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A look at the GFSI position paper of building a food safety culture – Part 4

We have been having a look at the GFSI position paper on building a food safety culture.

This week we look at hazards and risk awareness.

What are OUR big deal food safety issues? In working with companies recently, it has been interesting to note the effort expended on food safety hazards that are not actually a risk in the processes they use. Unfortunately, there has also been less effort focussed on the real issues for that environment. Neither situation is ideal and the latter puts us at risk.

This dimension differentiates food safety culture from the broader organizational culture. Recognizing actual and potential hazards and risks at all levels and functions represents a key element to building and sustaining a food safety culture.

The regulatory requirements that drive bottom-line compliance sometimes lack employee understanding of how potential hazards and risks might affect the business overall. GFSI Position paper on food safety culture.

For us to have a solid foundation for food safety as a business tool, we do need to all be on the same page about the hazards we deal with every day. This involves ensuring we know the specifics.

I have seen many a HACCP study where the term “Micro” is used for biological hazards but the details of the specific micro-organism are not shown. We do need to ensure we understand WHICH organisms may reasonably be found in our ingredients, environment, and even final products. We need to know NAME, SURNAME, and ID number – in other words, what is it about the organism that will cause it to grow or not grow in our product or process. And we can’t say all – this will not ensure our controls are specific enough.

Similarly, we should not make a big deal about micro in processes where this is not a risk. We must be careful here as our assumption may be that low water activity products are inherently safer and recent food safety recalls with the likes of say, peanut butter, have challenged this thinking. Yes, biological hazards can be a serious risk but so can foreign materials such as glass. So, make sure you follow the correct approach for YOUR process and product.

In identifying OUR hazards, we do need to look a little broader than our history and DEFINITELY more than our complaints. We need access to credible data from around the world to show the true risk potential of a hazard. Just because you don’t test for something or haven’t found it, doesn’t mean it won’t be there.

Once we understand our real food safety hazards, we need to share this information. Everyone must understand “why we do things” to promote trust that the right decisions are being made relative to policies, procedures, and the proper investment of financial and human capital. Education can create a sense of shared responsibility enterprise-wide, and help to engage both hearts and minds.

BUT, a word of warning here – all employees need a basic overview of hazards to recognize the responsibility that comes with being in an industry in which customers consume the product. More importantly, each employee and department should understand their respective food safety-related responsibilities. Everyone has a role, and recognizing potential hazards is as important at the senior executive level as it is for line workers. Everyone should be trained in the hazards and risks specific to their role. That way food safety makes sense to me in what I do.

How have you ensured that employee training considers your big deal food safety issues?