Food safety culture is not a program that is implemented at a company. It’s a living organism that’s either strengthened or weakened by the actions taken by an organization. “There’s no on/off switch,” said Lone Jespersen, director, Food Safety and Operations Learning at Maple Leaf Foods, at the GMA Science Forum held this week in National Harbor, MD.
Product safety and quality is a shared responsibility. However, fostering a positive environment in which employees embrace accountability starts at the top. “You need to have management commitment; then employee buy-in follows,” said Joseph Levitt, partner at Hogan Lovells US, LLP. “It’s a message people want to embrace.”
At Land O’Lakes, the company took a four-pronged approach to its food safety culture, focusing on a clear quality message and mindset, employee education and training, active leadership alignment and participation, and establishing effective metrics and objectives. Most significant to the company’s success was its ability to involve senior management and get their commitment to taking a product safety 101 course. Sara Mortimore, vice president, Product Safety, QA & Regulatory Affairs at Land O’ Lakes, advised the audience to take a one-on-one tactic when talking to senior management versus putting everyone together in the boardroom. Having that individual interaction with management members forces each person to commit to sharing perspectives.
Companies must focus on monitoring employee behavior and ensuring that employees feel motivated to have a positive impact on product safety and quality. It involves having a continuous improvement mindset versus complacency. Jespersen cited the antecedent-behavior-consequences model as a means to establish goals and metrics, define critical behaviors, and determine positive or negative consequences. Most important to the process is that a company keeps it foot on the pedal when improvements are being made, as a lack of consistency is what causes lapses in progress forward. She also pointed to the Food Maturity Model, a method she developed with industry stakeholders, as a guide for companies to measure employee behavior as it relates to food safety culture across an organization.