BRCGS Food Version 8 is the first GFSI certified standard to include requirements regarding a food safety culture. In the near future, this will become the rule rather than the exception, as the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is going to publish its updated benchmarking requirements in February 2020. One of the most important elements of the coming revision is the introduction of requirements regarding food safety culture. But what exactly is a culture of food safety, how can you evaluate and stimulate a culture of food safety and why is this so important?
1. What is food safety culture?
The GFSI technical working group defines food safety culture as, “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behaviour toward food safety in, across and throughout an organization.” Does this sound a bit fuzzy to you? Let’s take a closer look at the definition:
“Shared Values, Beliefs and Norms”
Culture of any kind lives not in individuals, but in groups. Values are shared with new members of the company and operationalized in groups through norms and behaviours. This sets formal systems apart from culture: the input of formal systems goes through human translation within the group to become norms and behaviours, which subsequently are shared and learned by new members of the group. This is one of several reasons why culture is perceived as hard to change. We are not changing formal systems, but rather the underlying norms and behaviours that are in many cases unwritten and sometimes unspoken.
“Affect Mindset and Behaviour”
Psychologically, our beliefs, mindsets and behaviours are impacted by multiple factors including our national culture, upbringing and life experiences. In a work environment, we are affected by the group we identify with, including our department, coworkers, our role and position, job security, formal and informal authority, and our own habits and consciousness around the job at hand. So, when we seek to not only understand how mature our food safety culture is but also how to sustain and further strengthen it, we should understand how the company’s overall values and mission affect the thinking of the individuals within their respective groups. For example, are each person’s functions, roles and expectations clearly understood, and have they been a part of defining these roles? Do they understand how their roles contribute to the organization’s mission or purpose? These are examples of questions whose answers affect how groups and individuals view senior leaders’ commitment to food safety. They are essential to any organization’s food safety culture.
“Across and Throughout the Organization”
A food safety culture is not a “one size fits all” proposition. Making it a reality means that throughout the organization, food safety has been defined for each member and department in terms and expectations that are both relevant and clear to them. What is required of the purchasing department, for example, is different from the requirements for the maintenance team. Purchasing should understand the importance of selecting suppliers that are both economically viable and deliver on the company’s food safety requirements, not one or the other. Similarly, a maintenance leader should look out for the condition of the equipment to maximize up-time as well as food safety performance. For smaller organizations, the owner/operator leads by example and influences food safety culture significantly. A mature food safety culture is one in which the company vision and mission have been broken down into the finer details of expectations for every department and person throughout the organization.
2. How can we evaluate and stimulate a food safety culture?
In comparison to standards and laws, it is not possible to simply implement a food safety culture. It is a spontaneous and instinctive development which manifests in rituals, work climate and core values.
To stimulate something that hard to grasp, it is necessary to analyse the current status of the food safety culture. The BRCGS Food Safety Culture Excellence Module can provide assistance in this regard. The system is a result of over 19 years of academic research and industry experience and is based on a system that deals with four dimensions of food safety culture: People, Process, Purpose and Proactivity. An anonymous online survey pictures the current status of the food safety culture and results in a report that reflects the state of the different food safety culture dimensions. It also includes general recommendations on how to improve the food safety culture. Here you receive all information regarding the BRCGS Food Safety Culture Excellence Module.
GFSI has published a position paper regarding food safety culture that deals with three main topics:
- The essential role of executives within an organization (a point that also plays a significant role in the revision of ISO 9001: 2015)
- Factors such as communication, education, cooperation and personal responsibility
- Skills such as adaptability or risk awareness to translate food safety practices from theory to practice
3. Why is food safety culture so important?
A corporate culture that values food safety shows employees directly and indirectly that food safety is important and necessary to be successful in the company. This influences the behaviour of employees and helps to ensure that they act appropriately.
Because cultural standards don’t follow formal rules and straight lines, are often shared via casual conversations and reinforced through thoughts and actions, they affect us unconsciously. It is however possible to have an impact through the unconscious: BRCGS surveys show that companies who took the Food Safety Culture Excellence Module reported being able to reduce the risk of incidents by 84%. In this light, it makes total sense that 80% of food professionals think that creating a food safety culture is the most important job of any technical director.
We offer workshops and training about food safety culture upon request.