Bertrand Emond, Head of Membership and Training at Campden BRI in Gloucestershire, England explains why food safety is good business.
“Culture matters... Failure to understand culture and take it seriously can have disastrous consequences for an organisation.” Edgar H. Schein, 1999.
“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, 2009.
Ensuring for things any wrong food food safety can business. have at all devastating times It is is the number one priority non-negotiable. Getting effects not only on the business (e.g. cost of rework, recalls, handling consumer complaints, fines, reputation loss...) but also on consumers (e.g. illness, death) and society (e.g. cost to health service, cost of people being off work).
The importance of food safety culture has become increasingly recognised in the past few years, as has the role of psychology and the importance of behaviour-based approaches to effective food safety management. Companies have been interested in understanding how they can improve their food safety culture for a number of reasons:
- To be audit-ready at all times to cope with the rising number of unannounced audits
- As part of their continuous improvement
- To gain trust and support earned recognition and earned autonomy with/by their clients or authorities
- To meet new requirements from various standards (e.g. ISO22000, BRCGS Food Safety Standard Issue 8)
- To get better deals with investors and insurance brokers
There is a growing body of evidence highlighting the many benefits of having a strong food safety culture, including:
- Increased staff motivation and performance
- Increased job satisfaction and pride
- More desirable company image
- Increased ability to attract and retain talent
- Fewer mistakes and more right first time
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Increased revenue gains and growth
Food safety culture can be described as the “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behaviour toward food safety in, across and throughout an organisation”. (GFSI Food Safety Culture Position Paper, 2018). Some of these are easy to observe, such as the facilities and equipment, posters and paperwork, and the visible behaviours of staff. However, some are harder to see, such as underlying values and priorities, unspoken rules, and the way things are done when no-one is watching. This makes the clear identification and evaluation of food safety culture very challenging.
What is certain is that food safety is a shared responsibility and all employees have a role to play. Employees, irrespective of their position within a company, need to understand how their actions can have an impact (positive or negative) on food safety. A business has to ensure that all staff are doing the right thing right at all times even when under pressure or when no-one is watching! The only way to achieve this is to have and maintain a strong and mature food safety culture.
You can only improve things effectively if you can measure them. When it comes to a seemingly “fluffy” concept like culture, it can be quite challenging. The Culture Excellence model developed over the last 20 years by Taylor Shannon International (TSI) – based on psychology, organisational behaviour and safety and quality management – provides a useful and effective framework to help companies to characterise their food safety culture. It helps companies to understand all the key dimensions that they need to consider and work on to ensure that they have and maintain a strong culture; businesses can assess their level of maturity across these 20 dimensions.
There are four categories in the Culture Excellence Model: People, Process, Purpose and Proactivity. (see chart) These make up the four broad areas of safety and quality within an organisation: The People category focuses on employees at all levels and their experience at the organisation with relevance to safety and quality. It includes the frequency and impact of training and communication, the perceived level of empowerment, the effectiveness of teamwork and the perceived rewards and incentives that promote positive safety and quality behaviours.
The Process category focuses on the internal mechanisms by which the organisation manages safety and quality on a routine basis. It includes availability and satisfaction with safety and quality management systems, co-ordination of safety and quality across the organisation, consistency of practices and standards over time, and the perceptions of management control.
The Purpose category focuses on the importance and clarity given to safety and quality in the overall mission of the organisation and its translation into daily operations. It includes employee awareness and agreement with the long-term vision of the organisation, the strategic plans to achieve the vision, the dominant core values of the organisation and the impact of these in short term goals and targets.
The Proactivity category focuses on the organisation’s awareness and response to external events and stakeholders that could impact safety and quality. It includes employee perceptions of risks and priorities, awareness of external stakeholders such as suppliers and consumers, the level of change and innovation in the premises, and the effectiveness of organisational learning and continual improvement Food Standards Australia New Zealand has produced a useful poster on “What does a strong food safety culture look like?” which provides some practical examples. It can be viewed at https:// www.foodstandards.gov.au/foodsafety/culture/Documents/food- safety-culture-poster.pdf
Based on data from the Culture Excellence Programme, the following are the three most common areas that require improvement in companies.
- Reinforcement: While most companies have established reward and incentive schemes, not all are specifically linked to food safety or sufficiently transparent to be perceived as attainable by all employees. Reinforcement of positive food safety attitudes and behaviours must be consistent, clear, timely, fair and well communicated in order to be most effective.
- Training: While most companies provide food safety training for their employees, not all has a direct impact on behaviour or is perceived as enjoyable and worthwhile. It is important that training programmes are carefully designed to incorporate clear and measurable objectives, and that training methods are sufficiently dynamic, varied and practical to make a lasting impact on food safety knowledge, attitude and behaviour.
- Risk foresight: Over the past 15 years the general level of risk awareness has been seen to increase in the food industry, but the challenge of understanding how to prioritise and focus based on the significance of particular hazards still remains. In some companies, there is also a gap between the priorities of the individual and those of the company. It is important for companies to both develop, and also communicate, risk-based approaches in order to reduce the likelihood of mistakes with serious consequences. It is also beneficial to assess individual and organisational risk perception to identify potential gaps and inconsistencies.
To keep food safety top of mind and engage employees fully, senior leaders as well as food safety and technical people need to leverage the functional expertise of colleagues in other functions, including:
- Health & Safety, to pick up on tips and techniques, as they have a lot of experience in behaviour-based approaches to drive compliance.
- Marketing, to help to segment the workforce and develop targeted food safety messaging, taking into account deep culture, generations, job type, etc.
Human Resources (HR), to help with developing and managing the continuing professional development of each employee, the competency framework and the various training and learning activities required. HR usually has access to dedicated software packages and tools. HR support is also valuable when designing effective reward system to reinforce desired food safety behaviours.
Having and maintaining a strong food safety culture is critical to ensure food safety at all times and to drive positive behaviours. It is relentless and should be fully integrated in the overall continuous improvement activities. It is not just good for business, it is good business!
Bertrand Emond is Head of Membership & Training and Culture Excellence Lead at Campden BRI, the world’s largest independent provider of practical training and information support to the food, drink and allied industries. He holds a Master of Food Science & Technology and a Master of Business Administration.