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What is food safety culture?

What is food safety culture?

An introduction to Food Safety Culture

Food safety culture has been attracting more attention of late, however it is a topic that has always been vital for effective food safety management.

What do we actually mean by ‘food safety culture’? Well, there are some rather wordy academic definitions or more simply, you may have heard the following used to describe culture:

‘The way we do things round here, the accepted norm.’

However, culture is not just about how things are done, its really more about the attitude that both the business and individuals have towards food safety.

Should we be talking just about ‘food safety culture’? In reality, we are talking about ‘doing the right things, in the right way’. Therefore, culture becomes much broader than just food safety and encompasses product quality, integrity, health and safety, and many other business functions, however, clearly food safety should remain at the top of the list.

Why is culture significant?

Culture is a big driver of behaviour and can be one of the largest influences of whether policies and procedures are followed or undermined. The behavior of staff then reinforces that culture. New staff, who may have joined the company with a more positive culture, are often absorbed into the existing culture as affecting change can be a real challenge. So, it’s an on-going feedback loop which can be become very deeply ingrained.

The results of a recent survey by Food Manufacture on ‘what keeps factory managers awake at night’ revealed that 54% of respondents lost sleep over the fear of food safety standards being compromised to ensure production targets were met. This is not an unfamiliar reality as price pressure within the retail market increases.

Creating the right food safety culture – my top 5 tips!

There’s certainly no quick fix here and a short article won’t give all the answers! Here’s some of what I’ve learnt during my 25 years in the industry…

Set a clear and realistic expectation

By creating clear and simple SOPs, with input from those who will be using them

Clearly communicate the expectation

Through effective training, focusing on developing competency not just reading and signing off

Provide the resource and leadership structure

To support ownership and compliance. Be realistic – challenge the checks and procedures you have in place, do they add value? Encourage employees to speak up if compliance is being compromised

Measure compliance and identify opportunities for improvement

‘What gets measured gets managed’.

Develop a cross-functional audit team; it shouldn’t be just a technical role. Effective auditing is about close-outs and improvements not an ever growing list of non-conformances

Learn and share the learnings from incidents

Use effective root cause analysis to sort the issue and keep it sorted. Involve cross functional expertise, give all levels an opportunity to contribute ideas and improvements

From my experience, the critical factor is to be consistent and persistent. A changing message that ‘flexes too far’ when other pressures prevail totally undermines creditability and can take you right back to square one! There are ‘non-negotiables’ in both food safety and quality, these need to remain so.

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