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Finale on the GFSI position paper: consistent but adaptable

We have been chatting about the GFSI position paper on food safety culture in the last few weeks. In this final episode, we discuss the last two pillars of their food safety culture model – consistency and adaptability.

At first glance this almost seems like a contradiction of terms – how can you be consistent and adaptable?

In the context of the position paper, Consistency refers to the proper alignment of food safety priorities with requirements on people, technology, resources and processes to ensure the consistent and effective application of a food safety programme that reinforces a culture of food safety.

According to the GFSI TWG, consistency needs to flow through all food safety-related decisions, actions and behaviours within the organization, from top management to operations. For example, technical and management resource decisions should be in line with food safety priorities as defined by the company vision; tasks, responsibilities and authorities should be well defined, communicated and understood.

To ensure a consistent food safety system, it is essential that all employees have clearly defined accountabilities. This enables individuals to take appropriate responsibility for food-safety-related decisions and actions, and their consequences. Linked to this should be the application of performance measurement that makes it possible to monitor in accordance with defined food safety policies, expectations, and requirements, as well as to acknowledge good performance and make improvements where needed. To support an environment of continuous improvement, these measurements must align with the organization’s food safety priorities. In other words, everyone should know where they fit in, individually and how they contribute specifically.

Adaptability refers to the ability of an organization to adjust to changing influences and conditions and respond within its current state or move to a new one. The recent disruptive period on our history has highlighted the importance of this skill in an organisation.

For a successful food safety culture, we should consider and foster the following:

  • A willingness to change and a structured approach to change management
  • Effective crisis management processes that are tested and improved
  • Proper root cause analysis and problem-solving attitudes and aptitudes

A final word on the GFSI food safety culture document – although guiding questions are provided, assessing this during an audit is not likely to provide an effective assessment of your prevailing food safety culture. In my opinion, doing this poses a conflict of interest for the organisation. Why would we admit we have a poor culture during an audit? A well-trained auditor may identify symptoms of a poor culture during an audit, but an honest assessment should be done outside of this activity. The reason for this assessment, the methods used and the action plans on the outcome should be driven by the leadership of the organization.

Building a strong food safet6y culture is NOT about ticking another audit box. It’s about changing an organisation’s behaviour towards food safety because it is a value of that organisation. And we don’t measure our performance only on audit results.