Following the success of the Food Safety Innovation Conference 2023, Denis Treacy, a key speaker at the event, recently joined Klipspringer Director, Alex Carlyon, and former GFSI Board Member, John Carter, for an engaging webinar on Effective Food Safety Management. The Webinar also explored the four energies needed to secure predictable and repeatable results. As the former Chief Officer for Safety and Quality at Pladis Global and the founder of Culture Compass, Denis had plenty of valuable insights to share. Together, with Alex and John, he established a clear road map towards Zero Defect Food Safety.

You can scroll down to read our key takeaways from this webinar. Alternatively, you can navigate the menu below to skip straight to the section most relevant to your needs… 

Is there such a thing as Zero Defect Food Safety?

The Four Energies of Repeatable and Predictable Outcomes

The importance of Functional Equity

Webinar Q&A

Is there such a thing as Zero Defect Food Safety?

First, you need to think about whether it is possible for your organisation to avoid failure entirely. Could it be set up in a way that guarantees Zero Defect Food Safety, and if so, what is the route map to this destination? You also need to consider the potential hurdles, frustrations, and opportunities that lie ahead. This will help you to establish a clear plan for the future.

Another helpful exercise is to answer the following questions, something that Denis did himself in the first portion of the webinar:

Q. What is the primary purpose of any food business?

A. To make money. If you misunderstand this primary concept, you could be misunderstanding your entire business. To secure success, your organisation needs to drive profit.

Q. Who are your key internal and external stakeholders?

A. This could be anything from your NPD team’s determination to launch a new product to your leadership team’s commitment to optimising financial delivery. To secure Zero Defect Food Safety, you need to understand the agendas, influences, and responsibilities of all the different people and departments operating within your organisation.

The Four Energies of Repeatable and Predictable Outcomes 

Denis believes the best way to achieve Zero Defect Food Safety is to ensure the perfect balance of The Four Energies of Repeatable and Predictable Outcomes. These energies are:

  1. Strategy
  2. Performance
  3. Organisation
  4. Culture

If you focus on just one or two of these areas, there is a chance that you will never achieve your goal, never get started, or will be fooled into thinking you have reached your target long before you have. However, once you recognise the equal importance of all four energies, you can establish a route map towards success.

1) Strategy

Here, you need to think about who or what is setting the agenda for your business. This is likely your Senior Leadership Team, as they will have control over investment, risk, and future-planning. Whether it’s selecting the retailers you are going to supply or the accreditation standard you are going to work to, these decisions will have a significant impact on the running of your site.

Although you won’t be able to change these agendas, you can certainly influence them. To do this, you will need to:

  • Ensure someone who values hygiene, health and safety, and food safety has a voice at a strategic level. If this isn’t the case, your business could be at risk of cross contamination, customer complaints, and serious downtime.
  • Embrace a positive mindset. You shouldn’t be stifling the creativity and ambition of your New Product Development Team. Instead, you should be helping them to safely navigate obstacles.
  • Highlight the importance of Hygienic Design. Instead of waiting for subpar equipment to be introduced to your site, you should get involved in the manufacturing process – identifying any issues or opportunities while there is still time to make changes.

2) Performance

When measuring the performance of your business, targeting failure will fuel a negative culture that is destined to eventually fail itself. There is nothing wrong with measuring consumer complaints, non-conformities, and product recalls, but you should never target them as objectives. Doing so will cast a shadow instead of shining a light – encouraging operatives to hide their mistakes instead of being open and honest.

In an ideal world, the testing at your site should be confirming what you already know – demonstrating your factory’s cleanliness and your team’s ability to operate at a Gold Standard Level. You can then encourage your team to make positive changes, enhancing an already excellent process to secure ever-improving results.

3) Organisation

To move your organisation in the right direction, it is essential that you are interacting with people who are able to embrace your vision – understanding both the opportunities and risks involved. This is especially important if your business operates on a global scale, as the responses may vary with every culture. Training and supervision will help with this, as will speaking from a place of credibility.

Another important step is to evaluate your Crisis Management Process. What is the current Communication Structure at your site? What does your escalation process look like? How confident are your operatives in raising issues – shutting down compromised lines and areas? Crisis Management should be a daily activity and should be normalised at every level.

4) Culture

“Good businesses have a great strategy.

Great businesses add a great culture.”

Martin Glenn, former CEO of the Iglo Group, PepsiCo, and Walkers Snack Foods

The culture at your organisation is formed by:

  • Leadership and behaviours
  • Internal relationships
  • Business and personal values
  • Positive motivation

Your efforts to nurture a positive culture need to be continuous. Say one week you encourage your operatives to wear the correct PPE, but the next week you neglect to reinforce this message, you’re not growing a culture, you are just reacting at random.

