortlessly.
The author is in Foodiesys Consulting, Pune. And can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org