Delivering a Positive Food Safety Culture - A Practical Approach - June 2019


Over the past few years, there has been an increasing focus on Food Safety & Quality Culture, leading to it now being included in BRC v8 requirements. The aim of the session, run by IFST Food Safety Group, was to share practical experiences of measuring, improving and delivering a food safety culture programme within a food business, and we were fortunate to have two experienced professionals to share their views with the 25+ attendees.

The session was chaired by Sterling Crew (Chair of IFST Food Safety Group), aided by Natasha Medhurst, Scientific Affairs Manager, IFST. 

Sterling Crew – Shield Safety Group, Kitchen Conversation & Chair IFST Food Safety Group - Behavioural science and accreditation

Sterling Crew is a Managing Director of SQS Ltd and chairs the IFST Food Safety Group.  He has over 35 years’ experience in the field of international food safety, governance, communication and regulation and this has given him a unique perspective of the challenges in the global food supply network and the impact of food safety culture.  He opened the event by sharing with the group what food safety culture means in practice – “Food Safety is what happens when you are not there”.  Everybody in the company can have a role to play in ensuring consumers eat food that is safe, and the role of a Food Safety professional is to ensure that this is “inncoulated” into the business.  It's no longer enough for a business to show that they have a robust Quality & Food Safety Management System. This has to be built upon and include behavioural science principles where success is measured through behavioural consistency, organisational culture and team dynamics.  There are many reasons why, once trained, employees may choose to not follow the procedures they have been trained on and Sterling explained clearly the differences between optimistic bias, illusion of control, cognitive dissonance and attitudinal arrogance along with some practical examples of “nudge factors” to help encourage key food safety behaviours.

Sterling then went onto explain the 5 key components of a robust food safety culture, and how as a manager you can influence this:

  • Vision & Mission
  • People
  • Consistency
  • Adaptability
  • Hazard & Risk

Sterling wrapped up by sharing how to measure your cultural maturity using the maturity continuum model, and what behaviours you might be able to see, dependent on where your company is on the spectrum.

The attendees then had a chance to undertake a cultural ranking activity, discussing in groups how different factors within 4 categories (Purpose, People, Proactivity and Process) should be prioritised. It allowed the attendees to share examples from their own experiences and share opinions in a smaller group. This opened up lively discussion, especially considering the wide range of backgrounds and business that the attendees represented.

Denis Treacy – Chief Technical Officer - Culture Compass Ltd - Food Safety Culture, a route to predictable outcomes

Denis Treacy has nearly 40 years of FMCG industry experience with a variety of roles within Unilever, Arla Foods, InBev, and until very recently as President & Chief Safety, Quality, Security & Environment Officer at Pladis Global. He firmly believes that delivering across any agenda requires a combination of Policies, Organisation, Performance & Culture. Denis shared his experience of how working across different geographies, and therefore cultures, builds a knowledge base on best practice and different ways of working. Cultural differences are an important part of understanding how sites may react to audits/visits and how to work with them more effectively.

The principles that he has applied focusses on 4 key areas:

  • Policy
    • First the business should set their policy on food safety, by assessing their business, understanding the vulnerabilities and applying mitigation and resources to manage using the businesses appetite for risk as a basis
  • Performance
    • If you compare food safety to health & safety, ensure you address the near misses and hazards – you should already be undertaking robust investigations on the serious incidents and therefore corrective actions for these will be part of the day to day business as usual process 
  • Organisation
    • How is your business structured, who has authority and accountability when completing actions, what is the reporting line for quality, who is measured on the food safety performance of the operation – is it only the quality team?
  • Culture
    • It’s what we do, the way we behave every day, with every decision that defines our culture.  Moving a culture from a reactive to a proactive mindset will take time.  It’s vitally important to encourage people to take responsibility, get involved, and challenge the norm.

A prompt card was created with some key areas of focus against specific food safety areas of concern. Visitors were encouraged to question areas of concern, and if they believed the risk was unacceptable then they could intervene and ensure that the factory logged and records the observations and any corrective actions. 

In summary, Food Safety Culture is not just about accreditation and being able to show that you’ve passed all the audits. It’s about ensuring the you have a culture that commands the same high standards every day, even when people aren’t watching.

Liz Ward RFoodSM, MIFST

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