What Does It Really Mean to be Committed to Food Safety?

14 Jun 2024

Navigate Food Safety Solutions

What Does It Really Mean to be Committed to Food Safety?

Today, we're diving into the true meaning of being committed to food safety, which often starts at the top, with upper management. In this post, we will define management's role in food safety and explore this commitment from a management system perspective

Management’s Role in Food Safety

First up, let’s talk about management’s role. Imagine management as the captain of a ship. They set the direction and course for the facility. To do this effectively, they need to be well-informed, understand where they are, where they’re heading, and comprehend the information coming their way.

They must stay involved, as their second role dictates that when something goes wrong, it's management's job to steer the ship back on course. This involves holding people accountable, coaching, or reallocating resources like money, equipment, or personnel. The ultimate goal is to perform well and avoid crises. In a crisis, it’s management that steps up, manages the situation, and takes responsibility.

Measuring Commitment Through Performance

Commitment is reflected in performance, which we measure using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). We'll identify KPIs that indicate strong commitment and those that might suggest otherwise.

Common KPIs and Their Limitations

Let's examine some common KPIs in food safety. Most food manufacturers aim for zero recalls, high GFSI scores, and fewer complaints. While these are commendable goals, they aren't necessarily the best indicators of food safety performance.

For instance, having zero recalls doesn’t automatically mean great food safety. You could have poor practices that go undetected. Similarly, prepping for a high GFSI score might involve superficial cleaning just before an audit, rather than maintaining year-long cleanliness. Complaints can be reduced through various means that don’t always impact food safety directly, such as redefining them as “comments”. Thus, these indicators might not truly measure commitment to food safety.

Why Use These Indicators?

Often, it’s because certification standards require multiple measurable objectives. The examples given above are objectives that are easy to set and meet. However, they may not always drive true improvement. For auditors, it's challenging to measure the actual impact of these objectives on food safety.

A more meaningful approach is needed. Effective KPIs should align with not only certifications but also the specific risks of your facility. They should distinguish between good and poor performance, pushing for continuous improvement. Let's take a look at some practical examples.

Practical KPI Examples

  • Pest Activity: In baking, an acceptable limit might be two mice per quarter. Exceeding this may signal a pest control and/or sanitation issue. Similarly, in a flour mill, you might monitor insects per bulk load, with different acceptable limits depending on the size of the operation.

  • Equipment Breakdowns: Frequent mechanical failures could increase foreign material contamination risks. Tracking these occurrences can help improve food safety management. The goal is always to strive for zero, but realistic and industry-specific KPIs help us measure and manage effectively.

Understanding the specific risks of a given facility and aligning KPIs with those risks ensures that we are genuinely committed to food safety.

Effective Leadership in Food Safety

Establishing KPIs is crucial, but translating plans into action requires good leadership. Day-to-day actions matter significantly, and leading is less about what you do and more about how you do it.

A good leader must be innovative, inspire trust, and lead by example. Think about managers you've worked with; the good ones likely made you feel included and valued in their vision. Effective leadership involves setting clear intentions, being transparent, and demonstrating commitment through small, consistent actions.

Different situations call for different leadership styles. For everyday operations, a diplomatic approach might work best. During a crisis, an authoritative stance could be necessary. The underlying foundation of trust and strong leadership paves the way for effective crisis management.

Engaging with Your Team

Successful leaders engage with their teams, be it through conversations on the floor, addressing concerns, or demonstrating visible commitment. This engagement builds a culture where everyone feels responsible for food safety, ensuring sustained commitment even when not observed directly.

For instance, one plant owner told us they value conversations with floor employees to understand the real culture and issues within a facility. Similarly, another facility integrates food safety into every operational practice, emphasizing integrity. Tracking trends, such as employee-reported concerns, also indicates a dedicated commitment to food safety.

Building a Food Safety Culture

Building a food safety culture involves understanding, engaging, and leading by example. A series of small, deliberate actions over time can drive significant change. Managers must set the tone and direction, demonstrating commitment not just through KPIs but also through everyday leadership actions.

Being genuinely committed to food safety requires an understanding of risks, meaningful measurement through specific KPIs, and strong, consistent leadership that engages and empowers teams. By setting clear directions and continually improving, we can ensure a robust food safety culture within any facility.