Women in food safety are increasingly playing more critical roles in their organizations because of our objective decision-making, compassion, communication prowess and ability to collaborate. During this year’s Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series, we are pleased to join Food Safety Tech with a Women in Food Safety Day. It’s our day: We will discuss the challenges and opportunities that we encounter as a gender, especially during this uncertain era in the world. We will also address issues surrounding students who are devoting their research to improving food safety and quality. We welcome your contribution, support and ideas.
The 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series will take place every Thursday during the fall, beginning on September 10. If you are interested in presenting during the Women in Food Safety Day, we invite you to submit an abstract. Please note that the day in which the Women in Food Safety session will be held will be announced after we receive the abstracts.
When the Women in Food Safety group was first founded, the mission was to provide a community and networking platform for women in the industry to share their experiences and to seek advice from peers; more importantly, to help young female professionals and students to grow into future outstanding women leaders in the food safety industry.
To carry this mission, the group founder and committee are pleased to announce a mentorship program with below five focused areas:
Diversity/culture: For women with a diverse background, focusing on their needs in different work culture
Adventure Starts: For women in school, focusing on bridging the gap of moving from academia to industry; focus on starting their career, and create a pipeline for future food safety professionals
The Future Leadership: For women at early career stage, focusing on step up to senior management, pipeline for future women leadership
Working in Manufacturing: For women working in manufacturing sites, focusing on their needs in this specific work environment
Work/Life balance: For women who are facing decision-makings, balancing work and life. The focus is on helping their needs when going through life’s exciting times and long leave from professional areas with minimal impact on work.
We welcome all industry professionals and fellows who are interested. We look forward to seeing you during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series, beginning on September 10. Together, we can make it. Join us to empower women and the food safety industry to leverage our unique leadership strength and skills.
Before we can consider where to find the next generation of food safety professionals, we must consider what is a food safety professional. For many people, this question will be answered by describing a set of knowledge and expertise. One might first consider an understanding of the physical, chemical and biological hazards that are associated with food, including the various pathogens responsible for human illness. Additionally, the knowledge could include an understanding of HACCP and risk management strategies for addressing these hazards, including the various processing techniques that can be applied to food. Building further, perhaps we would add knowing chapter and verse in Title 21 of Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR). Perhaps expertise is expected regarding the required documentation for FSMA and the associated regulations and guidance documents. If you are reading this article, you probably have other skills that you would add to this list. For example, IFT has been promoting its Certified Food Scientist (CFS) credential to recognize the possession of a significant amount of this knowledge and expertise, including expertise in food safety. This lays a good foundation but would be expected to some degree in any food scientist, and it is not the entire criteria.
One must consider what more is needed to make a food scientist into a food safety professional? I am sure there are some people who will insist that we need professionals who understand all the rules and regulations to ensure compliance and thereby ensure food safety. However, when examined closely, we find that many of these skills relate more to regulatory compliance. The regulations have been promulgated to promote safety and fair trade. The link between regulatory compliance and food safety is strong and may be enough to justify adding this attribute to our growing description of the food safety professionals we seek, but regulatory compliance is considered a separate if somewhat overlapping area of expertise in the CFS credential.
Building further, perhaps adding a performance-based attribute will provide the necessary distinction of what makes a true food safety professional. Perhaps a food safety professional is a food scientist that identifies hazards (and potential hazards) and seeks to prevent them from impacting human health. With a little consideration, though, one realizes that anyone working in the food industry must learn to identify hazards and potential hazards. Everyone must seek to prevent hazards from impacting human health. The line worker must make decisions daily based on the training they have received to ensure they do not contaminate the product stream. The maintenance worker needs to be sure that they do not unintentionally add lubricant to a product stream. The CEO needs to create a culture where one of the first questions considered for any change is the impact it will have on food safety. After this reminder that everyone working in the food industry must be safety minded, we can return to the question of what is a food safety professional.
With the above preamble, let me opine that a food safety professional is a food scientist who materially impacts the safety of a portion of the food supply. This person may or may not have an actual degree in food science but will have acquired the knowledge necessary to materially contribute to food safety efforts. With this description, I suggest that the next generation of food safety professionals will set the standards for safety in the coming decades. They must have both knowledge of what has gone before and be able to identify new hazards and potential hazards. As a form of succession planning, it is prudent to consider where we will find the next generation of food safety professionals.
