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Food Safety Culture Connections

What's in this edition:

A message from FSANZ’s CEO

I joined FSANZ in March 2017, filling the shoes of FSANZ’s previous CEO of 9 years Steve McCutcheon. I’ve seen how the concept of food safety culture is receiving increasing attention by government and industry alike. I’m excited about the lead role FSANZ is taking in this area and the support we’ve received from the food safety culture partnership and food regulatory system as a whole.

Essentially, I see food safety culture is about management committing to: 
  • creating the right culture and leadership to address food safety by ensuring it starts at the most senior levels in organisations
  • incorporating food safety into the organisation’s business objectives and communicating the importance of producing safe and suitable food for the benefit of both business and consumers
  • routinely demonstrating food safety behaviours at a senior level
At the highest level, our national food regulatory system has recognised the importance of reducing foodborne illness. Earlier this year, Australian ministers responsible for food regulation agreed that reducing foodborne illness is one of three priority areas for 2017‒2021. Reducing illness requires effective food safety management, and a strong food safety culture (across all parts of a food business) is a key part of effective food safety management.

Embedding culture can be very challenging, given the need to carefully define appropriate behaviours, the difficulty in changing how people have always done things, and the complexity of objectively evaluating food safety culture performance.

Last week I met with senior leaders from the food service sector and horticulture industry, together with visiting expert Dr Lone Jespersen. We constructively discussed their perspectives on food safety culture and organisational culture, and the power of an appropriate culture in driving success and prioritising resources. I look forward to leading FSANZ’s further work in this area together with our counterparts.

Before coming to FSANZ, Mark worked extensively in health policy in Australia, the UK and New Zealand. Mark's background is as a health economist and he has postgraduate qualifications in health economics, public administration and public health.

Introducing our guest expert - Dr Lone Jespersen, founder & principal of Cultivate


“I believe that a food business’s success hinges on the evolution of the individuals within them.”

I’ve dedicated the last 15 years of my life to bettering food manufacturing operations and studying how culture affects food safety performance. I’m proud to hold a PhD in Culture Enabled Food Safety and to have created an incredible network of worldwide collaborators within the food supply chain. 

I had no idea that one day I would be so intimately involved with food safety culture. My life purpose shifted while working with Maple Leaf Foods in Canada — in 2008 this company was responsible for a Listeria outbreak that killed 23 people. At the time, I was in charge of food safety and operations learning strategies. It took a lot of introspection, questioning and scrutiny to turn Maple Leaf around. A little more every day, we transformed the company’s culture from the inside out and regained consumer trust. 

One of the most memorable moments for me over the years was when a plant manager who was getting ready to deliver his first food safety course called me in a panic the night before. He wasn’t sure if he could deliver what was expected even though he had prepared and reflected on what he had to get done. We talked and hung up. The next day he engaged his team with such passion and conviction in his own journey and shared what he had set out for the plant. The energy and excitement was amazing and really showed how a single exchange can transform and engage others in the importance of food safety.

Cultivate is my business. It’s an independent and philanthropic entity with two main objectives: as a communication point on food safety culture and as a collaborative space for food industry professionals to share and learn. We offer services that stem from a history of trials and tribulations and we are still learning from the people we work with.

For those who are curious about my academic background, I hold a Master in Mechanical Engineering from Syd Dansk University in Denmark, a Master of Food Science from the University of Guelph in Canada, and a PhD on Culture Enabled Food Safety. I also serve as Chair of the Food Safety Culture technical working group of the Global Food Safety Initiative, which is dedicated to characterising and quantifying food safety culture across the global food industry from farm to fork. 

I look forward to sharing some of my stories and insights with you through the Culture Connections newsletter over the coming months.

By Dr Lone Jespersen

A Northern Territory perspective

In May, Northern Territory environmental health officers (EHOs) got together in Darwin for a food safety workshop run by FSANZ staff (Kate Astridge and Dr Wendy Henderson), that included a session on food safety culture. We talked about examples EHOs have seen first-hand of a strong or a poor culture, the role of EHOs as educators and the importance of building a good relationship with businesses to enable improvements to be made.

What does a strong food safety culture look like?

The EHOs agreed that many businesses they see with a strong food safety culture have these features in common: 
  • management is switched on to food safety and leads by example, willing to invest money and act immediately on any food safety issues
  • good, honest communication with regulators
  • strong focus on training—including online, in-house and on-the-job training and giving staff time to complete training during work hours
  • willingness to learn, with a strong focus on continual improvement
  • records are kept of food safety measures but also of complaints, with responsibilities to record and to act on issues
  • high standards of business are reflected in people’s work behaviours, uniforms and attitudes.

