In a meeting early this summer, I shared the story of a young girl who recently died from a foodborne illness and of the advocacy that her family has engaged in since that time. A person holding an important position in a food organization responded with assurance: “Well, we take a risk each time we walk outside.” This string of words has become a haunting refrain. The tearful words of the families with whom each of us at STOP Foodborne Illness have spoken resonate.
I wonder if the person who spoke communally understands why their position exists. Why do any of us have jobs in food safety? What happens in a food company when a senior employee subscribes to this philosophy? Maybe the belief is that it can’t happen to them? Does this organization need to experience it first-hand to understand it? Will a consumer die as result of this philosophy? Will the company suffer incredible financial losses? Will the cognitive dissonance finally dissipate? Will the company survive?
A comment like this is a reflection of a person and maybe of an organization that does not have a food safety culture. It’s a comment that is dismissive of food safety risks. When people eat food, they have a right to safe food. And companies have an obligation to manage risks—not simply be dismissive of them.
I know I am preaching to the choir to those of you reading this blog. You embrace, understand the importance of, and advocate for a food safety culture. You care deeply about your fellow human beings and about your company. But tell me, how would you respond to this comment? How do you broadcast the why behind food safety? How do you remember individuals who have been seriously ill, who live with long-term consequence, and who have died from foodborne illness? How do you help others understand that risks must be mitigated throughout the food chain?
Thanks for taking the time to think about these questions and how best to answer them. A true food safety culture understands that there are risks, and the organization adopts a mindset that most food safety risks and outbreaks can be PREVENTED.
Unfortunately, some people will only embrace food safety culture once they’ve had a catastrophic event.
Please join us at STOP Foodborne Illness as we work to help others to proactively adopt a food safety culture to prevent outbreaks—not as a response to outbreaks.