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Improving food safety is a never-ending story for organisations. How do we create the favourable conditions for a positive and virtuous food safety culture within an organisation? 

Back in 2000, the year of the GFSI’s creation, “food safety” started a new kind of journey after several crises. At that time, the topic was still considered as a cost line more than a business foundation pillar by many food companies.

It’s hard to say, but food safety incidents were the most powerful support to bring awareness in the industry. When I was Quality Manager in a QSR chain, I confess that I used such events as a weapon to try to boost peoples’ interest, and it worked. If you properly "surf" the wave created by the crises earthquake, you might get a new line in your food safety budget. But once the crisis is over, people usually go back to normal life, forget about the risk, and you’re back to the starting point. The extraordinary training session you organised was good, but insufficient to build a “culture”.

Food Safety & Quality Managers can’t wait for crises or any other dramatic event to support mind evolution on such a topic. I feel that a culture can’t be based on fears, and I would even say that a positive approach is the key to touch people and raise awareness in a more efficient way.

“Culture” means “people” to me, and I think that the true challenge is the ability to drive change positively in a top down approach. We can’t expect people to modify their behavior without strong commitment from the top. Food safety awareness, as part of “Customer and Brand Protection” programmes, might be spread through formal goals cascading in each country, in each department to reach people one by one. This way, team members will know that the topic is at the very heart of the company’s concerns, and so the foundation stone will be laid.

Now the journey can start, and a roadmap to achieve your goal: “enhance food safety culture” will be necessary. Team members need a clear vision of what needs to be achieved within 3-5 years, and how they will proceed to reach that point.

I recently did the “exercise” with one of our clients who was extending its activities at global level and running foodservice and retail operations in 15 countries. We wrote together the following pillars of their strategy to become a best in class foodservice brand within 3 years, delivering a safe and good quality experience to their clients:

Pillar 1: Global food safety requirements to be streamlined

              Step 1- Gap analysis between existing guidelines and local regulations

              Step 2 – Creation of food safety guidelines for stores

              Step 3 – Transform annual global round of audits into local programmes

Pillar 2: Digitalisation of food safety data

              Step 1 – Digitalisation of audit reports

              Step 2 – Digitalisation of internal food safety records

              Step 3 – Build a consolidated dashboard that will ease food safety management at local as well as at global level

Pillar 3: Food safety network building and animation

              Step 1 – Set up an annual calendar for “food safety” calls to communicate and animate the vision and its roadmap

              Step 2 - Travel to meet people in their context of work and to build a relationship based on mutual understanding and confidence

              Step 3 – Create a regular food safety event (every 2 years) to allow people from the community to meet each other, to share experiences, and to start drafting the next global roadmap themselves

As food safety improvement is a never ending journey, this very last step is very important and could become a new foundation stone. If you succeed in involving the operational network in food safety concerns, team members might be the ones to come with best ideas and practices to share. Internal incentives or challenges can be used to nominate operational representatives to be invited to draft the next roadmap, as a recognition of their implication in “food safety culture” building.

But why focus only on food safety culture? Organisations today operate in a world where their compliance requirements go beyond food safety with equal importance. Health & Safety, Environment and Quality all form part of “the culture club”. The principles set and demonstrated in the 3 pillars above are relevant across any organisation aiming to improve their organisation’s culture as a whole.

Thanks to the GFSI Conference 2019, international food industry professionals will share their insight around this topic.  Based on experiences and case studies, they will provide us with their vision on how food safety culture can be improved within the industry. Some advice that might finally serve more than the food safety cause.

 


Julie VarinThis post was written and contributed by:

Julie Varin
Foodservice & Retail Services Manager
Bureau Veritas

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