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A look at the GFSI position paper of building a Food Safety Culture – Part 1

So much of what we do in South Africa regarding food safety management systems has its roots in the GFSI benchmarking requirements and benchmarked standards. It therefore stands to reason that we should at least consult them when it comes to our food safety culture efforts.

Late in 2018, the GFSI published their position paper on food safety culture. This 3-year project was undertaken by a technical working group of 35 leading food safety experts from around the world. Of course, we should consider their opinions.

So, what does the GFSI believe about food safety culture? A couple of important principles from their position paper:

1. The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), an industry-driven global collaboration dedicated to advancing food safety, believes that to be successful and sustainable, food safety must go beyond formal regulations to live within the culture of a company.

What could this look like?

  • When a company states they welcome an auditor any day, we are on the right track.
  • When any manager is confident enough to talk about food safety in their area of responsibility without the assistance of the food safety team leader.

2. The GFSI defines food safety culture as the shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behaviour toward food safety in, across and throughout an organisation.

What could this look like?

  • The way we do food safety every day – when no one is looking.
  • The way we react when food safety is spoken of during meetings.
  • The way we speak about food safety in the corridors or in private – how we really feel about food safety.

3. The GFSI believes that practices devoted to keeping the global food supply safe should be habitual and systemic. These qualities can develop naturally within a supportive and positive cultural setting — although they demand conscious investment, strategic oversight and ongoing engagement.

What could this look like?

  • We start every executive meeting with a food safety moment. We start every meeting with a food safety moment.
  • Our CEO knows the food safety policy and doesn’t need to read it.
  • Our food safety policy is not just words – we can see it every day in what we do.
  • We have what we need to do food safety – effectively and efficiently.

4. The GFSI believe that a food safety culture is not a “one size fits all” proposition. Making it a reality means that throughout the organization, food safety has been defined for each member and department in terms and expectations that are both relevant and clear to them. A mature food safety culture is one in which the company vision and mission have been broken down into the finer details of expectations for every department and person throughout the organisation.

What could this look like?

  • Each department has specific food safety objectives.
  • Each person has specific food safety objectives.
  • We hold each other to these and they contribute to our business success.

5. The GFSI recognise that culture of any kind lives not in individuals, but in groups. Values are shared with new members of the company and operationalized in groups through norms and behaviours. This is one of several reasons why culture is perceived as hard to change. We are not changing formal systems, e.g., values, but rather the underlying norms and behaviours that are in many cases unwritten and sometimes unspoken.

What could this look like?

  • We work with our staff to understand what they think and feel about food safety.
  • We allow our staff to speak up about food safety.
  • We reward the right behaviour and correct the wrong behaviour consistently and positively. We love catching people doing things right.

So, this is what the GFSI say about food safety culture – what do you say?

In contrast to the rule of law, culture draws its power from the unspoken and intuitive, from simple observation, and from beliefs as fundamental as “This is the right thing to do” and “We would never do this.” Rules state facts; culture lives through the human experience.

GFSI Position paper on food safety culture

Next week we get started on the details.