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What is Food Safety Culture?

For food safety to be truly embedded into an organisation, a mindset that thinks beyond compliance and believes in the value of a shared food safety culture needs to be developed.

A strong Food Safety Culture is grounded in shared values, a commitment to agreed behaviours and practices by everyone, and is driven by a focussed and dedicated leadership team. Food Safety Culture is a complex and nuanced project to be undertaken, but once established, it needs only to be maintained and sustained, growing organically with the organisation and its people.

In this blog, we will uncover:

    1. Food Safety Culture – more than just ticking boxes
    2. Why is Food Safety Culture Important?
    3. Defining Food Safety Culture through GFSI requirements
    4. Key components of Food Safety Culture

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Food Safety Culture – More Than Just Ticking Boxes

The industry approach to food safety has evolved in recent years, with food safety seen now as more about culture and less about ticking boxes as the gold standard. Though food safety can be measured in traditional ways, culture is much more instinctive and less specifically defined. The key is to translate the complexity of audits, documentation, and directions into practical strategies and measures that everyone can understand.

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A well-engrained Food Safety Culture is usually evident as soon as you enter a facility. It’s an intangible focus across the organisation on the shared values, beliefs and norms that affect the collective mindset and behaviour toward food safety.

A positive and successful Food Safety Culture depends on leadership for its direction and strength. Compliance is of course important, but an approach that is multidisciplinary and multileveled will build a resilient culture that can adapt strategically as needs change over time.

Why is Food Safety Culture Important?

A strong food safety culture is important because it focusses your organisation on achieving one of its most important goals – satisfied customers enjoying and sharing your product with family and friends, safe in the knowledge that it’s from a trusted brand.

Defining Food Safety Culture through GFSI requirements

For Food Safety Culture to be replicable and successful it of course needs to be definable in some way and this benchmark is set by the common criteria developed by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). This benchmark ensures equivalence is established across the recognized schemes and food is manufactured as safely as possible.

Highly regarded international food safety schemes that were among the first to gain GFSI recognition include:

  • BRCGS – British Retail Consortium Global Standards
  • FSSC 22000 – Food Safety System Certification
  • IFS – International Featured Standards
  • SQF – Safe Quality Food
  • HACCP – Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points

The GFSI has been the key instigator of the ‘food safety as culture’ movement, and at its most recent conference in late 2020, announced the next set of benchmarking requirements that its scheme holders must incorporate. Their recent position paper, “A Culture of Food Safety,” is worth a read by industry leaders curious to learn more on the topic.

The requirement that really shifts the focus to culture rather than compliance requires evidence to be provided of senior management’s commitment to establish, implement, maintain, and continuously improve the food safety culture management system. This will include elements of food safety culture and at a minimum consist of communication, training, feedback from employees and performance measurement on food safety related activities.

“Traditional food safety prescriptions of more training, more inspections and more testing are not enough. Making a bigger, better or stronger food safety program is not enough, we need a better food safety culture. Having a strong food safety culture is a choice.”

– Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response

Key components of Food Safety Culture

A positive Food Safety Culture is dependent on 6 key components that collectively empower employees, create the required mindset and shape the behaviour of everyone in the organisation.

  • Key Performance Indicators – focussing on KPIs that specifically impact food safety culture, such as alignment with the benchmarks and building parameters around continuous improvement for food safety culture.
  • Training – this must be conducted as part of food safety culture but also needs to be dynamic to be truly effective, such as interactive training, including feedback loops, and being offered training through different platforms.
  • Communication – ensuring that everyone’s aware when new products and processes come to light, communicating food safety decisions that arise because of nonconformance, and updating on what actions were taken.
  • Audit ready every day – having programs and policies in place that are broadly understood so that everyone takes responsibility and accountability is shared.
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  • Food safety decisions – making decisions proactively rather than being reactive. When issues occur, decisions are made with food safety at the forefront and management leads by example.
  • Employee engagement and morale – employees who are engaged in their roles are not just supporting their own function, they are truly helping others. They are providing the business feedback for improvement, and it’s being received.

Get the Latest Food Safety Culture Information

This blog forms part of a series outlining what food safety culture is, how to implement and measure it, providing evidence of your food safety culture and improving your food safety culture.

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