We asked Food Safety experts the following question regarding food safety culture, and they were kind enough to share their insights with us:

What are the key elements of a thriving food safety culture in a company?

University of Guelph

Portrait of Dr. Robert Hanner

Associate Professor,
Dr. Robert Hanner

A thriving food safety culture relies on access to information to assess risk. This applies to scanning a multitude of information resources on product recall alerts, as well as collecting verification data on one’s own supply chains. Detecting fraudulent claims of ingredient identity, purity or country of origin demonstrates a breakdown in supply chain traceability systems and if you have a traceability problem, you have a food safety risk.

NSF International

Portrait of Paul Medeiros

Managing Director, Consulting & Technical Services, North America,
Paul Medeiros

Focusing on an organization’s culture with respect to ‘food safety’ while neglecting the organization’s overall culture is as effective as creating a ‘no-pee-zone’ in a swimming pool.   The influences on employee commitment to and behaviours around food safety go beyond the direct inputs (like training) into food safety practices.  Broader company values with respect to employee engagement, operational excellence and customer focus set the loudest tone for so many aspects of how employees function day-to-day.  IE Bad organizational culture bleeds into a bad food safety culture.

Research involving public health inspectors and the factors that influence their decision making during inspections showed interesting results related to culture. One interviewee stated that during her first week on the job, a senior inspector took her under his arm and told her ‘forget everything you learned in school, here’s how we do things around here.’ It’s the “how we do things around here,” that speaks to culture – good, bad and everything in between – ‘how we do things around here’ is baked into the company’s DNA and is a great definition of culture.  This example also highlights how individuals embedded in that culture will work hard to protect this company DNA.

By refusing to limit our perspective of culture to a finite area like food safety, we will bring about MORE meaningful and LONGER term improvements in food safety AND beyond.

ERB Group

Portrait of Tom Boehler

Director of Safety and Compliance,
Tom Boehler

  • Training – keeping it simple and easy to understand for each department. The employee understands what they need to do, why it’s important and the role they play in it.
  • Constant support through communication that reinsures the importance of the program and where there the company program stands in regards to the previous audit.
  • Follow-up of any food safety issues and documenting to prevent reoccurrence. Employee participation in the Corrective Action. Employee’s feel they are contributing, which results in more employee engagement.

Food & Consumer Products of Canada

Portrait of Susan Abel

Vice President Safety and Compliance,
Susan Abel

Food Safety Culture is something that must be demonstrated consistently throughout an organization – with front office staff visibly complying with the rules. A successful culture is demonstrated by the willingness of peers in the manufacturing environment to bring forward concerns and solutions, but that only happens when it is clear that all staff understand the importance of consumer protection and their brand integrity that food safety programs provide. No exceptions – not even the visiting marketers or sales staff, visiting dignitaries – all have to abide by the rules.

Bento Sushi

Portrait of Kitty Pat

Quality Assurance & Sustainability Specialist,
Kitty Pat

  • Effective Communication – to shared information regularly between management and employees,
  • Management Visibility – Management needs to ‘walk the talk’ and lead by example as employees look up to them as role models,
  • Engagement – allow individuals to the contribute to food safety strategy and have their voices heard and,
  • Accountability – employees are held accountable for meeting food safety expectations.

Strawberry Hill Farm

Portrait of Tim Livingston

Tim Livingston

A thriving food safety culture starts with a strong core mandate and is followed up with good management and a consumer focus.  I honestly think this is where smaller local companies have a competing edge over large multi-national public corporations where shareholder interests can easily take priority.   There is a risk to companies at all sizes making it necessary to focus on continuing education and constant improvement at all levels of production.  A thriving food safety culture relies on these core values.

Costco Wholesale Canada

Portrait of Marcelle Lavergne

Director of Food Safety and Quality Assurance,
Marcelle Lavergne

It starts at the top with senior management and involves active participation by everyone. Management have to walk the talk. They should include food safety in meetings and ensure they provide the resources needed. They should walk through the production areas and engage with employees directly so that they understand the importance of food safety. It should become part of everything they do. It includes a culture of ongoing communication and continuous improvement.

Piller’s Fine Foods

Portrait of Angela Bernoski

Director of Quality Assurance and Food Safety,
Angela Bernoski

It has to start at the top with senior management.  Without their commitment to Food Safety, it’s almost impossible to implement it on the plant floor.  They must not just sign a commitment letter but ‘Walk the Talk”.  When in the production environment they need to follow ALL the rules, not pick and choose or have special treatment. If hands are to be washed, they need to wash their hands.  If boots need to be washed, they need to wash their boots.  Employees are watching and they will follow the example set by senior management, either good or bad behavior. Behavior and integrity are the key elements of a thriving food safety culture.  Integrity to do the right thing, even when no one is watching, even when it means loosing time, and money.  No exceptions.

Canadian Organic Trade Association

Portrait of Tia Loftsgard

Executive Director,
Tia Loftsgard

It is important to put good processes in place and have the appropriate auditing regimens to ensure they are followed.

Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)

Portrait of Christine Summers

Director of Food Safety and Quality Assurance, Costco and Associate,
Christine Summers

Ownership of food safety at all levels.  The level of management commitment and the involvement of all employees is crucial.   There also needs to be a high level of communication across the organization and the freedom for employees to challenge or question procedures.  Food safety is something an organization must prioritize and this should be evident in the overall attitude of the employees every day.

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