Food Safety Culture Excellence

Looking beyond training when building a culture of Food Safety

In the recent past we have seen discussion around Food Safety Culture almost quadruple. Part of the trigger is the inclusion of Food Safety culture in the BRCGS Food Standard Issue 8 and part is the rise in awareness in the food manufacturing industry. While as an industry we might have the best processes, documentation, etc., if people working in the industry are not aligned to it, problems are bound to crop up.

Case in point is during a BRCGS Food Standard audit, workers were found to be walking around without caps. When the auditor enquired, he found that the management was providing the protective clothing. However, these few employees chose to ignore the laid-out procedures thus risking production. In this scenario, the company had laid our procedures which were well communicated to all employees (as was found later), the employees were trained on the proper usage and needs. The management had ticked out on all the parameters, yet they ended up with a non-conformance and more than that a serious risk of contamination. So, what did the company in this case do to comply – the conducted yet another training for their employees. But it’s anybody’s guess if that would have resulted in anything.

So, what should the company have done – in my opinion the management is potentially doing everything they can – but it’s limited to Training and providing the protective clothing. What the company needs to understand if there are other challenges causing these infractions.

Another challenge we see is employees wearing jewellery into the working areas. Again, as cited earlier, procedures, trainings are all done – yet these incidents bring to light the need to see if there are other reasons or not.

We at BRCGS believe that these incidents stem not from the lack of processes being present but from the lack of a food safety culture. In my current role, I tend to be traveling across the region. During one such visit I chanced to see a BRCGS certified site across the road. I called up the Operations Director of the site (who I knew from earlier interactions) who went on to state that he was on his way and would be there in half hour but encouraged me to keep myself busy with a site visit of his facility and gave me the name of his quality manager. I walked in, asked the receptionist for the quality manager, who took gave me the required protective equipment and took me around. The confidence the Operations Director had in his team, his facility kind of told me that the he was confident of the Food Safety culture he had built in the organisation. Later during my discussion with the Operations Director, my eagerness to know how they built this safety culture made me question the methodology they had taken to bring their food safety culture to this level. The Operations Director pegged it on a combination of training, empowerment and walking the talk. Anyone across the facility had a right to stop anyone in case the person was doing their job incorrectly and it was detrimental to the food safety culture.

We at BRCGS have been working with clients to understand the Food Safety Culture. While some aspects of excellence in food safety culture can be seen clearly and easily - facilities, documentation and visible behaviour, there are many aspects that are not visible and lie below the surface, - unspoken rules, accepted levels of service, values and priorities, etc. Culture is perceived as an imprecise concept and very difficult to identify. Because of this, assessing cultural strengths and weaknesses is hard to achieve. The Food Safety Culture Excellence (FSCE) assessment meets this challenge: it quantifies culture in an accurate, meaningful and easy-to-understand way. Highlighting an organisation’s strengths and weaknesses enables targeted, focused improvements that were not possible before. The FSCE assessment reveals a new set of metrics and will help to measure the return on investment of training and other employee development initiatives. The FSCE survey looks at 20 parameters to understand the food safety culture of the organisation and provides the management with a bigger picture that allows them to understand the focus areas broadly categorised under People, Process, Purpose and Proactivit

Undergoing the Food Safety Culture Module will not offer any solutions. However, it will allow the management to understand what are the underlying issues that are stopping them from developing and maintaining a culture of Food Safety. Essentially it will help in determining the strengths and weaknesses in food safety capability and provide real insight into staff opinion, attitude, and behaviour. It will also support in revealing the ‘unseen’ culture that goes beyond the day of audit by using a behaviour-based approach.

FSCE essentially enables you to shift from reacting to an incident to proactively identifying the weaknesses and working on it across People, Process, Purpose and Proactivity. This in turn helps organisations evaluate return on investment of budget and identify the most important targets for resource allocation.

FSCE is like visiting the doctor. The doctor diagnoses the problem and prescribes medicines. Similarly, FSCE is the doctor which tells you where you need to focus on. The slight difference is that the cure in this case still rests with you. While we can help you with some additional support via webinars with experts, you will need to implement them and get them going. But unlike earlier times, the medicine will be the correct one.

Benz Thomas

Regional Head - BRCGS