This article was published in The Journal of the Institute of Food Science and Technology on 25 February 2019 (https://fstjournal.org/features/33-1/food-safety-behaviour). It is reproduced here with kind permission from the Institute of Food Science and Technology and Lone Jespersen.
The following facts are well known:
So, with this knowledge, we are not short of rational arguments for why change in food safety culture is required, but still the food industry is faced with some fundamental challenges like creating sufficient time for adequate and effective training. In order to implement a strong food safety culture, behavioural changes may be required.
- we continually see trusting consumers get sick or lose their lives from eating food;
- many of these tragic cases could be avoided and are often related to human assumptions and errors;
- up to 54% less errors happen in strong cultures;
- cultural maturity impacts the cost of delivering food quality, which can be as much as 22.5% of sales.
After a training match, 20 times grand slam winner, $119m prize winner, Roger Federer, is stopped by Bill. Bill is a club volunteer, father of three, and working for the day to check that only those with the right badges are allowed into the players’ lounge. Roger does not have his badge on. Bill refuses him access to the lounge. Finally, Roger’s badge appears with a helper and he is let into the lounge by Bill, the club volunteer and badge checker for the day.
There could have been a number of different outcomes to this tennis story. Bill could have let the famous player in on face value. Roger could have raised his voice and insisted that he be let in. But neither reacted this way. Bill put courage over comfort and managed the risk of anyone gaining unrightful access to the lounge. Roger put courage over comfort as he respected Bill’s role and the rules; he waited patiently for his badge to arrive. They both acted with integrity. Integrity is that magic glue that allows tough decisions to be respected despite position power or lack thereof.
Measuring and impacting integrity
Integrity in the food industry can be measured by use of social desirability rating or simply put ‘the prevailing willingness of team members in all roles to Walk the Talk.’
Walking the Talk scale was developed as an integral part of assessing an organisation’s culture of food safety. Walking the Talk data gathered across 60+ companies in North America, Australia and Europe reveals three clusters with distinctive characteristics (Figure 1).
Cluster #1: Characterised by teams that are less worried about their own image than food safety performance and always ready to speak up on risks.
Cluster #2: Tendency to overemphasise negative or positive and to answer in order to preserve image. There are mixed feelings about speaking up on risks.
Cluster #3: Worried about self-image and reluctant to give true answer regarding risks.
Using the example of Bill and Roger, Bill would be clear on expectations and empowered to act in accordance with those in cluster #1, less so in #2, and likely not at all in #3. Translating this to food safety in a manufacturing environment, it is the difference between a supervisor or frontline worker stopping the line in cluster #1 and not stopping the line in cluster #3. Alternatively it could be an unsafe product not shipped to the customer vs. shipped to the customer.
As a team you can ensure your organisation’s culture of food safety is assessed and that there is a linked or integrated plan to drive change.
Many factors can be responsible for driving food safety impacts, depending on whether a food safety culture is in cluster #1, 2, or 3. Two important factors can be identified in the scientific field of sociology: consequences and recognition.
Braksick et al. brought forward the seemingly simple sociology model of the ‘ABC’ (Figure 2). The theory shows how antecedents (A) influence behaviour (B) but not as much as consequences (C). Antecedents are all the tools in our box that help us gain an understanding of what is required of us, e.g. training, standard operating procedures, job descriptions, stimulus, policy, stated expectations, job aids, circumstances, events and past experience. Consequences, on the other hand, are the feedback we gain from our behaviours, e.g. mention in the CEO's weekly message, salary increase, peer award and a simple thank you. Braksick argues that many companies spend up to 80% of their effort on ‘A’ and 20% on ‘C’, when in fact, from a social psychology perspective, ‘C’ impacts 80% of why we behave in a certain way against 20% for ‘A’. It is not difficult to see how cluster #1 drives the desired behaviours by overemphasising ‘C’ in a strategic and planned manner.
