What is The New Era of Food Safety? (Part 3 of 5)

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by Eric Moore, Director of Food Safety & Industry Relations, Testo North America

And we are back for the third installment of this 5-part series on the New Era of Smarter Food Safety. Today’s topic is Food Safety Culture: what is it, how do you get it and how can you measure it?

Let’s begin by unwrapping what Food Safety Culture is, to do this let’s take a look at what is widely recognized as the best current definition provided in A Culture of Food Safety: A Position Paper from the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI): “Food Safety culture is defined as, shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behaviors toward food safety in, across, and throughout an organization”.  A common example of this in practice is not what employees do when they are being watched, but what they do when they are not being watched. The behaviors and attitudes of employees in these scenarios establish social norms that are acceptable and unacceptable. This is the essential crossroads where behavior drives culture.

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FDA has stated that “A strong food safety culture is a prerequisite to effective food safety management, and dramatic improvements in bending the curve of foodborne illness can’t be achieved without changing behaviors”. For industry this means a couple of things: 

  • First and foremost, more education and training focused on developing foundational food safety comprehension is needed at every level of the industry. Knowledge of hazards are key to understanding why controls are needed.
  • Commitment and support: food safety culture isn’t something that can be purchased or outsourced to a 3rd party service. Everyone within the organization has a role and responsibility. 

In other words, foodservice and retail organizations need to do more than invest in monitoring technology or outside assessment services in the hopes that front line operation employees adhere to policies through the threat of negative accountability models. As an industry we need food safety to become second nature and a business-critical daily operating metric like food cost or labor. Understanding and trying to influence food safety culture is a complex process and it is surely going to be the focus of much discussion, academic research and sharing of best practices across the industry for years to come. 

With such a complex, behavior-focused process, how will there ever be an effective way for you to measure your success?  Fortunately for us, the answer to this question is not as complex, in fact a basic solution is already available and in use for years. It is the use of Process HACCP coupled with Active Managerial Control. It is the combination of these two science-based methodologies coupled with the incorporation of the top 5 foodborne illness risk factor control measures that lay the groundwork for establishing daily operating expectations for behavior-based measurement activities. Let's break down these 3 parts in a bit more detail.

The first part of the answer lies in the findings of the FDA Foodborne Illness Risk Factor Study. The study indicates that more than half of the reported annual foodborne illnesses outbreaks involve food from retail and foodservice. The report also identifies 5 specific key risk factors responsible for these illnesses. So, logic dictates that effectively controlling these risk factors will lead to a substantial reduction of annual foodborne illness outbreaks thereby meeting FDA’s goal of bending the curve.

The second part of the answer can be found in the 2017 FDA Food Code Annex 4 – Management of Food Safety Practices: Achieving Active Managerial Control of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors. As previously summarized in the last post, AMC places emphasis on illness prevention through the daily management of risk factors. This requires that operations identify risks either by product or process, methods to control those risks and actions that will be taken if/when those control measures are not achieved.
The third and final part of the answer to how this could be measured is the anticipated inclusion of a defined food safety management plan as part of the 2021 Food Code. All indicators point towards companies having to identify and classify specific control measures that align with the top 5 foodborne illness risks that are appropriate for their business. This will then feed into a risk-based inspection process designed to assess continuous compliance rather than provide an inspection report based on a snapshot in time (which is the current process).


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