New Era of Smarter Food Safety: Developing a Culture of Food Safety

New era, Food & beverage

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released its Blueprint for the New Era of Smarter Food Safety. Over the last several months, we have been breaking down the four core pillars to prepare your business for this next step in food safety program improvement.

At the elements’ very core, we should foster, support, and strengthen food safety cultures at every level of the food supply chain, on the farm, through manufacturing, distribution, retail establishments, and in our homes. If we want to flatten the curve on foodborne illness, we need to influence the beliefs, attitudes, actions, and behaviors of those responsible for food safety.

The Blueprint has identified food safety culture as a prerequisite for any food safety management program. Within the core element, three areas of focus have been identified, and they include:

Promote food safety culture throughout the food system

This focus area includes researching challenges, barriers, and opportunities to enhance food safety culture at every level, including through behavioral research and tools development.

Enhance food safety culture throughout the agency

The FDA plays a central role in food safety culture and will advance this as a core tenant within its mission of protecting the food supply. It intends to meet this obligation by educating inspection officials on identifying food safety culture within an operation under their jurisdiction.

Develop and promote a smarter food safety consumer education campaign

A critical and often overlooked segment of the food supply is the end consumer. The FDA intends to develop and advocate for smarter consumers through education and technological solutions to minimize food safety risks.

Unpacking food safety culture

You may be asking yourself, “Why is food safety culture a part of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety?” As has been identified repeatedly, inadequate focus on safety as part of an organization’s culture has been the root cause of many tragedies in the food and other industries. Poor cultures manifest through high-stress situations driven by leadership and willingly taking unnecessary risks. Examples of outcomes directly related to unsafe cultures include the NASA space shuttle Challenger disaster, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Blue Bell Ice Cream deaths and recalls, and the Jack in the Box food safety incidents in the early 1990s, among many others.

Safety culture has become an essential topic for the food industry recently. Over the years, countless books have been written, and many webinars have been hosted to discuss this very topic. Although these may provide guidance for organizations, in many situations, it still seems that achieving the food safety culture you want is commensurate to catching lightning in a bottle. Creating a culture of food safety is a journey that can take significant time, effort, and dedication to fully realize.

Take the first step

Before you can truly begin any improvement process, you must first understand where you are starting. When developing a food safety culture within your organization, one must start by conducting an honest and thorough analysis, from both the top-down and bottom-up. How do you begin this process? First, by analyzing a recent quality or food safety concern that was related to your employees. Did the production team tell you about the issue as soon as it occurred, or was it found during routine quality testing or by the final consumer? Are the employees incentivized for reporting food safety concerns, or are they penalized for doing so? How you answer these questions and others will enlighten you on where you need to focus your attention.

Once you know where you are starting, you can then envision your path forward. While there may not be a simple formula to emulate, there are various tried-and-true steps that you can take to get you from where you are to where you want to be. This process should include empowering everybody within an organization to take responsibility for food safety, actively investing in state-of-the-art technologies to solve challenges, and continuously analyzing your processes and programs for areas of improvement. Organizations often find success in beginning this journey by conducting a company-wide meeting led by leadership to commit to this effort.

Don’t wait until there is a safety concern to evaluate your processes— start now and perform self-inspections regularly. Conduct continuous and ongoing training for employees so that new staff members understand the expectations and current team members get a refresher. Ensure your employees have the right equipment and personal protective equipment to do their jobs effectively and can accurately monitor safety concerns. Collaborate with external partners to enhance your food safety journey. Although it may be challenging at the start, your organization will see the benefits over time.

Technology investment plays a critical role in the food safety culture, and Controlant is here to help you meet these priorities and objectives. Continue to watch for additional articles by bookmarking our New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint resource page.

Has this article challenged the way you were thinking about the New Era of Smarter Food Safety or provided insights you hadn’t previously considered? If so, continue to watch for articles by bookmarking our New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint resource page.

Controlant is dedicated to lessening supply chain disruptions while providing visibility during this unprecedented time. Contact us to learn more.