What you should know right away is that there is no magic pill that can change the Culture you already have to the positive Food Safety Culture you would like to have in a day.
Maybe you have noticed in the title of this article that I mention cultivating positive Food Safety Culture not any Food Safety Culture. In fact, in every organization there is already their own unique Food Safety Culture (for better or worse) because culture naturally forms when personnel collaborate! When people join together to work (and even in other social circumstances) a culture naturally evolves. In the beginning it may not be clear, or even change rapidly, but eventually the culture proactively progresses and is tacitly accepted by the group.
This way, food industry organizations must be in charge of the cultivation of their Food Safety Culture to ensure it best promotes and assures safe food to consumers. I don’t advise you to play Russian roulette with Food Safety Culture as not only you will get hurt… but the consumers’ health and your organization’s reputation are on the line. (And neither do you want to unintentionally cultivate a toxic Food Safety Culture.)
When organizations start to consider what to do to cultivate a positive Food Safety Culture, they should be prepared for 4 main challenges:
Novelty – It is not new for food safety professionals (when we enter some organizations) to actually feel things are done differently from the majority of the other business. There is something special… workers are more committed to food safety, we notice a special effort to do things right. What is new now is the development of a systematic and measurable framework to promote those positive food safety culture characteristics. Although there were early publications, the GFSI Position Paper (2018) and the inclusion of Food Safety Culture requirements in EU legislation introduced added pressure for organisations to develop frameworks to document their systematic work for cultivating a positive Food Safety Culture. This novelty is challenging for food safety professionals as there are few references on how it can be done effectively.
Changing attitudes and behaviours – What is often overlooked is the fact that a Food Safety Culture is already present in any organization. It is not as if we are starting from scratch such as taking a blank page and designing/developing an ideal or idyllic framework. We have to work with what we have got. Each organization has its own characteristics, background, top management, resources, process and procedures, regional and country nuances and characteristics, so in a sense, each organisation has its own culture. The challenge is to develop a framework that can assess the current maturity of the positive Food Safety Culture and provide guidance to promote a change in attitudes and behaviours to increase its efficacy.
Monitoring – “It’s not like weighing nails.” I think this is a good image of the challenge that is to monitor positive Food Safety Culture. When we reach the end of a working day, we cannot tangibly measure how much we have grown the organization’s positive Food Safety Culture. There is no direct, objective and bias-free monitoring system. The Food Safety Culture Maturity is something that can be monitored either directly, by the workers perception and opinions on it, or indirectly, by the consequences of workers changing their attitudes/behaviours.
Consistency – “We overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in 10 years.” This is a question of human psychology and is the reason for most people need year’s resolutions last until February 😀. This doesn’t mean that somethings shouldn’t be changed from day to night, but hardly this is the case of culture. When we are looking to change culture, the magic word is CONSISTENCY. Food Safety Culture is not a sprint, it is a journey. In the long run, what is sustained are changes that are planned, explained and consistent. If daily, we introduce new approaches, changing 100% what we have being doing so far will only confuse people and probably will make them want to “abandon the ship”. If you change 1% every month and you are consistent throughout 10 years you will have a totally evolved/mature organization.
In recent years we have seen so many publications, workshops, debates, conferences looking to suggest tools and how to measure Food Safety Culture. I believe these tools and metrics will be effective, AFTER we establish in everyone the appropriate positive Food Safety MINDSET.
I’m a SLO – The mindset on the foundation of a positive-proactive Food Safety Culture
My Become a SLO (Saving Lives Officer) video was first published on 23/10/2019. In my mind, Food Safety Professionals shall change whatever they have on their business cards to SLO. Most of us believe that our job is to check if people are using hair nets, if they are filling records, if they are properly washing their hands, etc. With this in mind, how can we wake in the morning with the energy and drive to face one more day? Those tasks must be done and thank you all for doing that everyday but it must be clear that these are only tools we use to achieve our highest purpose. We, Food Safety Professionals are in the business of Saving People’s Lives. We are SLOs.
Knowing why we do what we do is paramount to fulfill humans highest needs and in this SLO mindset we build professionals and teams able to do what they have to do just because it is the right thing to do… even when no one is looking.
Since then, I have matured this idea and it evolved to the need of everyone in the organizations being a SLO. This is a job for everyone, from top management to front line workers. To achieve this goal, I believe that we must follow 4 steps:
1- Clearly demonstrate that “Lack of Food Safety = Disease or Death”.
2- Explain that “What you do (and how you do) matters”.
3- Guarantee “Psychological Safety” (“a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes”)
4- Use a “Communication” approach and tactics adapted to each person.
SLO Mindset First, then the tools. What you should know right away is that there is no magic pill that can change the Culture you already have to the positive Food Safety Culture you would like to have in a day. Prepare for a journey. The good thing is that you are not alone and hopefully you join a movement of Food Safety Professionals who proudly say “I’m a SLO”.
At the moment, I am working hard to publish a new e-book on this topic (and then do trainings and Masterclasses). I would love to know what in your opinion is important to include in the e-book/training/Masterclass. Share it in the comments.
Don’t forget to join my Sharing Knowledge Group (SKG) to be first to know when this new e-book is release and receive my weekly messages on food safety topics in the comfort of your inbox.
This article was written by Nuno F. Soares.
Contributing Editor: Jocelyn C. Lee, Food Safety Consultant
Disclaimer: The information contained on this article is based on research done in the last months and the authors personal experience and opinion. It is not intended to represent the view of any organization they work for or collaborate with. The authors will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information provided in the article.