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Blog – 52 Weeks of Food Safety Culture

By Linda Jackson

So, this week marks the start of a new journey for you and me. I am taking some time off from normal day to day business activities at Food Focus to concentrate on finalising my doctoral studies. This affords me the opportunity to share my thoughts, what I have read and those ramblings I am trying to make sense of.

It goes without saying that I truly believe in the power of a positive food safety culture. In my consulting days, I have witnessed how some companies enthusiastically engage with a food safety management system and with others, it remains an uphill struggle. My observations have identified some common themes – the type of leader, the trust between the management team members and the commitment to provide the necessary facilities for food safety. I am sure you have noticed these things too.

But what are the “secret ingredients” required for the perfect Food safety culture recipe? And how do we change a not-so-great culture to become a better one. Well, that is what we hope to discover in our assessment of some South African companies. Once we understand the what, we can develop a strategy to attempt to change aspects of the culture that are not supporting food safety. All in the context of the South African situation of course. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

According to Professor Chris Griffith, you don’t get a food safety culture, you already have one. Every company has a food safety culture – it may be a positive or negative one. We already have a baseline set of attitudes and behaviours towards food safety. And these have an impact on the performance of our food safety management systems. The ideal situation is to develop a food safety culture that results in effective food safety performance and therefore contributes to the success of the business.

But how does this fit with the new requirements for food safety culture in the GFSI food safety standards such as BRCGS Version 8? Including them almost implies that this is the next level of food safety to be attained? In contrast, there are no specific additional requirements in FSSC 22000, I have heard experienced quality managers say that no additional activities are needed to assess or improve their food safety culture? Neither approach is right in my opinion. Food safety culture is not a “higher state” of food safety – it is the foundation. Understanding food safety culture is not an audit – it requires a more in-depth assessment of the organisational structure and systems – not something food safety auditors are trained to assess. Trying to do this assessment during an audit is also not likely to identify the issues either – there is a conflict of interest for the organisation to disclose this information as it may impact on their certification? Or is this just my viewpoint?

So, there is a lot of talk about and to explore in more detail. Please come along for the ride and join me every Culture Chooseday (Tuesday) for your weekly dose of food safety culture.