What Is a Food Safety Culture and How Do I Create One?
By iFoodDS Team
October 22, 2021
Many key players in the agricultural industry, including the FDA, are working to make food safety culture an integral part of every company. However, it can be difficult to describe what this is. In the FDA’s New Era for Smarter Food Safety blueprint, the agency defines ‘Food Safety Culture’ as:
A “combination of individual and group behavioral patterns, values, attitudes and competencies that all work in harmony to drive corporate responsibility and commitment to fresh fruit and vegetable safety.”
In other words, a food safety culture is your organization’s collective beliefs and knowledge about food safety. Having a strong food safety culture means that all your employees share a common knowledge of food safety issues and best practices. Every member of your team contributes to your mission to provide safe food for your consumers, and an outside observer can see this in the actions your team takes. In essence, food safety is integrated into everything you do on a daily basis.
Why Is It Important to Have a Food Safety Culture in Your Organization?
Educating every employee on these issues and best practices may sound like a daunting task. However, it’s an important component of your organization’s success. There are several important reasons to create a food safety culture:
- Make sure everyone in your organization is complying with industry regulations and standards
- Avoid penalties such as civil lawsuits and fines
- Be ready for an audit at any time
- Protect consumer health by ensuring you’re providing safe food
- Protect your reputation and build your brand
How to Create a Strong Food Safety Culture
While the FDA is working to shift our food safety mindset, it is up to everyone across the produce supply chain to make it a part of their culture. Dr. Bob Whitaker, former Chief Science and Technology Officer, Produce Marketing Association, gave an insightful presentation about making our own destiny when it comes to food safety. He brought up some interesting challenges that many of you probably face when it comes to embracing a food safety culture:
- Detailed, real-time data is a newer concept
- Widespread adoption of a food safety culture requires a big shift in mindset
- Technology is perceived by some organizations as a barrier rather than something to be embraced
Here are some ways you can overcome these challenges and build up your food safety culture.
Start Gathering Data and Storing it for Benchmarking
Dr. Whitaker cited a lack of historical data for benchmarking as a major obstacle to creating a food safety culture. Without this data on your current food safety program, it’s tough to get buy-in from the rest of your organization on a new food safety culture. You need to prove the benefits by monitoring trends, noticing potential issues, and ultimately making your processes more effective.
If your organization hasn’t been gathering the right data before, it’s easier than ever to start. Advances in technology for the food industry allow you to collect and store data across your operation. Some tools enable you to record information in real time, from wherever you are.
iFoodDS offers easy-to-use software for food safety data collection.
Once You’ve Collected Enough Data, Leverage It
When issues occur, use the data you’ve been collecting to identify what happened and why (root cause analysis). Could it happen again if you don’t change your processes? Would more testing or new kinds of testing help? Use the data to learn from your mistakes.
Keep in mind that internal data can be extremely beneficial for department and company learnings. However, external data can help you to identify bigger trends when it’s shared among peers. A food safety culture is more powerful if it’s adopted by all your supply chain partners. It can set you apart from other companies who don’t make it a priority.
Think of Food Safety as a Competitive Edge Rather Than a Cost
A major mindset shift needs to take place throughout your organization before you can implement a food safety culture. Think of your food safety program as a competitive edge and stop thinking solely in terms of cost.
Use the data you collect to not only mitigate damage, but also stand out from your competition. You can do this by sharing your valuable food safety information with your supply chain partners to gain trust and add value to your product, ultimately strengthening your brand. You can even use your food safety practices as a marketing tool by sharing with buyers and consumers what you do to keep their food safe.
Prioritize Hazard Analysis and Risk Assessment Rather Than Leaning on Audits
Dr. Whitaker emphasized that a food safety culture is not a checklist, but rather a commitment to safety. Currently, most organizations are focused on compliance with industry regulations. This is understandable given that you must be prepared for an audit at any time, and audits are typically based on compliance rather than root cause analysis. However, what if you took a more proactive approach? Detection tools exist, but what if you could prevent issues from happening before there was anything to detect? Start using hazard analysis and risk assessment to go above and beyond compliance.
Consider utilizing predictive modeling to do this at scale. A digital environmental monitoring solution can help you predict where issues may happen, giving you the tools and information to prevent them from ever taking place.
For example, the EnABLe model from iFoodDS maps how Listeria could move through a facility, allowing for more targeted environmental monitoring and improved risk management. When combined with the right software tools and mapping, companies can achieve real-time visibility into their monitoring effectiveness.
Dr. Whitaker noted that technology is revolutionizing produce safety. He recommended not only educating current employees, but also searching for new talent trained in technology. We are coming to a point where it’s simply not feasible to keep collecting your food safety data on paper. If you want to get everyone in your organization on board with a food safety culture, you will need to give employees the tools to implement best practices anytime, anywhere.
Imagine if every team member was able to instantly log an issue and the corrective action that was taken, right from a mobile device. Technology is the future of food safety. It’s also an effective way to implement your food safety culture across your operations.
While there will be barriers to implementing new technology, these can be overcome by getting buy-in from key decision makers in your organization. In many cases, the benefits of technology solutions outweigh the price of a new system. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis to see whether this is the right investment for your company.
Ready to Start Building Your Food Safety Culture?
Although there are many obstacles to creating a food safety culture, you can make the task manageable by breaking it down into these five steps:
- Define what a food safety culture looks like for your organization.
- Decide what tools you need to support your new culture.
- Create a plan to implement the culture and get buy-in from key decision makers.
- Start executing your plan across departments.
- Periodically assess and improve your culture.
Take into account the strategies outlined above as you’re creating your plan. Data will be critical to success, and without technology, your data will be less reliable and accessible.
iFoodDS provides food safety software that can help you start collecting the data you need. We tailor your software solution to your operations and provide comprehensive support to make the transition easy. Learn more by requesting a free demo.