The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) introduced the idea of a food safety culture in version 7 of its benchmarking requirements, catapulting this concept into the spotlight, since the GFSI is the motor behind a wide range of certification schemes, from IFS and BRC to FSSC 22000 and beyond.
Understanding how to approach food safety culture in order to ensure compliance and stay in sync with industry trends and customer expectations means understanding 3 basic questions:
- Why food safety culture?
- What exactly is food safety culture?
- How can organizations implement it effectively?
Why food safety culture?
The Global Food Safety Initiative, an entity whose purpose is to harmonize global approaches to food safety, added the concept in a recent version of its benchmarking requirements. The result was its immediate integration into the standards of recognized certification schemes such as BRC v8, IFS Food v7 and others. Companies seeking certification, whether for the first time or as a recertification candidate, are therefore required to address this new topic.
In fact, many organizations have realized that investment in food safety training, system implementation and auditing are not sufficient to ensure the desired levels of food safety; in other words, something was still missing. This ‘something’ is a thorough assessment of their food safety culture!
What exactly is food safety culture?
To synthesize the definition of food safety culture given by the GFSI and certification organizations, we can say that it is a combination of shared values, behaviors and/or beliefs about the importance of product safety which are prevalent across and throughout an organization.
The GFSI defines the concept in terms of 5 dimensions:
- Vision and mission: a company’s business structure, as well as values and purpose, leadership, direction setting, expectations, and messaging
- People: communication, becoming a learning organization, setting appropriate incentives and rewards
- Consistency: achieved through documentation, accountability for objectives, performance measurement
- Adaptability: change and crisis management, problem solving and overall agility
- Hazards and risks awareness: hazard information and education, employee engagement and procedures for verification of risk awareness
In short, food safety culture combines the tangible aspects of food safety management systems (premises, equipment, documentation, etc.) with the intangibles (communication, training, rewards, and values and unspoken rules).
How can companies effectively implement what’s needed for a strong food safety culture?
The emphasis here is on the essential role of leaders and managers throughout the organization. Regular communication, education, metrics, teamwork and personal accountability are vital. In addition, learned skills, including adaptability and hazard awareness, can move important safe food practices beyond a theoretical conversation to live in “real time.” A successful implementation can be accomplished following two basic steps:
Step 1: Assessment of status quo
Assessing your current level of integration when it comes to food safety culture can be achieved through a questionnaire, a SWOT analysis or other diagnostic. The goal would be to answer questions such as:
- What are your organization’s main values?
- Are they strongly supported and communicated by the top management?
- What is the level of understanding of food safety regulation and concepts throughout the company?
Step 2: Create and implement an action plan
Based on the assessment results, the organization creates and implements a detailed action plan. The plan might include features such as:
- Management commitment to a consistent food safety policy, with food safety objectives for each process
- A slogan supported by the management that mobilizes energy around food safety
- Food safety events (meetings, trainings, workshops, etc.) intended to strengthen internal communication about the topic
- A lasting process for continuous improvement, possibly through management reviews
The details of both the assessment and plan as well as implementation steps will vary from organization to organization. While the overall goal is the same, there is no cookie-cutter solution to establishing an effective food safety culture. Working with experts in the field familiar with the concept and industry requirements, such as our DEKRA specialists, is a smart, cost-effective way to ensure your organization incorporates a robust food safety culture.