Another factor that impacts a person’s willingness to put courage over comfort is recognition. The Work Human Institute of Globoforce conducted a study in 2017 to quantify the impact of leaders recognising employees and the employees’ trust in their leaders. They found that recognition not only increased trust (from 34% to 82%), depending on leaders’ habits of recognising their employees, but also that in those companies where leaders showed strong recognition of employees, there was 50% less turnover of staff.
Actions to put courage ahead of comfort
We need to embrace the thinking of organisational psychologist Gary Klein, who has researched extensively on what makes us discover new solutions (Figure 3). Klein defines one end of the continuum as ‘stupid’, where organisations and individuals are gripped by flawed beliefs, there is a lack of experience and a passive stance is taken to the status quo. At the other end of the continuum, we find organisations which have escaped the fixation on flawed beliefs, have more experience and take an active stance. By recognising this continuum, you can decide whether your organisation’s food safety culture is driven by stupidity or insights and choose to take action accordingly.
Food businesses should encourage their employees to walk the talk and hold people around them accountable for walking the talk. Staff should recognise the food safety behaviour of others and actively manage the consequences – positive and negative. As a team you can ensure your organisation’s culture of food safety is assessed and that there is a linked or integrated plan to drive change.
By Lone Jespersen, PhD Principle, Cultivate
2. Jespersen et al, 2019, The impact of maturing food safety culture and a pathway to economic gain. Food Control 98:367-379 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713518305863
3. Braksick et al, 2007. Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits: Developing Leadership Behavior That Drives Profitability in Your Organization
4. The Work Human Institute of Globoforce, 2017 https://www.globoforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/WHRI_2017SurveyReportA.pdf
5. Gary Klein, 2013, Seeing What Others Don't: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights. Gary Klein, 2013, Perseus Books group, NY.
Organisational culture can be difficult to see, uncomfortable to demonstrate and harder to measure. You can’t buy one off the shelf and you can’t make it in a workshop. You have to create it inside; it’s an attitude and a behaviour thing.
Few concepts are more difficult for many farmers to grasp than food safety culture, particularly if they are not familiar with the social sciences.
A good food safety culture is usually the result of good culture across all other aspects of the business: quality, worker health and safety and values such as honesty and integrity.
All primary food industries have structures that work against the ready uptake of food safety culture. In the fresh produce industry, the main factor is the heavy reliance on a large labour force, often itinerants and backpackers on casual or piece work rates. Too often this transient workforce is actually employed via labour-hire companies, which means these workers often are not even seen as part of the business despite the crucial work of harvesting and packing.
However, the natural asset that counters the above and is a platform for good food safety culture is the industry ownership structure. The great majority of fresh produce businesses are family businesses with a flat management structure and direct engagement between the business owners and their workforce. If owners have got culture right, it will be very obvious to their workforce and good outcomes will follow. The challenge for business owners is to ensure they proactively recognise and address this role, alongside managing finances, engineering, payroll, food safety and quality, customer relations, marketing and business development!
Good food safety culture, in fact good culture across the entire business, starts with management ensuring that all employment conditions are applied according to the law. This is then followed by the universal rules of food safety culture, including leaders demonstrating their own good food safety culture, providing training and coaching, and recognising culture champions or teams within the business.
There are many examples across the fresh produce industry where the workforce is on board, where workers feel empowered to follow the leader and own their part of the process regardless of whether they are under supervision or not.
A starting point can be a worker feeling confident to “hit the stop button” on the packing line when he or she sees something that “just isn’t right”. It’s allowing this confidence to say something from the bottom up that starts to add up to good food safety culture.
A good culture removes a lot of stress for the business owner and the entire workplace.
Take our survey. The Fresh Produce Safety Centre Australia & New Zealand (FPSC AN-Z) is benchmarking Australia and New Zealand’s food safety culture. Click here to participate in our survey.
By Richard Bennett, Technical Manager, FPSC A-NZ
Maribyrnong has a strong foodie culture and is an eatery hot spot, with many new food businesses on the way. The municipality has been undergoing considerable gentrification in recent years bringing its own unique resourcing challenges for the City Council’s Environmental Health Team. A review of existing food businesses in early 2015 found non-compliance rates were increasing.
