These days you can hardly scroll through LinkedIn, a food industry website, or an industry publication without a mention or reference to Food Safety Culture. For years, Food Safety Culture has been embedded into GFSI elements such as management commitment and continuous improvement, so why the focus on Food Safety Culture now?
New EU Regulations around Food Safety Culture passed in March 2021, GFSI adopted Food Safety Culture requirements for Version 2020, and the FDA New Era of Food Safety Blueprint collectively brought new focus around the quest for the ideal Food Safety Culture. Many are working to understand the factors that affect food safety behaviors, creating food safety assessments, and developing guides to support companies on this quest. These tools have scientifically validated methods and approaches that typically start with support from top leaders to ensure commitment throughout the organization.
While top support is critical, the top-down approach can be a bit like navigating an aircraft carrier. No quick turns. Everyone is on board. That’s why strategic plans for food safety usually are a 3-5 year plan with results seen 7-10 years out. That is a great long game plan, yet we also need a short game plan to make a difference sooner. There are steps that can be taken right now to drive Food Safety Culture, and it starts with improving the well-being of the Food Safety & Quality (FSQ) Team.
Here are three ways to take care of your FSQ Team and make significant strides on how the food safety function is perceived in your organization:
- Leverage your FSQ team’s unique skills. Your FSQ team members bring unique skills and knowledge to create, implement, perform, and audit food safety processes and programs. Companies pay for these skills and knowledge, yet some companies may not empower the FSQ team to fill this expert decision-making role. Start by inviting FSQ to the table and giving true consideration to their ideas and recommendations. These simple acts show the FSQ Team they are valued. If there’s a concern around passing decision making authority to the FSQ team, explore why together. When it comes to empowering team members to make decisions, simply turning over that power, without coaching and alignment, is irresponsible. Work together for alignment and understanding, then let everyone do their role.
- Perform a workload analysis. Would you run a line at 200% capacity without any preventive maintenance? Not if you wanted that equipment to function over the long haul! The same applies to people. Overwhelm isn’t unique to FSQ teams yet this creates a domino effect on how FSQ teams function and are perceived. A simple workload analysis uses data to understand an individual team member’s workload capacity. More than once my own FSQ Teams and clients have had breakthrough moments when they see these results on paper. No matter the outcome, now there is data to provide a new perspective around workload.
- Provide the right tools & support. Operating a food company takes a lot of cash for facilities, equipment, materials, etc. It’s not uncommon for those costs to be monstrous, requiring a large portion of capital for a fiscal year. The FSQ Team understands these costs exist. When we look at tools and support to improve food safety, the costs of software, measurement tools, coaching, etc. are often a fraction compared to production, yet it can be tough to get funds. Here’s something to consider: does it make sense to rate food safety tools on the standard capital expense criteria such as ROI? Only individual companies can answer that question; however, consider the possibility that preventive tools for food safety should not play on the same field as the standard capital expense decision making criteria and process.
The dreamy Food Safety Culture state where the inherent beliefs and behaviors that drive food safety are second nature to all team members is within reach. To reach that dream state, long term plans have a critical role in the journey to have systems, people, and processes aligned within the organization. However, these three simple steps to take care of your FSQ Team will help improve the perception of food safety within the organization and really show that people are your greatest assets.
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