Elise Forward, Forward Food Solutions
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Embracing the New Direction

By Elise Forward
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Elise Forward, Forward Food Solutions

Food safety culture isn’t about being the best. It’s about thinking outside of the box.

Food safety and quality assurance professionals are called upon to be change agents and leaders. It is important to embrace change, growth and continuous improvement, as these are the keys to success. With the arrival of FSMA, the culture of the food industry as a whole is going to get a boost, and we need to embrace the change that is coming. We are called to be cheerleaders for change and to encourage others to assist as changes are made. The food safety culture of an organization is reflected in how a company responds to necessary changes.  However, it is often more than the systems that can use improvement; the culture could use some reinforcement as well.

Elise Forward will be speaking at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium, December 6–7 in Schaumburg, IL | LEARN MOREIn part two of a series on food safety culture, we continue to look at how food safety professionals can positively influence the food safety and quality culture of our respective organizations. In Part I, the people of the organization were recognized as critical to the food safety culture. In Part II, we will discuss the remaining items that affect food safety: access to resources, systems and opportunities for growth.

Access to Resources

Doing a job properly, efficiently and well is very difficult without the proper resources. One of the greatest challenges is to convince upper management that there is a need for additional labor, equipment and/or resources. Food safety culture is not about being the best; it is about going above and beyond and thinking outside of the box. Do not let the customers, FDA or CDC’s Pulsenet “catch” an issue. It is imperative to be proactive, look for problems and be innovative. This is part of the food safety/QA job, and support is needed from upper management. People, equipment and infrastructure must be connected to food safety issues and have a dollar amount put on them. The focus should not be on how much these activities or resources cost, but rather the savings that will occur because these food safety measures are preventing problems.

Considerations: Could a lack of resources lead to less cleaning? Could this cause a build-up of biofilms of unwanted and problematic bacteria, leading to a recall? Often production resources can be quantified as lost product produced. If production and quality have a new person, make sure that drains get extra scrubbing during downtime or that the walls and corners where the extra hoses are stored get added attention. What about any peeling paint? Or, dust on the overhead pipes? Who is attending to these items? Do you need a quality management system to manage the flow of information? Could a lack of this be severely detrimental in the event of a supplier withdrawal or recall? What is the value of time spent versus the benefits that a company-wide system could bring?

Systems

All food safety systems are under the microscope and getting an overhaul thanks to FSMA. As with any time that change is in the air, having a plan of action is helpful. The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is an easy-to-remember resource that can be useful when managing changing systems. Using this method provides the backbone to assist in the documentation of the change as well as evaluating the change and ensuring effectiveness.

  1. Plan. Create and document a plan for the changes. Include who, what, where, when, why and how in the plan.
  2. Do. Execute the plan and remember to document the actions.
  3. Check. Make observations, conduct interviews and audit the changes that were made. Document your findings.
  4. Act. Make any modifications to the system based on audits, interviews and observations. Document the actions taken and any required follow-up.
  5. Repeat the cycle until the results are satisfactory. Keep in mind that the goal is continuous improvement and should not be considered a one-time task.

In all things food safety and quality related, documentation of your efforts is critically important. The old adage, “if it is not documented, it was not done” rings true. The systems will be enhanced and people in the organization will see the importance of the changes and their role in the improvement of the systems if these items are documented.

Embracing Opportunities for Growth

Many people balk at change, probably because they cannot see the opportunities on the other side. Food safety and quality professionals also need to be able to communicate to all levels of the organization when change needs to happen. We need to talk about the changes, and whether they are required or desired. It is important to talk about the benefits, which help employees see beyond the uncomfortable time during the change. Do this through meetings with executives, doughnut days with shift employees, and pizza lunches with middle management. Implement incentive programs to reward people who are making good decisions and showing food safety leadership.

Since everyone will be impacted, it means that as quality professionals we need to band together. We are each other’s best customers. Let’s rise to the top, work together and expect the best of each other. If your customers are asking for stronger food safety systems than what is currently in place, use this to support your efforts in bettering the organization’s programs. If your organization cannot meet your customer’s food safety and quality requirements, will you have adequate sales? Probably not.

Being a cheerleader for change and improvement can be tough! Create a support group for yourself. Being the problem solver, leader and change agent can be draining at times, especially with a very small team. Ensure the renewal of the food safety team and yourself by connecting with other professionals through trainings, conferences, trade associations, etc. At a minimum, read leadership blogs in addition to the food safety and quality blogs and groups that are available. All of these avenues can provide support, encouragement and connection to others in the industry as well as serve as a resource for best practices.

Conclusion

How do you implement the changes that need to occur with FSMA? Slowly and surely. Plan the strategy for implementation. Be persistent. Communicate with all levels of the organization by being a teacher, coach and leader; avoid being a cop. FSMA requires changes to the food safety programs of every food company that supplies products to the U.S. food market. We must not sit by the wayside but rather constantly teach, mold and shape the leaders who are in current management as well as the future managers who are just starting their careers. Before we know it, we have again been change agents, not in the bold and loud way, but in the soft and subtle way that can create a lasting effect and will forever positively influence the food safety and quality decisions in our organization.

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