Food safety culture: What to do now that everyone is watching? – Food Safety News

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Opinion

By Kari Hensien 

This year has brought nothing but huge changes for the world, especially for the food industry. Shutdowns, new operational models, and re-openings at this scale are new territory for us all. Even the definition of food safety culture has changed from “what you’re doing when no one is watching” to “what you do when everyone is watching.”

Customers and employees have their eyes open wider than ever before. Employees are watching to make sure you’re not taking their safety for granted, and customers are watching closely to make sure your employees’ actions don’t ring any alarm bells for health and safety.

Even though the definition of food safety culture has expanded, that doesn’t mean the purpose of food safety culture has changed. And the purpose of creating a food safety culture plan is to reap the benefits of employee buy-in, reduced risk, increased personal responsibility and ownership of food safety and customer experience, and more.  

Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to enhance a current food safety culture plan, you may need to start with a few perspective shifts to get started. Here are five ideas to shift your plans toward the new definition of food safety culture.

  1. Include of Food Safety Culture in Your CSR Plans 

Food safety culture isn’t just part of your food safety programs, it’s also a part of your corporate social responsibility (CSR) plans. Before the pandemic, customers were already trending toward choosing companies that ensure fair wages, guarantee safe working conditions, consider the environment with sustainability practices, and more. Now that extends even further to how you’re treating and protecting your employees during a pandemic. 

The benefit of including food safety culture in CSR is the trickledown effect — if employees feel safe in their working environment, customers will feel safe visiting your locations. And no matter what crisis comes your way, showing you put customers and location employees first demonstrates good corporate citizenship.

  1. Treat Location Employees Like Assets

Location employees are your literal first line of defense when it comes to customer experience and safety. No matter how many surveys or social listening you do, these employees interact with your customers the most and can make or break an experience. It’s easy to blame location employees and see them as your weakest link, but what if you started treating them as the valuable assets they can be? 

Instead of expecting employees to follow rules “because you said so,” help them understand the purpose behind what they’re doing. This encourages them to feel more invested in your food safety programs and it gives them a sense of purpose. And when employees have a sense of purpose, they are more likely to stay at a job and try to positively contribute to the common goal. 

  1. Shift Toward Supportive Systems

In connection with treating employees like assets, think about whether your compliance system is tied to punishment or reward. A punitive system for noncompliance encourages employees to do enough to stay under the radar. Instead, if they feel safe enough to report shortcomings or issues, they may help you catch more small issues before they become big liabilities.

Ultimately, punitive systems encourage hiding problems; supportive systems encourage collaboration and trust, which leads to reduced risk and more proactive employees. 

  1. Understand that Food Safety Culture Is an Untapped Asset 

Instead of looking at food safety culture as another item in your crowded list, look at it as an asset that actively improves food safety and creates better work environments. Again, the benefits of enhancing food safety culture form a trickledown effect — when employees feel appreciated, heard, and informed, they are more likely buy into your food safety culture plans and become more proactive employees.

With any crisis, not just the current pandemic, the values and expectations you instill in your employees now can help you more easily survive a crisis. A good food safety culture plan can create an unshakable base that keeps your main operations strong, even if the surface is in constant fluctuation. 

  1. Consider Your Quality System Management Tools

Several things are coming together right now that are encouraging us in the food industry to rethink the type of tools we use to manage quality systems. 

GLOBALG.A.P. is changing audits submissions to be more tech-forward, the FDA has announced a tech-forward Food Safety New Era Blueprint, and even the COVID-19 pandemic had created a demand for a visibility that requires more tech-forward and less manual processes.

Additionally, and as a specific example, our own customers at RizePoint are trending toward conducting more self-audits at every location to get a better view of the health of their business. It’s a big influx of data that’s hard to manage with paper checklists and spreadsheets. While I don’t believe yearly or bi-yearly corporate audits will ever go away, it is clear that the food industry needs more insights faster to ensure the health of their businesses. And that’s something that only the right auditing tools and quality system software for your business can provide. 

As we all move forward in 2020, we’re moving into more territory that is upending our current processes and pushing us toward something new. But this is not necessarily a downside. It has always been clear that the future of the food industry lies in developing and adopting the right tech, it’s just happening at a much faster rate than any of us expected. Now that the first panic of the pandemic is over, it’s time to slow down and think through what we need to drop, what we need to keep, and how we need to adapt our food safety, food quality, and food safety culture plans. 

About the author: As president of RizePoint, Kari Hensien is championing a new continuous quality initiative. Since travel and interpersonal interactions have been devastated by COVID-19, it’s been challenging for businesses to obtain regular third-party audits, which are integral to access and analyze key data and ensure safety compliance across the enterprise. Kari is facilitating an increased self-assessment auditing model, resulting in more frequent audits and broader visibility.

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