In July, the FDA released their Blueprint for the “New Era of Smarter Food Safety”, building on existing FSMA requirements. The FDA Blueprint identifies four main elements, which they consider to be foundational to the New Era of Smarter Food Safety:
- Tech-enabled Traceability
- Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response
- New Business Models and Retail Modernization
- Food Safety Culture
The first three elements of the FDA’s initiative offer clear pathways to success, highlighting metric-driven indicators that can be measured and reported on. For the fourth pillar - Food Safety Culture - creating a blueprint for success is much more nuanced. Measuring impact in culture is incredibly difficult, especially when the most important factors are behavioral. What characteristics does an organization with a strong food safety culture have? And what does an organization need to build a strong food safety culture?
According to Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner, “you can have the best documented standards in the world. If they’re not consistently put into practice by people, they’re useless.”
Writing strong Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) is a good first step, but fostering a work culture that practices food safety every day is a tall order as it depends on the behavior of individuals. However, setting individuals up with the education, time, and tools to prioritize food safety can give companies a leg up. Organizations with a strong food safety culture have:
- Documented SOPs that are accessible to workers across the organization
- Tools for any employee to identify, document, and escalate issues in the field or facility
- Regular training around food and worker safety and accessible resources for self-directed ongoing education
- Pride in their organization’s commitment to food safety
Building a strong food safety culture must start with a commitment from the top of an organization. To accomplish this, many growers look to food safety experts to advise how they build a food safety program. While every operation is unique, Deb Garrison, CEO of the consultancy AgEmpowered, identified some initial steps that every organization can take to build a strong food safety culture:
- Leverage technology to store and share resources, including trainings, SOPs, and past documentation with your company’s field and facility workers. Paper binders are frequently out of sight and out of mind (not to mention out of date). Cloud-based technology can help companies reduce risk and improve adherence to standards by keeping data and documentation at workers’ fingertips.
- Offer regular staff training in both English & Spanish. Make sure training materials are easily accessible after the training is completed. Be sure to update your company training matrices to ensure all employees are up to date.
- Go beyond the minimum documentation requirements and implement action-driven workflows for food safety that drive good habits among employees. Require daily or weekly checklists to identify, document, and correct issues in real time.
Food safety is a cross-functional role that touches every level of an organization. It may seem daunting to build a culture around food safety, but there are some easy steps that teams of any size can implement to make real progress toward creating a strong and lasting food safety culture.