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Food safety culture – management need to be committed!

Posted: 7 February 2022 | | No comments yet

Technical food expert Mark Bristow outlines the steps management need to take in order to champion and maintain a strong food safety culture.

leadership

Let’s start by getting things straight: food safety in a business is everyone’s responsibility! It is not just down to the technical or quality teams, but in fact, the duty everyone must take within a company to ensure food is safe for consumption at all times. 

Food safety culture is all about how an organisation values their food safety. The values are shared by both the management and employees. An organisation with a strong positive food safety culture always demonstrates that making safe food is an important commitment to their employees and their customers. But how do you embed a strong culture of food safety where everyone knows the importance and how can you ensure you play your part in championing this ethos?

The most important steps to take when fostering a culture of food safety

There are several interdependent areas that make a successful food safety culture in any business. These include giving people clear responsibilities, great communication and training, having the right resources, as well as monitoring and reviewing to drive sustainable change and continuous improvement. 

And, of course, you need a management team that is committed to food safety. 

In a recent LinkedIn survey I conducted, responders rated management commitment as the most important element to make a food safety culture live and breathe in a business.

But what does this mean? What does it look, feel and sound like? And how do you know when you have this fundamental foundation on which the rest of your food safety culture sits?

Put simply, the management sets the direction and tone for a company’s food safety culture in ways that support, align and contribute to its overall vision and mission. They should lead by example clearly demonstrating what is expected. The need to walk the walk! If employees see management carrying out tasks related to food safety, for example making swift decisions on withdrawing products when appropriate and even adherence to hand washing polices, they will start to follow suit.

You can have the best documented food safety processes and standards in the world, but if they’re not consistently put into practice by people, they’re useless.

– Frank Yiannas, FDA, 2009 

Messaging from management must be clear and consistent in matters aligned to the food safety culture. A company’s vision, mission and strategy should show commitment to the culture along with  forms of communication both internally and externally.

I believe for a food safety culture to live, all levels management should know the performance of the business. Not just the figures, but the trends, the issues and the specific status of any actions being taken. This will enable leaders to keep the culture on track and make informed decisions about company direction and investment.

Showing meaningful commitment to food safety culture

Food safety should never be a side note at the end of a management meeting, it should be the lead item and covered in a way that is engaging for all areas of leadership. 

Here are some other ways management can show meaningful commitment to food safety:

  • Have food safety policies in place that are signed, up to date and understood
  • Develop leadership messaging to employees that highlights food safety performance
  • Reward and recognise employee performance that supports the culture
  • Demonstrate in actions as well as words
  • Engage employees on food safety and ask for feedback on areas that could be improved.

Final thoughts

Achieving a strong food safety culture in our constantly changing world requires continuous effort. It is an effort that we all need to make and most importantly management need to show and demonstrate commitment to for it to be a success!

As you think about your business, consider the following questions regarding your level of management commitment to food safety. Make sure you are set up for success as you build out the other areas that make up a strong food safety culture. 

  • How do your senior leaders engage with food safety?
  • Does your company’s vision and mission express food safety needs that are easily understood by all levels?
  • Are the actions by the management consistent with messages regardless of the situation?

About the author

Mark Bristow has worked in the food industry for over 20 years, including within fresh food manufacturing, retail, quick service restaurants, distribution and global herbs and spices supply.  He has held senior/director positions with accountability for quality and food safety, and has worked at companies such as Bakkavor, McCormick, Sainsburys, KFC, Martin Brower and Pret a Manger.

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