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What Does COVID-19 Show Us About our Food Safety Culture?

By Linda Jackson

We make food! Everyone in the country still has to eat. Please don’t stop.

But what this crisis has shown us with stupendous clarity – people ARE in fact our most valuable asset. Without them at work, due to a potential pandemic like this, the supply chain simply stops!

All week we have been bombarded with information from labour lawyers advising on our sick leave policies, increased vigilance, increased protection for our employees. To be fair – it is about time.

And we can use this situation as a springboard for good, in so many areas. But my focus today is our culture.

Social distancing, retail therapy just became retail hoarding and the constant media background hum can result in ‘everyone for themselves” mentality and attitude. While the politicians and WHO call for solidarity.

What is going to make your employees WANT to come to work? A positive caring culture. One where they are genuinely cared for, one where we know their homelife situations and we care. One where we do offer them all the protection we can for their own health and safety.

One where we are supportive and do not stigmatize a cough or sneeze. One where we work with extra vigilance to ensure our products are safe but also our people are safe.

Of course, there are costs to additional measures, many of which should have been in place already to meet the minimum occupational and food safety risks you deal with daily. But I would suggest that we use this time to capitalize on those areas where you have been struggling to get buy in. Use daily training sessions (10-15 minutes) to touch base with employees, remind one another of the procedures, encourage a positive conversation, praise them for their support, their loyalty and the calmness in the situation.

Measure the impact on the increased vigilance to handwashing protocols on food safety. Increase your swabbing to collect positive data that should be shared to motivate staff long after COVID-19.

We can conquer COVID-19 but it would help if can also use this crisis to build a strong culture – one where people matter and their contribution to health and safety AND food safety is recognized and acknowledged.