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Start with Your Own Culture

In most of my discussions around food safety culture, I have been chatting to the Quality Manager or the person, whatever they are called, who is responsible for food safety.

If this conversation does not progress to higher levels, this can obviously be a problem as leadership is so key in creating and modifying a culture but for the sake of today’s ramble, I want to stick with the Food safety team leader.

If the commonly understood definition of food safety culture is  “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behaviour toward food safety in, across and throughout an organization”,  then the buy-in from the Food Safety Team leader is critical. In this role, you likely interact with your fellow management colleagues daily on issues relating to mindset, decisions, behaviours, non-conformances all related to food safety. You also likely interact with other levels in the organisation regarding these issues too.

Today I am not questioning your commitment to food safety. You are the custodian, the gatekeeper, the conscience in most organisations. Today I am asking you to think about is your existing mindset towards your food safety team? 

Now, it goes without saying that there may be a good reason for many of you to have a negative outlook towards your team. Past experiences, lack of co-operation and commitment and conflict may have coloured your current mindset. And now you want to embark on a food safety culture improvement programme. While I completely support your intentions, a couple of things YOU need to be prepared for:

1.    A food safety culture intervention will require you to change. 

Researchers tell us that there are barriers to the implementation of food safety management systems. One of these barriers is documentation. That is our speciality. Often our instinctive response is to write another procedure when we are unable to change attitudes. We have the power this way. But in so doing we can further antagonise our team members. 

2.    A food safety culture intervention will require you to ask for input and allow people to mess up

We may land up getting frustrated with our colleagues when we ask them to write procedures. They either don’t, or the documents are incomplete. It’s often easier to do it ourselves! And that’s exactly what we shouldn’t do. It may achieve your audit objective but it loses you ground when it comes to engagement with your team. Rather coach and mentor the team to get it right. IT WILL TAKE LONGER but it will go a long way in changing their mindsets that food safety is really a team responsibility.

3.    A food safety culture intervention will require you to change your conversations

Do you hear what you say about food safety? Do you hear how you say it? Do you hear how you speak to your team members and how you speak about your team members? As a consultant and auditor, I have overheard many of these conversations. And now I understand why you have a problem.

Being the quality manager and food safety team leader doesn’t mean you have the right to be condescending or disrespectful. You cannot threaten people with food safety, the auditors or the law when you are frustrated. It doesn’t work and they stop listening.

YOU need a different dialogue and approach to resistance. Try one-on-one conversations and find mutual ground. You may even have to offer to help to get the person to change. Their perception of food safety may be that it is difficult and overwhelming and they don’t know where to start. You now become the coach, not just the compliance officer.

So, what have you got to lose? Making some personal changes could just trigger a chain reaction. And that may be exactly what you need to get what you need and want in terms of the food safety management system. Everyone wins!

Go on – I dare you. And let me know how it goes.