What do we mean by Food Safety Culture? Why is it important? and What is the best strategy for achieving a positive Food Safety Culture at your site?

From Issue 9 of the BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard to a whole host of industry forums and webinars, Food Safety Culture has proven to be an important topic within the industry of food and beverage production. But what exactly do we mean by: Food Safety Culture?

What’s more, how can we tell if a positive or negative culture exists? After all, ‘culture’ isn’t something tangible, easy to filter into a graph or spreadsheet.

With this in mind, we’ve decided to answer the question: What is Food Safety Culture? We will also explore what is possible when a positive culture is in place and how best to prevent a negative culture from taking over your site.

1. What is Culture?

In a recent webinar on Culture In Hygiene, Klipspringer Director Alex Carlyon referred to culture as a living organism. He made the point that, just like a living thing, if you neglect a culture, it will go bad, but if you nurture a culture correctly, it will become self-sustaining.

This understanding of culture can be directly applied to the subject of Food Safety. After all, it will be impossible for you to achieve a positive Food Safety Culture at your site unless you fully engage with the process – keeping a close eye on its development and taking responsibility for its growth.

Another important point is that culture starts at the top of an organisation, with senior management setting the tone for the operatives working underneath them. A Senior Leadership Team that constantly knocks back proposals to hire more operatives, lengthen the hygiene window, or invest in new equipment, could send the message that reducing expenses is the only thing that matters. Under these conditions, even operatives who are directly responsible for food safety may switch their focus to cutting costs, believing this is the best way to secure recognition.

The support of your operatives will also be lost if the culture at your site is all words and no action. All too often discussions surrounding culture remain hypothetical, with teams sharing plenty of buzz words and metaphors, but failing to establish clear action points and targets. Ideally, you need to think about where you want the culture at your site to be by the end of a set time period. You then need to figure out the best way to get your site to reach these targets, welcoming the input of department leads and carrying out root cause analysis to identify fail-proof solutions.

2. What does a good culture achieve?

In another Klipspringer webinar, Denis Treacy, the former Chief Officer for Safety and Quality at Pladis Global, talked about The Dupont Bradley Curve. A helpful tool in discussions surrounding culture, The Dupont Bradley Curve suggests there are four different states of internal culture.

In a reactive culture, operatives have to rely on their natural instincts. Instead of pre-empting risks to food safety, they will respond to isolated incidents – failing to identify any patterns or carry out root cause analysis to prevent the problem from occurring again.

In a dependent culture, operatives are motivated by the directions they are given and the feedback they receive. This puts strain on department managers, as they will know that without supervision, food safety measures will fall to the wayside. What’s more, even a dedicated manager can’t be everywhere at once, so there is still a chance that food safety risks will go undetected.

Food Safety Management

In an independent culture, supervision isn’t the motivating factor. Even if you took away audits, inspections, and department leads, certain pockets of people would continue to do the right thing as a matter of personal pride and responsibility. Standards are inconsistent in this culture, with some operatives more dependable than others, but there are heroes in every department.

Finally, an interdependent culture sees everyone on site doing the right thing, with or without supervision. Instead of working independently, operatives come together as a team, holding each other accountable and contributing to a culture of care and compliance. Denis made the point that, within this culture, Zero Defect Food Safety becomes a realistic choice.

3. Why does a culture 'go bad' and what are the solutions?

Lack of training

It is impossible to nurture a positive food safety culture without the ongoing training of your team. This training needs to be reflective of everyone at your factory, suitable for agency staff, operatives who don’t have English as their first language, inexperienced team members, as well as individuals who have become used to standards and processes from other sites.

Behind every session should be the ‘why?’ that informs the standards being shared with your operatives. Fortunately the ‘why?’ behind Food Safety is particularly compelling, with the health and lives of your customers at risk. Operatives that understand this will be more likely to uphold your expectations, especially if you highlight the fact that their every day decisions could have a serious knock-on effect.

Once you have motivated and inspired your team, you need to make sure they know how to uphold exemplary standards of Food Safety. Your operatives need to understand what equipment to use, which processes to follow, and who is responsible for each application. This will need to be made clear through training, but also the signs around your site and your detailed, highly-visual Cleaning Instruction Cards. Ill-informed operatives will be forced to act on instinct, with the dangers of a reactive culture explored above. To avoid this, it is essential that your team has all the information they need to make the right choices.

Poor work environment

Another threat to the Food Safety Culture at your site is a poor work environment. Even the most conscientious of operatives will struggle in an environment that is outdated, unsafe, and under-funded. From degraded equipment that needs to be replaced to inaccessible areas that are impossible to clean, there are a number of factors that could be undermining the Food Safety standards at your site. Here, there is not only the risk of multiple non-conformities, but also a risk to the overall attitude at your site, with operatives frustrated and demoralised.

To avoid this, you will need to carry out a site inspection, identifying any hard-to-reach areas and harbourage points. You should also look out for any inappropriate or ineffective equipment, any issues with your equipment storage, and any signs of damage to your site’s PPE. It is also crucial that you take the time to speak with your operatives, and find out what they think of their current working environment. Change starts from the top down, so displaying an enthusiasm to make improvements should motivate your team and reassure them of your commitment to Food Safety.

A culture of confusion

Issue 9 of the BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard highlights the importance of validation, with sites expected to validate their cleaning processes – proving their suitability and effectiveness. With this in mind, it is essential that your team is working with the right information and has a clear understanding of what it takes to operate within a culture of Food Safety.

This is the perfect time to evaluate your site’s current approach to Hygiene Monitoring. Is it as effective as it could be? Are there any anomalies that need to be explained? Do your operatives understand how to act on the results of each test? All of these questions need to be answered, as the easier it is for your team to validate their work, the more likely they are to engage with the development of a positive Food Safety Culture.

Another important step is to give your Hygiene Manager a seat at the table – involving your site’s Hygiene Team in essential conversations. This will not only give your Hygiene Manager the chance to share their expertise, but will also make it clear to everyone at your site that Food Safety is a priority. Instead of operatives wondering whether their focus should be on cutting costs, saving time, and pushing through product development, there won’t be any confusion surrounding the importance of Food Safety.

Now that we’ve answered the question: What is Food Safety Culture? and provided an explanation of what causes both a positive and negative approach to food safety, we hope you have a clear plan for enhancing the culture at your own site. From the ongoing training of your operatives to a second-look at your factory environment, there are so many positive steps for you to explore.

Here at Klipspringer, we have been helping sites to achieve a positive food safety culture for over twenty years. If you would appreciate further guidance on this subject or to learn more about any of the solutions mentioned in this article, you can contact us on 01473 461800
or sales@klipspringer.com. Alternatively, you can fill out the contact form below and one of our friendly team members will be in touch.

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