Food Safety - What has culture got to do with it?

BY Mtho Moyo

Being a Quality/Food safety Manager is not an easy task - “You are doomed if you do, You are damned if you do not!”


Who really runs the Food Safety show?

Every food organisation strives to produce safe food willingly or under duress nowadays. As with everything else challenges are abound.You have the Food Safety Team documenting award winning Food safety procedures and work instructions, on the other hand you have production doing….. aah well PRODUCTION. So then one wonders are these two are ever going to be Pals. Are compliant documents enough for the Auditor? Perhaps the Auditor will see our nice, clean well maintained Plant which we shall paint, clean and sign it to death and be jolly satisfied? We could do our thing throughout the year and prepare for the audit three weeks from the audit, after all we do it all the time and we always pass those audits with flying colours. This approach might work 20% of the time but why give that man Murphy a bells?


What is Food Safety Culture?

A more technical definition by the Health and Safety Commission (1993) states, ‘‘The safety culture of an organization is the product of the individual and group values, attitudes, competencies and patterns of behavior that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organization’s health and safety programs. Organizations with a positive safety culture are characterized by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety, and by confidence in the efficacy of preventative measures.’’ This definition illustrates a food safety culture is made up of individual and group thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. Each employee or person within an organization has a personal responsibility for preparing or serving safe food. It also illustrates that food safety is interdependent. All employees within the whole of the organization or company have a shared responsibility to ensure food safety. And the sum of food safety efforts within an organization is critically dependent on and greater than its parts. Simply put, a food safety culture is how an organization or group does food safety.


Why Is Culture Important?

With the space age we are now living in, information is flowing everywhere - even to those that don’t need it if you ask me! So we see in social media, newspapers, news you name it, scary food safety stories that could stop you from eating cucumbers from Spain or get you worried about powder milk from China. Do you recall what the underlying root cause was? Was it reported that the accident was due to faulty design? Was it attributed to operator error? Do you recall if improper training was implicated?

As the cause?


Who Creates Culture?

In an organization or social group, food safety is a shared responsibility. There is no question about it. But when it comes to creating, strengthening, or sustaining a culture within an organization, there is one group of individuals who really own it – they’re the leaders. The strength of an organization’s food safety culture is a direct reflection of how important food safety is to its leadership. A food safety culture starts at the top and flows downward. It is not created from the bottom up. If an organization’s Food safety culture is less than acceptable, it’s the leaders who are ultimately responsible and who own it.


How Is Culture Created?

Having a strong food safety culture is a choice. Ideally, the leaders of an organization will proactively choose to have a strong food safety culture because it’s the right thing to do. Safety is a firm value of the organization. Notice the word “value” versus priority.’’ Priorities can change; values should not (Geller, 2005). The organization chooses to have a strong food safety culture, because it values the safety of its customers and employees. The leaders of the organization have vision and foresight, knowing that having a strong food safety culture is important and that it directly and indirectly benefits the business. Although less desirable, for other organizations or groups, establishing a strong food safety culture might be driven out of necessity. Their focus on improving their food safety culture is reactionary. It’s driven by a significant or major event. They’ve experienced a food borne illness outbreak, high profile media expose, or an important regulatory issue. They’re reacting to pressure. Regardless of whether it’s based on a proactive vision or a reactive event, creating a strong food safety culture does not happen by chance.


How can we influence a Food safety culture?


Practices and Programs

  • Operational Integration
  • Motivational Program
  • Behavioral Observation & Feedback
  • Food Safety Committees
  • Case Management
  • Food Safety Survey/Risk Assessment

Management Visibility

  • Emphasize as a Company Value
  • Discuss Food Safety at Employee Meetings
  • Participate in Food Safety Committees
  • Do Frequent “Management by walking around (MBWA)”
  • Ensure Adequate Resources
  • Ensure Employee Training
  • Create Trusting Relationships
  • Suspend Unsafe Activities


Front Line Supervisor Responsibilities

  • Encourage Safe/Discourage Unsafe Behaviors
  • Conduct hazard analysis
  • Train Employees
  • Conduct Documented Food Safety Inspections
  • Investigate Incidents & Near Misses

Employee Involvement

  • Safety Performance Objectives
  • Recognition of Superior Safety Performance
  • Progressive Discipline for Unsafe Practices


    “Some people feel the rain, others just get wet”- Bob Marley

 March 31, 2014
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Food Safety
Mtho Moyo

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