Culture, not technology, is the driver of food safety

15 August, 2018
A recent survey provides evidence that food producers’ systems are failing to ensure food safety. Is your food safety culture fit for purpose?

The what, why and how of a food safety culture

Most food manufacturers and processors have tremendous food safety programmes and systems in place. These ‘hard’ measures should enable an organisation to maintain the highest standards of food safety. Yet, according to the Food Safety Survey 2018 (conducted by the food and drink industry news website foodmanufacture.co.uk), even the most technically advanced food safety programmes are failing to achieve their potential because organisations lack a food safety culture. Highlights from the survey show that:

  • More than two-thirds of respondents feel that food fraud is a growing problem in the UK
  • More than a third say that food safety is sometimes compromised to ensure production targets and schedules are met

In this article, we discuss why a food safety culture and not technology drives food safety performance, and what an effective food safety culture looks like.

 

Food safety scandals damage the UK food industry

The UK food industry works to high levels of food safety and hygiene, but this hasn’t stopped things going wrong. And when they do, it can have a devastating effect – not only on the offending organisation, but on the whole industry too. Examples include:

  • Contaminated meat that caused an E. coli outbreak in Wales in 2005, leaving hundreds ill and one five-year-old boy dead
  • Salmonella infected chocolate in 2006
  • The horsemeat scandal in 2013

The last in the list above should be particularly worrying. It is evidence that supply chain traceability systems were not as good as most thought them to be – yet the Food Safety Survey 2018 has found that 81.1% believe their traceability systems are fit for purpose.

This list, of course, highlights just a few of the highest-profile examples of food safety programmes failing their objectives. There are numerous smaller examples. But if food safety systems and programmes (the hard systems) are sophisticated, robust, and fit for purpose, why does the food industry still suffer these high-profile lapses in food safety?

 

Hard food safety systems need the right culture to perform

An organisation’s culture determines how its people behave and act, and their attitude. It is attitude that determines how successful you are.

Food safety systems perform to their full potential only if they benefit from the right attitude and culture needed to guide them. It follows that an organisation must embed a positive food safety culture if it wants its food safety technology to do the job for which it has been developed.

 

What does a food safety culture look like?

The recently published position paper titled ‘A Culture of Food Safety’, authored by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), sets out the key components of food safety culture. The result of 18 months of work by a panel of carefully selected professionals from different sectors of the food industry, academia, and service providers from around the world, the paper discusses:

  • The essential role of leaders and managers
  • Why effective communication is essential to promoting and advancing a food safety culture
  • How learned skills such as adaptability and awareness enable safe food practices to live in ‘real time’

The paper also sets out the five dimensions that determine an organisation’s food safety culture. These are:

1.    Vision and mission

This is the reason an organisation exists. It is built upon values and beliefs, and sets the tone for how things are done, what is expected of people, and how the organisation is led.

2.    People

An organisation’s people are the most critical components of its food safety culture. Shaping people in their culture is a continual process, founded on vision and mission, enabled by good governance, and guided by effective leadership that encourages learning.

3.    Consistency

Consistency is achieved when an organisation aligns food safety as a priority for its people, process, practices, technology, and other resources. All work in harmony to reinforce a food safety culture.

4.    Adaptability

Adaptability is the organisation’s ability to change, so as to remain food safety conscious while evolving to new market conditions as needed.

5.    Hazards and risk awareness

This is predicated on the broader organisational culture creating the sense of recognising, reporting, and solving risks and hazards across all functional silos.

It is important for organisations to remain current and provide information and education to their employees, while ensuring they are engaged in food safety as a key responsibility of all, at all times.

 

The big picture for a food safety culture

All food manufacturers have a need for their customers to enjoy their products, safe in the knowledge that they are eating or drinking a safe product that has been manufactured to the highest standard. The understanding and execution of food safety by employees of food manufacturers is paramount to this. It has a direct impact on the business, its customers and consumers.

This is a need that can only be met with a positive shift to a food safety culture. Creating this shift and providing a mechanism to make it stick was a challenge that Allied Bakeries set The Big Picture People.

 

How The Big Picture People helped Allied Bakeries engage their employees in food safety

Working with the Allied Bakeries Operations team, The Big Picture People developed the narrative behind the story that the company wanted to tell their employees. This story moved employees through:

  • Understanding Allied Bakeries’ site standards
  • Pre-production
  • Production
  • Post-production
  • Making it happen

We created a suite of materials to enable line managers to explore the Allied Bakeries narrative with their employees, delivered with interactive elements that included games, quizzes, and discussion points. All these materials were based around the ‘Site Standards Learning Map’, the learning map we developed specifically for this project.

With the Site Standards Learning Map rolled out across all of Allied Bakeries’ operational sites in the UK, high levels of employee engagement were reported.

 

Creating a food safety culture

This new engagement was evidenced further, as operational teams began to build on the core messages from the learning map to create ongoing hooks for communicating Site Standards initiatives and KPIs to front-line teams.

In addition, as part of their induction training, all new employees were put through the Site Standards Learning Map as part of their induction.

As Nick Law, Operations Director at Allied Bakeries commented:

“The Site Standards Learning Map shows our manufacturing process and provides the context of why Site Standards matter. It has helped our teams understand our Site Standards in relation to food safety, legality and quality and the important role we all play in helping to deliver them.”

This is just one way to support the development of a food safety culture. By focusing on values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, we can help the hard systems and technology of food safety to perform as they should.

Our Big Picture People approach has successfully engaged employees across a wide range of “technical” themes that are typically communicated in a top-down, compliance-driven way (such as health and safety and regulatory compliance). We believe that these usually dry areas can be made more interesting and, in some cases, fun, by adding creativity with elements such as gamification and competition, increasing the engagement of participants.

Get in touch with The Big Picture People today, to find out how our Learning Map approach can reinvigorate your induction process, and onboard your new starters faster by better explaining organisational culture.

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