By Nuno F. Soares, Ph.D.
In the first article of this series of three, we saw four of the main challenges to cultivating a positive food safety culture. Now that we understand the challenges, it is time to focus on starting the journey.
As I always say, starting a positive food safety culture journey is easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. Based on my recent experience working with businesses and talking with food safety professionals, I came up with a path to support you and your business on this journey. This journey starts by working on the mindset and only then moving onto other steps. The three steps to cultivating a positive food safety culture can be found in my recently published e-book, I’m a SLO—The Mindset and Framework to Cultivate a Positive Food Safety Culture.
The big question is, how do we motivate people to behave the way they are supposed to even when no one is looking? How can you direct people to do what they are supposed to do just because it’s the right thing to do? We need to change paradigms and give everyone a strong enough reason why to wake up every day with energy and drive and, at the end of the day, come back proudly to their families.
Back in 2019, I published the video called Become a SLO (Saving Lives Officer). In my mind, food safety professionals should change whatever they have on their business cards to the title of SLO. Most of us believe our job is to check if people are using hair nets, if they are filling out records, if they are properly washing their hands, etc. With this in mind, how can we wake up in the morning with energy and drive to face one more day? Those tasks must be done (thank you all for doing that every day), but it must be clear that these are only tools we use to achieve our highest purpose. We food safety professionals are in the business of saving human lives. We are SLOs.
Knowing why we do what we do is paramount to fulfilling the highest needs of human beings. With this SLO mindset, we help professionals and teams do what they need to do just because it is the right thing to do—even when no one is looking.
Since then, I have matured this idea, which has evolved to the need for everyone in the organizations to become a SLO. This is a job for everyone, from top management to front-line workers. To achieve this goal, I believe that we must follow four steps:
- Clearly demonstrate that “Lack of Food Safety=Disease or Death.”
- Explain that “What you do (and how you do it) matters.”
- Guarantee “Psychological safety,” which is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.
- Use a “Communication” approach and tactics adapted to each person.
Based on all available statistics, an unequivocal relationship between lack of food safety and disease or death is well-established. Remember the UN estimation: each year, 600 million people get sick after eating contaminated food (about 1 in 10 people worldwide) and 420,000 die. This makes crystal clear that when we ensure food safety, human lives are saved.
The SLO mindset comes first, and then the tools follow. What you should know right away is that there is no magic pill that can immediately change the food safety culture you already have to the positive food safety culture you would like to have. Prepare for a journey. The good thing is that you are not alone; hopefully, you will join the movement of food safety professionals who proudly say, “I’m a SLO.”
So far, again, as seen in the first article in this series, businesses are being pressured to cultivate a positive food safety culture. Now you understand that nothing can be done until you work on the organizational mindset and challenge everyone to become a SLO. Next month, in the last article of the series, we will take a look at the other two steps of the food safety culture journey: self-assessment and indicators.
Meanwhile, you can get the e-book I’m a SLO—The Mindset and Framework to Cultivate a Positive Food Safety Culture.
About the author
Nuno F. Soares, Ph.D., is the founder of “The Why of Food Safety—I’m a SLO” initiative and author of several books and articles on food safety, namely FSSC 22000 and ISO 22000:2018 Blueprint and Food Safety in the Seafood Industry (Wiley). He is an author, consultant, and trainer in food safety with more than 21 years in the food industry as a food safety/quality and plant manager. He works exclusively to help food safety professionals achieve a more fulfilled career based on improving knowledge, improving competencies, and a growing mindset.