Don’t wait for something to go wrong. A lot of businesses only react if they receive a customer complaint, have to carry out a product recall, or fail an audit. Establishing a positive culture at your site will ensure that even if none of these incidents occur, your site is continuously striving to do better than the day before.

Encourage a culture of curiosity. Instead of approaching an issue with judgement and defensiveness, try to embrace a curious approach. View any incidents as an opportunity to learn about your processes and to find out what your site could be doing better.

GOYA. You need to be proactive. Investigate, observe, react, and report. The culture at your site should encourage everyone to be active participants in food safety management.

The Dupont Bradley Curve suggests there are four different states of internal culture.

A lot of sites operate at a reactive level, but to achieve Zero Defect Food Safety, you should be working towards an Interdependent State.

Reactive: In a reactive culture, your operatives are acting off their natural instincts.

Dependent: In a supervised culture, your operatives do whatever they are told. They are motivated by the directions they are given and the feedback they receive.

Independent: In an independent culture, certain pockets of people are doing the right thing regardless of whether or not they are being supervised. Even without audits and inspections, high standards become their personal responsibility. At this point, a factory can aim for Zero Defect Food Safety.

Interdependent: In this culture, everybody on site does the right thing and encourages their colleagues to do the same. At this point, Zero Defect Food Safety  becomes a choice – operatives will only be at risk if they choose to be.

The importance of Functional Equity

You need to choose your language or risk losing your audience. You will never be able to influence your organisation by talking about the consequences of failure. Instead of focusing on the negatives, switch your attention to the positive opportunities that lie ahead and what your business could achieve if everyone worked together to reach a collective goal.

Q&A

What is the most important action I can take to improve the part of the culture that encourages being curious when we find failure (rather that judging others), especially when some colleagues are busy spinning on the spot?

It is difficult to determine a single action without understanding the specific challenges within an organisation. I would start with questions such as: Who are the stakeholders? What does the internal business culture promote? However, some initial advice would be to implement a Continuous Improvement Process linked to a HSE style, near miss reporting strategy. This will encourage everyone at your site to look for, identify, and report anything that could reduce efficiency, increase risk, or promote the ‘papering over’ of issues. 

Do you have any advice on implementing these strategies into a work force that has 80% different nationalities? The language barriers in my workplace makes training so much harder.

The more diverse a workforce, the more opportunity there is for you to reach a better solution. After all, different cultures may have experience of different routes to success. The obvious challenge is to ensure the language of the manufacturing plant is common, the signage is visual not verbal, the training and direction is understood, and the daily behaviours set the unspoken example. 

What can a business do to incentivize the independence of its staff?

Giving authority to those who know and understand how processes can be run optimally (e.g. process operators or inbound materials teams) can be a very successful route to take if carefully planned and well supported. This can have a dramatic impact on the extent to which individuals and teams become invested in their work. I have a few examples that I have used in the past. One is to put technical drawings of the plant up on its walls before asking your operators and craft team members to write any issues and ideas onto the drawings. Encourage them to think about how the plant could run more efficiently, with less waste, better compliance to spec, and a more effective approach to the cleaning of kit.

Is there any real difference between what we measure and what we target when it comes to performance indicators for Hygiene/Food safety? 

Emphatically, yes! There are many areas we want to understand and monitor (PI’s and KPI’s), so we have a breadth of data to interrogate and turn into information that will support our decisions. This data will lead us to make changes and improvements across all manner of areas. However, when we set targets for colleagues within our organisation, it becomes about what they are most likely to focus on, so we have to be mindful that these targets need to deliver not just the objective, but the broader business benefit and motivation. I will cover this in further detail during the second FSI webinar. 

What software is suited to a maintenance team in manufacturing that needs to log and prioritise issues that need to be fixed? We currently have a reactive maintenance team, as opposed to a proactive one that carries out preventative maintenance. 

There is a plethora of software platforms that enable the creation of PPM (Planned Preventative Maintenance), so it is a case of assessing the various merits, costs and integration capabilities. At one point, my preferred system was SAP PM, but I recognise it was very expensive and it took a huge resource to populate the data flush before it became operational. If there is already some kind of system or engineering LAN (Local Area Network) available, you may be able to get a PM module on top.

In smaller businesses, where main decisions are undertaken by owners and not trained professionals, how can you drive improvement when the mindset of the senior manager / strategy of the business is to take large risks and to save money?

Anyone would struggle to get traction in a business with leaders who are deliberately reckless, knowingly negligent, and deliberately putting consumers at risk. Individuals like this are criminals. However, there is a means by which you could encourage the right direction in a business focussed on margins and that is to use margins to your advantage. If you can demonstrate your ability to generate value (in terms of financial gains), you may well find that you have a platform to build off. You need to start thinking commercially and get into the detail of budgets to see where your solutions could positively impact costs. Don’t just focus on the theoretical ‘cost of quality’ or the avoidance of penalty costs, these factors won’t motivate a factory manager. 

