Management’s Role In Monitoring Food Safety Culture

Sebnem Karause
President of Karasu Consulting

Food safety culture is an essential part of today’s food manufacturing industry, with direct impacts on production goals, customer satisfaction, and overall risk management. To harness the business benefits of monitoring food safety culture — and avoid the pitfalls of neglecting it — visibility needs to be improved throughout the entire organization with senior management at the helm. 

In our recent webinar, The Sleeping Beauty: Waking Up Food Safety Culture, Sebnem Karause, President of Karasu Consulting and an award-winning FSQA expert of over 25 years, discusses how to build a mature food safety culture and where food safety monitoring programs often fall short. 

In this blog, we go over the high-level topics discussed in the webinar, specifically how management can increase visibility across the entire plant to achieve the five pillars of food safety culture.

But first... a quick tale.

Leadership Lessons From The 14th Century

In Sleeping Beauty, Princess Briar Rose falls victim to the enchanted spinning wheel cursed by an evil fairy. A good fairy alters the curse so that Briar Rose is saved from death, but must sleep for 100 years. So that the princess is not alone when she awakens, the good fairy also puts to sleep every living being in the palace and in the surrounding forest.

“And this sleep fell upon the whole castle; the king and queen, who had returned and were in the great hall, fell fast asleep, and with them the whole court. The horses in their stalls, the dogs in the yard, the pigeons on the roof, the flies on the wall, the very fire that flickered on the hearth, became still, and slept like the rest; and the meat on the spit ceased roasting, and the cook, who was going to pull the scullion's hair for some mistake he had made, let him go, and went to sleep.”

Excerpt from Sleeping Beauty (Little Briar Rose) by The Brothers Grimm

In the story, the entire kingdom is affected when the princess sleeps from touching the spinning wheel. What does this have to do with 21st-century food manufacturing plants and food safety? When management is asleep at the wheel, the entire plant is too.

It Start At The Top: How Management Can Increase Visibility and Implement Lucrative Changes

While dedicated food safety teams are essential, food safety culture is a critical daily business requirement that needs to come from senior management and funnel down through the entire plant.

“We will not make dramatic improvements in reducing the burden of foodborne disease without doing more to influence and change human behavior, addressing how employees think about food safety and how they demonstrate a commitment to this goal in how they do their job.”

FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint: Modern Approaches for Modern Times

There are five pillars of food safety culture that senior management needs to not only support, but be seen as the driving force behind and act as examples for the entire organization:

  1. VISION & MISSION: Business structure, values, purpose, setting directions and expectations, leadership and messaging.

  2. PEOPLE: Stakeholders, governance, learning organization, incentives, awards, and recognition. 

  3. CONSISTENCY: Accountability, performance measure, documentation.

  4. ADAPTABILITY: Expectations and current state, agility, change, crisis management, problem solving

  5. HAZARDS & RISK AWARENESS: Hazard info and education, empowering engagement, verify hazard and risk awareness.

In order to achieve the five pillars of food safety culture across your plant, management needs to have visibility across all areas of the organization, from the driver to the purchasing manager. The best visibility comes from successfully synergizing the right strategies with the right tools for the job. 

For example, taking employee surveys is a common approach to monitoring food safety culture, especially when being certified for SQF or BRC compliance. This is a great first step to find out the level of food safety culture within your organization, and to pave the way for open communication so that employees feel comfortable to ask questions and come forward when they notice an issue.

Common survey questions include: 

  • When was your last food safety training and what did you learn?

  • How do you contribute to food safety within the company?

  • What would you do if you noticed something was wrong?

  • Have you ever raised a food safety concern? What was the outcome?

  • Do you have any recommendations for how you can do your job better?

  • Would you feed this product to your family? Why or why not?

This is valuable data that can only go so far if it’s stuffed in a drawer after an audit. Instead, digitizing this data via a food safety dashboard makes the information visible and accessible for later use. It helps to build accountability, allows food safety governance to take shape, and ultimately helps companies better manage their overall risk reduction and drive business goals.

The average cost of a food manufacturing recall is $10M — not including indirect costs such as legal fees or loss of business due to a damaged reputation. 

Once the survey data has been collected and digitized, use it to create a clear action plan that defines specifically how each employee can impact food safety. This should go beyond the production and quality departments and reach into all teams, with an accessible food safety training program that explains the “why’s” and “how’s” and meets the needs of a diverse workforce. Importantly, teams need to feel empowered to do the right thing with open channels for reporting and feedback, with a reward system in place for those who do a good job.

“Assessment without action is fruitless. If an organization has invested time and effort to collect and analyze data, the next step is to take action.”

— FDA’s Measure What You Treasure: Assessing Food Safety Culture

The FDA suggests a four-step cycle of assessment to help management guide their teams to continuously collect and analyze data, evaluate the next steps to create a plan, communicate those results throughout the organization, and act to implement the plan throughout the organization. 

Embedding A Powerful Food Safety Culture

Monitoring food safety culture is a multi-faceted endeavor that needs to be tackled from different angles for success. SafetyChain has consulted the food industry’s two leading experts on organizational change management and food safety culture to create a free guide to teach manufacturing leaders how to turn food safety culture into a life- and brand-saving opportunity.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • How to create change - with real-life examples from two leading F&B companies

  • Ways to anchor a new set of food safety beliefs into your business

  • Secrets for sustaining culture change in a busy company

  • Tactics to boost employee engagement

  • Concrete methods to measure the progress of cultural change

How to engrain a new set of food safety beliefs into our company culture that translates into measurable reductions of accidents, rework, and recalls