What about businesses with a poor culture?

In contrast, businesses with a poor culture tend to show a ‘little care’ factor, with no time or money to ‘waste’ on food safety. The EHOs said these businesses often take short cuts, make excuses and are arrogant with regulators. They are not proactive, often need to be spoon fed with information to help them fix problems, and may not respond even if help is offered (as one EHO commented, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.’). These businesses also often don’t deal with language barriers in their business, for example in training staff with low English abilities.

A positive approach really helps

There’s a definite shift away from the ‘old-school’ authoritarian approach to a more positive educator role for EHOs. And people listen if you approach things with a positive mind set. One of the strongest points that came out of the workshop was the importance of investing time to build and maintain good interpersonal relationships with businesses – the EHOs said this can take months but they all agreed it is crucial.

Some practical things these EHOs have found that really help with getting through to businesses are: 
  • go into a business being positive, starting with acknowledging things they are doing well and then identifying areas for improvement, noting that improvements will help the business and are worth doing
  • take the chance to educate people on site (for example when they are showing you a task they do) and while discussing food safety programs
  • with smaller businesses, share good practices and lessons learned from bigger businesses, and explain how these could work for a smaller business—remember smaller businesses may have less time, money and people to dedicate to identifying food safety issues or coming up with ways to manage risks
  • using a top-down approach by targeting senior managers can be an effective way to drive change—an example was given of changing a supermarket’s practice to address issues with temperature management of cooked chickens on display. The regulators attended a national-level forum and explained the issue to the supermarket chain’s senior managers, who then implemented the change from the top, right across their chain’s outlets.
It was great to hear directly from the EHOs who deal with food businesses every day, and to have the opportunity to give the regulators a clearer picture of what we do in FSANZ.

By Dr Wendy Henderson, Senior Food Safety Scientist, FSANZ

Recipe for success –  A catering company’s story

Like many multi-outlet operations, we have challenges with food safety culture. One of our biggest challenges is with staff turnover and keeping food safety front of mind.

We've seen how strengthening the culture makes a real difference. When we focus on a particular region and run workshops and visit sites (as opposed to doing audits), we see an improvement in our audit outcomes. Unfortunately this improvement seems to drop away after about 12 months unless we follow up.

One of our biggest issues is the change of staff and we try and deal with this by having strong local inductions and training for all new staff.

Over the next year we plan to have '12 months of food safety' with a different topic each month. All our sites will be required to hold short (15-minute) food safety meetings every month and keep a record of who attends. We'll distribute posters and other tools to help staff with their discussions at these meetings.

P.S. Thanks for the Food Safety Hub - it's a good place to find inspiration!

This case study was provided courtesy of our food safety culture partnership

International recognition for Oz efforts!

There was a fantastic session on food safety culture at the IAFP’s (International Association for Food Protection) annual meeting in July in Tampa, Florida. As a result, a Food Safety Culture Professional Development Group has been established, and will be chaired by Megan Guilford from Hershey's and Lone Jespersen from Cultivate. It’s open to any IAFP members to join. During the discussions, there was public recognition of the FSANZ Food Safety Hub as an excellent resource on the topic. A number of industry colleagues expressed interest in putting this resource to work in their own businesses.

Personally, I addressed the group about Safe Food Production Queensland's outcome-based and behavioural approach to regulation to support organisational culture. It was very well received, with a lot of industry support from members in the room who sought me out for further discussions. I was also lucky enough to have a short meeting with Frank Yannis from Walmart and Mike Taylor, the recently retired deputy secretary of food and veterinary medicine for the US Food & Drug Administration. They were overwhelmingly supportive of Queensland's regulatory approach to food safety culture and both believe that we are the only food safety regulators in the world applying these culture elements in our regulatory assessments. Made me proud to be a ‘Safe Fooder!’

By Dr Andrew Wilson, Manager of Science Group, Safe Food Production Queensland

Food Safety Hub

FSANZ’s Food Safety Hub has the resources developed by FSANZ (together with the food safety culture partnership) including an introduction to food safety culture, a quick baseline questionnaire to gauge a business’s culture strengths and weaknesses, and checklists for creating and strengthening culture.

We’ll be developing more resources soon, including a self-assessment tool to help businesses see if and how they’ve improved their culture, and identify next steps they could take. As always, your suggestions are welcome.

What’s next?

 

Next newsletter

Our next newsletter will be in late Spring – your suggestions and contributions are welcome!

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