What does GOYA stand for?

GOYA has an element of Gemba walks to it, but without the part where you wait for an event to investigate or a particular team to deliver it. A good example of this is when I created some simple pocket cards to brief team members and visitors to sites (e.g. internal leaders). This enabled them to create a valued intervention whenever they walked the plant. GOYA is about driving an internal culture through the ‘supervision’ barrier and into the “independent” category. Imagine walking into a manufacturing facility, meeting the Factory Manager and asking them questions such as: Is your factory operating safely today? Is it in a clean & hygienic condition? Are all of the products you are making totally in spec? If so, let’s go and check together. This exchange reflects an example principle of GOYA. 

What would be the benefit of having Hygiene/Food Safety as part of the leadership team business strategy? 

Business leadership teams decide on the strategy and direction of a site. They also make major decisions relating to resources, budgets and capital allocations. They do this based on the risks they are aware of, or understand. If elements of their responsibility as leaders are not well represented or understood, they will make less appropriate decisions and may not invest effectively. It therefore benefits any organisation to ensure all risks (such as food safety) are represented at a leadership level, so the most appropriate decisions are made to minimise risk. 

Surely a business that focuses energy, effort, and investment into driving a food safety culture would have stronger performance than one that doesn’t? 

Not necessarily. If a business lacks the strategic intent to resource the factors that drive a reduction in food safety risks, if it does not qualify or measure the right performance indicators, if it doesn’t nurture the right energy around how it communicates, food safety culture will not be a sustainable change and the business will find itself falling foul of recurring issues. In this instance, food safety culture will only ever exist as a campaign that begins with a flourish, but decays over time. 

Do you have any advice on turning your ideas into action? I have a few managers that don’t seem to be listening to me regarding my continuous improvement ideas. 

Identify how your ideas will reduce costs, put a financial argument together that delivers a cost or resource reduction (you may need to think laterally about how that gets delivered and it may not be in a budget you control). Then, find stakeholders (like the finance or ops team) to review it and support your argument. I guarantee this will start the internal debate. 

In the webinar, you mentioned that remaining curious is essential when dealing with setbacks and problems, yet earlier, you stated that targeting failure will lead to failure in itself. Please can you elaborate and clarify this difference. 

Using negative measures of failure, such as consumer complaints, to target quality improvements could motivate teams to focus on redefining the measure, reclassifying consumer feedback, or trying to pass responsibility for consumer defects elsewhere. Targeting improvements in areas such as process capability allows for a more collaborative effort in driving reduced defects and better outcomes. I will cover this in further detail during the second FSI webinar. 

A major pain point for our business is getting larger chains to improve their customer experience in a way that covers all ingredients and not just the 14 main allergens. Supply Chain leaders find it difficult to collect data sheets from suppliers which means their allergen communications to customers are often very risky.

This is all about understanding the key issues at play: the size of the operation, the transient nature of the workforce, and the unknowns in the supply chain. The primary solution is to work with the information you have to create a Risk Reduction Strategy. You can then use your Risk Assessment framework to identify areas where you could improve, tighten, or even relax controls. Finally, list these objectives in order of priority, starting with the data or intervention that will give you the biggest risk reduction.

Can we apply the concepts of: unconsciously incompetent, consciously incompetent, consciously competent, unconsciously competent to your route map towards Zero Defect Food Safety?

This is indeed a platform I have used in that respect and one which will help to facilitate the growth of competence and capability within a function. Being able to understand what your team members don’t know and why they don’t know it, is the first step to growing their awareness. For example, someone who has never suffered from a food intolerance nor had any dealings with anyone who has a food intolerance, may be completely unaware of the problem. They are unlikely to become competent just because they have ‘had the training’ so will remain a threat to food safety. In other words, one is unlikely to be able to drive a car just because they’ve read an instruction manual. 

The Food Safety Innovation Conference 2024

Held at the University of Lincoln on Tuesday 5th September 2023, the Food Safety Innovation Conference brought together over 150 industry professionals to discuss the advancement of food safety and hygiene, the importance of true innovation, and the value of challenging the status quo.

A collaborative effort from Klipspringer and FoodClean, the conference will be returning to the same location on Thursday 13th June 2024.

If you would like to reserve your place at next year’s event and access an early-bird discount, simply click the button below.

So that brings us to the end of the very first Food Safety Innovation Conference Webinar.

If you have any further questions, you can reach out to Alex at alex.carlyon@klipspringer.com or contact the Klipspringer team on 01473 461800 and sales@klipspringer.com.

You can also connect with Denis at denis@culturecompassltd.com and learn more about Culture Compass at culturecompassltd.co.uk.