Why Food Safety Culture is a Make-or-Break SQF Requirement
“What do you do when no one is looking?”
That question is at the heart of a strong food safety culture and food safety in general. As Brian Neal, Technical Manager for Eurofins, points out, the idea of keeping food safety intrinsically in mind for every action, every day, needs to be shared to be effective.
“Everyone must be aware of food safety culture. It’s a companywide behavior, and management commitment is key,” he said during a recent SQF365 Digital Seminar on the topic. “If they don’t practice what they preach, it won’t be successful in the system.”
To ensure that food safety principles and practices drive workers and leaders across every level of an organization – whether they are undergoing a third-party audit for SQF certification or just working an everyday shift – a company needs to set and then be clear about their shared food safety culture. “We talk about communication a lot and that’s because communication is the most important part of not just food safety culture but any system you have in place,” explains Neal.
Among other efforts, Neal highlights effective communication strategies and tools that can improve culture and help ensure that a company adheres to the food safety culture requirement as outlined in SQF Edition 9, Appendix 2:
Leadership by example: The adage about practicing what you preach starts at the top. For example, do managers wash their hands when they go into a room or on the floor? “We expect employees to do it, but management needs to do that, too,” says Neal. The buy-in and safety-centric behavior extends to the most senior-level executives.
Talking and seeing culture in action: Communicating the importance of a food safety culture takes many forms. “Include food safety culture in policy statements. Develop a catchy slogan that you can put in a banner when employees walk into the building or in the production areas so that they can see it and it reminds them of culture,” advises Neal. “Also, you need to keep things open. If someone has an issue, do they feel comfortable communicating those issues that are or are not getting addressed?” He recommends including food safety culture on the docket in employee meetings and in meetings among members of management to gauge and react to potential gaps in food safety, as well as food safety successes.
All-encompassing training: A formal tool of communication, food safety training should emphasize the imperative of having a holistic food safety culture. Training on food safety culture begins with new hires and should continue with existing employees at least annually. It should also cover corrective actions when it’s determined that proper food safety culture is not being followed. “We have always had training on HACCP and GMPS, but go outside that to cover food safety culture. Make sure people understand what it is and share examples of incidents they may see and how they can report it,” Neal recommends.