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Food Safety Culture Connections

What's in this edition:

A message from the CEO of Safe Food Production Qld

Regulators face a challenge to remain relevant

In order to remain relevant, regulatory bodies must change their ways toward influence rather than enforcement. We have probably extracted most of what we can from a science- and risk-based approach. It is time to pay attention to the ‘people factor’.

Linking culture and success

Linking culture with success (on the football field and in the Boardroom) appears to be the new management solution. The theory is that a skilful team also requires a supportive culture to remain successful.

Where to from here

Putting the hype aside, there is good reason to pay more attention to motivation, behaviour and attitude as influential ‘people factors’ when mandatory requirements are imposed. At the end of the day, it is choice that will produce outcomes, not regulation.

Regulators in the food space have experienced the development of risk controls under HACCP. However, these controls are challenged by a future driven by disruptive technologies. In the digital world, it is easier and potentially more profitable to avoid regulation than it is to comply with it. How do we get ahead of the curve, or should we go with it and adapt?

The experience at Safe Food

Safe Food Production Queensland regulates primary production and processing in Queensland. We are a statutory body that has been in business for 16 years. We are fortunate to have a single, outcomes-based piece of legislation to administer. Our regulation is science/risk-based and operates through-chain. The industries we regulate are meat, dairy, seafood, horticulture and eggs. Working with diverse commodities allowed us to develop and adapt to meet demands of rapidly changing supply chains.

Over the years we have seen that voluntary compliance is much more sustainable than issuing corrective actions and enforcing the rules. Therefore, helping people understand and support the reason for regulation is our starting point. We spend more time now on effective engagement and developing a relationship with each business that we accredit.

What has changed?

We continue to work on our internal culture and also on how we engage with food businesses. Businesses are encouraged to have internal discussions about culture and how it relates to food safety.

The tools prepared by FSANZ are recommended as a starting point.

Regulation generally relies on the ‘one size fits all principle’. Safe Food considers compliance in the context of the culture and capability of each business.

When we approach the business about food safety regulation, we start with questions that help us understand the motivation of the business owner or operator as a food supplier. The conversation then moves on to expectations focusing on what food safety controls are relevant to that business.

The language used in these conversations is about ‘how we get things done around here’. What is said reveals the extent to which the existing business culture supports food safety. With this knowledge, Safe Food can extend the conversation to consideration of what might need to improve and why.

While the regulatory outcomes remain paramount as a background to these conversations, starting with a shared objective of supplying ‘best product imaginable’ brings food safety into focus as a critical element of business success. We must bear in mind that food safety is one of many requirements that businesses have to deliver.

The more we educate about culture (inside our organisation and outside with businesses), the less we have to regulate with a ‘big R’ to achieve food safety outcomes.

by Dr Barbara Wilson, CEO Safe Food Production Queensland

Introducing the maturity model 

How can you get improvement if you do not know where you are going? 

Foodborne disease continues to be a significant problem in the global food supply chain. Recent World Health Organization estimates suggest that 33 million healthy life years are lost annually due to food and drink related contamination (WHO 2015).

Interviews with 30+ food safety leaders across the food supply chain suggested that depending on what sector in the food supply chain your business is in might indicate the maturity of your food safety culture. Generally speaking, retailers, from Europe and North America, rated their food safety culture at a higher level than their peers in processing and retail. Processors and retail in turn rated their maturity higher than peers in distribution and primary production. Granted, this is a relatively small sample compared to the global food industry. However, you can probably use this insight to reflect on what part of the food supply chain your company operates in and the connection to your food safety culture. So what is maturity and how can you use it to set a path for your food safety focus?

Food safety maturity model

The great thing about any maturity model is that they typically break down a complex topic, such as food safety culture, into dimensions or categories each described to show how food safety progressively changes as your company progresses. This gives you a simple path to figure out where you are at and discuss with others where you are going. You can use maturity models to measure your current state food safety performance and use this to discuss with your stakeholders to prioritize future improvements.

Food safety maturity models are available from CEB, NSF and Cultivate. Cultivate’s Food Safety Maturity Model shared in this article is from my own research. It was developed and tested with six multi-national food companies (Jespersen et al 2017 and Jespersen et al 2018 in review). Data were gathered from employee self-assessments, review of food safety documents, and 42 interviews with plant leaders, and by use of these multiple methods the model (Jespersen and Wallace 2017) was found valid and reliable as a method to measure food safety culture maturity. The model was developed to create a connection to company values through the dimensions and the norms statements in each value and stage intersect e.g. "employees have little trust that management will act on food safety without external pressure." Through this connection to a company' values, food safety can be integrated into business priorities and strategies and NOT stand alone and become a small group's "special project".

Have a read, discuss the model with your colleagues, and contact me with your thoughts, questions, and how you are preparing your next steps in food safety maturity.

By Lone Jespersen, PhD, Principal, Cultivate Food Safety

Recipe for success – Simplot Australia’s keys to improving culture

How do you know if you need to improve your food safety & quality culture?

Generally, organisations would determine the need to improve culture when metrics being measured are not in control or improving at the required pace. This may be through the voice of the customer or consumer via complaints, internally identified incidents or worst case by an incidence of recall or withdrawal indicating a lack of control.

How do we measure culture?

In order to understand your food safety or quality culture, it is crucial that you can measure the baseline, target level and incremental improvements in maturity.

Areas that we measure are:

  • food safety and quality awareness
  • roles and responsibilities associated with food safety and quality
  • cross-functional ownership of food safety and quality outcomes
  • decision-making authority of food safety and quality at all operational levels.

The above areas are measured on a numerical maturity scale from a practice of innocence to excellence. We have developed a series of questions to assist in understanding which level of practice a site is currently operating at. An example of these questions is: Where does the ownership of quality and food safety lie, is it integrated into all roles or does it sit solely with technical experts?

Once the current level of maturity is understood, the gap between this level of maturity and the target level can be addressed. Planned activities should be put in place to close these gaps and then maturity is measured on an annual basis. If for example, the score is low for having clear roles and responsibilities, this would become an area of focus to define and communicate these organisational roles and responsibilities relating to food safety.

Culture is an evolution and the best way to ensure it is improved and sustained successfully is to ensure that various activities and mind set changes are embedded in everyday activities.

Food safety and quality culture starts at the top and the right behaviours need to be modelled to ensure the importance is visible and natural. The single most important thing for us is ensuring people understand why improving our culture is important and how it ties in with business strategy, including financial and customer performance measures.

By Phoebe Dowling, National Quality Manager, Simplot Australia

New FSANZ resources

InfoBites’ on food safety standards – Developed for small businesses, these simple fact sheets cover most of the clauses in Standard 3.2.2 Food Safety Practices & General Requirements. Based on text in the Safe Food Australia guide, they provide plain-English information on the requirements and practical tips for businesses to reduce food safety risks.
Foodborne illness fact sheets Simple fact sheets for consumers on bacteria, viruses and toxins that cause foodborne illness, this series covers 10 pathogens, toxins in seafood, and common food safety terms.

What’s next?

Our next newsletter will be issued in late Autumn 2018 – your suggestions and contributions are welcome!

Want to be more involved?

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