Food Safety Culture - What Does It Mean?

Gerda Britz
 June 14, 2016
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Food Safety

I recently noted on a well-known company that specialises in Food Safety auditing that they added a Food Safety Culture clause in their audits. I thought that to be very interesting. As many of us experienced working in this industry, food safety often only becomes important when an audit is due or when a client comes and visits the factory. It is this kind of culture in the food industry that leads to serious incidents like we again saw very recently with a mouse making its appearance in a pie.

So what does food Safety culture mean? Let’s break it up. Food Safety which means food that is safe to consume, that will not cause any harm. And culture – the way we do things. The culture of a company defines what is right and what is wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, meaningful and meaningless.

What type of cultures do we experience? There are basic two types of cultures, role based and task based cultures. In role based cultures authority, power and resources are driven by title and individual personality. This may lead to a workforce that is largely disengaged from their work. Employees with little or no discretion in making decisions or input to the decision making process have not motivation to engage when problems arise. They have no ownership in the task performed, they are told how to do it, when to do it and what to do.

Task based cultures are more inclusive on the other hand. This type of culture focuses on problem solving and skills/talent development. A team based approach is used and respect is earned based on professionalism and expertise. Power evolves from the accomplishments of the group rather than the individuals within the group.

By its nature, culture resists change. There is not aspect in a company that is more difficult to change than the culture of the company. A company that wants to embark on this journey to change its culture needs to know that they embark on a journey; it is not something that will happen overnight. A journey that will require time, perseverance and commitment.

The first step to change is for senior management to realise that they will likely not face a more difficult challenge in the professional careers. The members of the executive team must be completely committed to the change; they must be willing to walk the talk. The next step will be to assess where we are now and where do we want to go? Complacency is widely acknowledged as the enemy of change. A sense of urgency needs to be created without also creating panic or anxiety. Often the focus of such change is production while other departments get left behind. It is important to remember this is a company culture change, and all departments needs to be involved and committed to this change. Expect failure, but more importantly learn from it and adapt. Create wins and celebrate them.

When setting out on this journey to culture change it is important to set clear specific details on where you want to go and celebrate small victories, daily.

References –
Creating a Culture of Food Safety By Geoff Schaadt, M.Sc., M.B.A. Food Safety Magazine June/July 2013.
Enhancing food safety culture to reduce rates of foodborne illness -Douglas A. Powella, Casey J. Jacoba, Benjamin J. Chapmanb, a Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA b Department of 4-H Youth Development and Family and Consumer Sciences, North Carolina State University, Campus Box 7606, Raleigh, NC 27695-7606, USA Received 2 August 2010, Revised 29 November 2010, Accepted 7 December 2010, Available online 24 December 2010
Food Safety Culture: Creating a Behavior-Based Food Safety Management System By Frank Yiannas

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