From new regulations and laws to technical and scientific developments, the food and beverage industry is an ever-changing and evolving sector making it a challenge for many F&B manufacturers to stay up-to-date and compliant. New standards, criteria, regulations, and laws are regularly being added to the F&B industry. One example is GFSI’s edition of Food Safety Culture. Although Food Safety Culture has been an implied part of standards that govern food safety for many years, it has not been explicitly called out until GFSI officially ratified the criteria in 2020.
What is Food Safety Culture?
GFSI defines it as “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behavior toward food safety across an organization.” This concept can be challenging to understand and even more challenging to implement. For some, it has been difficult to create a food safety culture within their organization. In many cases, companies establish compliance with the food safety standard but fail to instill a food safety culture within the organization. So, although the general requirements of the standard are being met, the underlying culture related to the standard has not been established and implemented.
Three components are necessary for establishing an effective food safety culture: Strategic Planning, the business management system, and employees. And it all starts with Strategic Planning.
A major aspect of fostering a specific culture within a company is found in strategic planning. Strategic planning is intended to define a company’s identity, set the direction for the company, and get people working towards that common goal…in other words, you are creating a culture. Harvard Business Review (January–February 2018), in their spotlight series The Culture Factor states it this way, “Strategy offers a formal logic for the company’s goals and orients people around them. Culture expresses goals through values and beliefs and guides activity through shared assumptions and group norms.”
The Driving Force Behind Your Culture
Vision and mission set the direction, and values are the driving force behind establishing beliefs and norms. Your company values become important in creating a culture of food safety. Employees will be watching to see if you really believe in your values or if they are just another buzzword. Every practice, program, or decision should be evaluated against the values. If you don’t stick to your values, neither are your employees, and will struggle to create those “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behavior toward food safety”. Strategic planning sets the groundwork for a food safety culture and establishes the why of food safety.
Your business management system is another key aspect in facilitating an effective Food Safety Culture. The food safety management system must be an intricate part of the company’s business management systems and receive the same support, resources, and attention as any other business management system, such as employee safety, sales, procurement, etc. If the food safety management system is not elevated to the same level as other business management systems, you’re sending a message to employees that it is not important.
The food safety management system outlines the practices and programs necessary for food safety and defines the how of achieving food safety. If food safety management is not included in every aspect of the business, Food Safety Culture will suffer. When food safety systems are integrated into every aspect of the business Food Safety Culture thrives.
The final key aspect of Food Safety Culture is engaged employees. Food Safety Culture must permeate the entire organization from the top down. In industry, there is a lot of talk about empowered employees, and empowered employees are important, but to have an effective Food Safety Culture you need engaged employees. Employee engagement comes through an intentional process: employee ownership of a process, which empowers the employee, who then becomes engaged because they now have a vested interest in the outcome. It is important to include every level of the operation, from upper management all the way through the organization to janitors. Engaged employees provide the who of food safety.
Strategic Planning provides the why of food safety, the food safety management systems provide the how of food safety, and engaged employees provide the who of food safety, resulting in an effective food safety culture that happens on a day-in and day-out basis.
This is where Food Safety and Quality Consultants (FSQC) come in. FSQC leverages its 45 years of F&B industry experience and expertise to provide clients with practical solutions for creating and implementing effective Food Safety Culture Plans. FSQC’s approach is simple. They begin by helping the client create a definition of Food Safety Culture for their specific operation. FSQC then uses that definition to benchmark the client’s current state of Food Safety Culture across the organization. Once a benchmark is established, FSQC aids the client in creating and implementing a Food Safety Culture Plan that is specifically tailored to that particular company.
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Having a Food Safety Culture Plan that is tailored to your organization is important because Food Safety Culture doesn’t look the same for everyone. A Food Safety Culture Plan may be different for a Fortune 500 corporation than a mom-and-pop company. Although the methods may vary from company to company, the intent is to achieve the same end result…safe food. FSQC helps its clients build a Food Safety Culture Plan that is relevant, understandable, and manageable to that particular company. Our greatest value and goal is to see each of our clients succeed because your success is our success.