For food safety leaders, however, it’s impossible to oversee every aspect of every operation and this is where culture plays a critical role – ensuring that every employee, at every level, from the head office to the factory floor, is personally committed.
Culture, as the saying goes, is what your people do when nobody is watching - doing the right thing, not necessarily the quickest or cheapest. The GFSI defines culture as, “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behaviour toward food safety in, across and throughout an organisation”. The right culture will enhance food safety by raising awareness, improving knowledge and encouraging the right behaviour in every employee.
Achieving the right food safety culture has obvious benefits for brand reputation, improved business continuity and the avoidance of recalls and potential lawsuits. But culture can also shift operations from a position of reactivity to one of proactivity – staying one step ahead of food safety best practice and the changing requirements of regulators and customers. So, where to start?
For organisations looking to implement or augment a strong food safety culture, the Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) scheme provides an excellent framework for action. FSSC 22000, the primary standard of the scheme that governs the certification of a Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS), requires organisations to submit evidence of a commitment to food safety from senior managers. Part of this evidence includes key elements of a strong food safety culture, including communication, training, employee feedback, and performance measurement of the food safety programme.
Tools like the FSSC 22000 guidance document ‘food safety culture’ can also help overcome the fact that culture can feel like an abstract concept, where implementation is easier said than done. The tangible requirements and proven benefits of certification can help secure both the senior leadership support required and the commitment to lead by example, not just saying what’s expected but demonstrating it, too.
Underpinning all of this is strong communication. The successful implementation of food safety protocols is completely dependent on how well these are communicated. This means not just clearly explaining what staff need to do, but why these protocols matter and reminding them regularly of the consequences of falling short. Doing this helps gives teams ownership of food safety and ensures they feel more accountable for their actions.
Truly embedding a food safety culture can be a daunting prospect for food industry leaders, but these 3Cs of certification, commitment and communication are a robust starting point. Using this approach, progress can quickly be made towards a positive culture and all the benefits that brings in terms of strengthening organisational food safety efforts.
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