To help manage and maintain food safety, our team developed a risk-based assessment application process for new businesses to set them off on the right foot.
The process included inviting new business operators to attend a free face-to-face meeting at Council to discuss their business proposal. We provided support and guidance, assisting them with their permit requirements while providing a strong focus on food safety. We assessed their food safety knowledge from the beginning, gave them a single point of contact and provided a one-stop shop for food safety compliance.
Our belief was: If new businesses were supported from the onset and their food safety knowledge assessed, it would assist in setting up compliant businesses, therefore reducing the number of non-compliances and follow ups.
The results? A positive food safety culture was instilled in their businesses through this process, and the results achieved on food safety compliance over the past two years have been outstanding. We also have less follow-up assessments and less food-related incidents from these businesses. The process has clearly demonstrated that time spent up front with our businesses has brought many benefits. It’s a win for the business, the council and ultimately our community.
Recognition for the program has been overwhelming and we recently won two awards from Environmental Health Professionals Australia (EHPA) for Team Excellence and Innovation and from Local Government Professionals (LGPro) Award for Excellence in service delivery.
Council acknowledged the team’s outstanding work and incorporated parts of the program in the organisation’s new Concierge process. Council is receiving many enquiries from other Councils to learn more about the team’s innovative program with the prospect of introducing the process into their own municipality.
A short video on the application process including industry testimonials is available online.
By Foti Beratis (pictured above centre with the Environmental Health team), Coordinator Environmental Health Section, Maribyrnong City Council
Rising role for culture to assure food safety's future
Food safety culture is a rising opportunity to improve food safety, according to a recent global survey of over 1600 companies. DNV-GL Business Assurance and The Global Food Safety Initiative jointly ran the survey of food and beverage companies in Europe, Asia and North, Central and South America. The businesses ranged in operations throughout the value chain and varied in size from small to large; most respondents had 10-500 employees. The need for a strong food safety culture was clearly identified, emphasising the human element of food safety.
Some of the survey’s main findings:
- Safeguarding the health of their consumers was the top reason that food safety was important to most companies, followed by complying with laws and regulations. Ensuring food safety was seen as a prerequisite for good business practice rather than a competitive advantage.
- A lack of food safety culture was ranked as the second main threat to food safety, after operational risks (eg microbiological, chemical, physical contamination).
- Developing a food safety culture program to promote food-safe behaviour was identified by 63.7 percent (ranked 4th) as an effective action to mitigate risks. HACCP systems, procedures ensuring food safety from design, and management systems were the top 3 actions.
- Companies that were considered leaders in food safety ranked food safety culture even higher (3rd) and are ahead of the general sample in implementing food safety culture programs. Food safety is central to their strategies, they see food safety as key to their reputation, and they will continue to invest in food safety.
The full survey included other topics including the value of certification, and new digital technologies. The survey report Food Safety- What’s Next to Assure Its Future? is available online.
(image from mygfsi website)
NZ guide for governance - follow-up to FSC survey
‘Food safety: Good governance guide for directors, executives and business owners’ is a new guide published by New Zealand Food Safety as a follow-up to the food safety culture survey they ran last year (see our Spring 2018 issue of Culture Connections). The guide aims to help business owners and executives understand their legal responsibilities and start the journey of improving their food safety culture. It includes information on food safety risks, systems and governance, roles and responsibilities for assuring safe food, and tools for monitoring and verifying performance. It promotes a 4-step governance model: 1. Commit to food safety governance, 2. Lead food safety culture, 3. Assure risk is identified, assessed and effectively managed, and 4. Monitor system design and company performance.
The full guide and a summary poster are available online.
FSANZ self-assessment resource: 'Step 3 - follow through'
A draft resource aimed at helping food businesses self-assess their culture, identify strengths and weaknesses and track progress over time is now available on the FSANZ website. This ‘Step 3 – Follow through’ resource complements the ‘Step 1- Know’ and ‘Step 2 – Do’ resources also available on the same website. Step 3 includes a ‘culture maturity matrix’ to help businesses gauge how mature their food safety culture is. It is for information purposes only.
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