The first tool you need as a Food Safety Pro is the “I’m a Saving Lives Officer (SLO)” mindset; start with this mindset, then use other tools and you are on your way to develop a Food Safety Culture (still a long journey though).
We know that developing a Food Safety Culture is challenging
Well, maybe I should be more accurate … developing the positive Food Safety Culture we want is challenging. In fact, in every organization there is a Food Safety Culture (!) since to develop one the only thing we need are collaborating personnel. 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 organization’s must be in charge of the development 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.)
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 the aforementioned approaches are important… however, before these tools and metrics we need to establish in everyone the appropriate MINDSET.
We are SLOs
On 23/10/2019 I published the video Become a SLO (Saving Lives Officer). 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 air 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.
The SLO Mindset Takes a Village
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”. We should emotionally impart this in every soul in the organization.
2- Explain that “What you do (and how you do) matters”. Don’t use the old jargon “everyone is important in the organization” that doesn’t motivate anyone. We should be clear and specific about how what each one does is central to assure food safety.
3- Guarantee “Psychological Safety”. This is a term coined by Amy Edmondson and can be defined as “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. We all are different and what “makes one person move” depends on the kind of needs they are looking to fulfill. Communication should be tailored to be more effective.
Looking above, you will notice that points 1 and 3 are aspects of this framework where you can reach more people at one time. You can convey the message in point 1 to a group of people and you can implement policies to guarantee Psychological Safety at corporate level. On the other hand, point 2 and 4 are very specific and almost something that should be accomplished with a one-to-one approach.
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”. Are you in?
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.