As a greying food scientist or more specifically, a food chemist from the tail end of the baby boomers, I have considered what has led me to more than dabble in food safety. As with most technical players in the food industry, I have accumulated knowledge and expertise across many fields including chemistry, microbiology and food science on the way to achieving a CFS certification. This knowledge is the gears and cogs that drive the engines of critical thinking, problem analysis and preventative problem analysis. These engines allow me to be effective as a food safety professional. I am involved in food safety because food safety is everyone’s job in the food industry. I am involved in food safety because food safety problems were presented to me or because I have identified food safety problems. Most importantly, I have worked to find solutions to these problems and potential problems.
This experience leads me to conclude that food safety professionals are developed and nurtured as opposed to being found. For almost any position, everyone seeks to hire that 35-year-old with five to 10 years of experience, depending on education. Unfortunately, this means that few are willing to invest in those early years of nurturing right after a person graduates. The pool of candidates is limited because studying food science is not viewed as having the same cache as going into law or medicine. The returns for going into finance can be extraordinary. Worse still is that a typical food science student aspires to product development or perhaps research and development as opposed to going into operations or quality assurance. These students do not necessarily expect to change the world with new products or ideas, but they are not aware of the breadth of opportunities in the food industry. It is a reality that very few food science students aspire to work in quality assurance or quality control—areas that are more likely to lead to food safety careers. In any event, all food science students will need to get some seasoning to become the next generation of food safety professionals, regardless of the career path they take.
Assuming that an institution or company wants to add to the pool or potential pool of food safety professionals, there a number of options and opportunities. These are not as simple or as immediately goal oriented as making those perfect hires, but the institution will get some benefits now and will be casting bread upon the waters that has the potential for long-term benefits.
Inspiring students to explore food science is the first step. Encourage food scientists in your organization and community to mentor, to be judges at science fairs, to visit and participate in career fairs, and just be visible in their communities. I have given guest lectures in a variety of forums on such topics as fraudulent labels and food adulteration. I was lucky to have an uncle who introduced me to two professors in food science during my junior year of high school. I never looked back. Not all of the students we touch will be inspired to select food science, but they will be aware of the opportunities. These efforts should increase the potential pool.
Offer internships to students early in their education. By the time a student is a junior or senior in college, his or her educational path is largely set. The costs for a change in major can become prohibitive. If you reach out to students in their first or second year and expose them to opportunities to make the food supply safer and to better feeding the world, they have the option of choosing food science and maybe eventually becoming those needed food safety professionals. The research program I run for SmartWash Solutions provides opportunities for up to 12 students to assist with the design and execution of cutting-edge research in food safety for the fresh cut produce industry. With a little training, these students can learn to operate pilot plant equipment and learn to analyze samples. These young, enthusiastic students enjoy the opportunity to work in this team environment. The internships are vastly superior to jobs working in fast food restaurants in terms of educational value. These students allow me to accomplish much more than I can alone. Interns can become great regular employees, although it may not occur immediately due to their needs to finish their educations.
Mentoring all those who are coming along behind you is another way to increase the pool and to find the next generation of food safety professionals. Take the time to explain why you have asked for things and explain the importance of tasks. Expose people to the critical thinking and problem solving process of enhancing food safety. Let them see how food safety makes a difference.
There is little doubt that food safety professionals are needed today and will be needed tomorrow. Turnover is as inevitable as death, and we are going to need new champions of food safety. Some might argue that the need is greater today than ever before. Others would argue that detection and reporting have just made the problems appear bigger with the advent of the powerful molecular biology tools being applied today. In either case, there have certainly been some recent outbreaks that have made headlines including those involving romaine lettuce. Additionally, FSMA is focusing more attention on food safety and mandating that people with specific skills perform various required tasks. Clearly, the need for food safety professionals is ongoing.
Many times food companies will simply say, “We have to change our culture” or “We’ve always done things this way”, but this attitude will not remedy potential outbreaks or help develop food safety protocols.
As author and businessman Andy Grove once said, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” This statement could not apply more to the food service and manufacturing industry.
The first step to change is convincing your organization from the top down to buy in; getting your executive team to accept the cultural change from manual paper-based approaches to digital food safety is paramount.
Common objections will be the investment and positive record of accomplishment. Taking a proactive and preventative approach to everyday food safety compliance will have a positive ROI over time while ensuring the utmost brand protection.
Presenting the potential damages of being linked to a foodborne outbreak is a great place to start. It typically will open the eyes and slightly intimidate each audience member. After all, executives and board members do not like to hear “profit loss”, “stock plunge”, and “tainted brand image”.
While this can all seem overwhelming, it does not have to be. Preparing a strategy and evaluating the processes needed to fulfill this goal will help alleviate the red tape to get this off the ground.
However, before we prepare a strategy, it is important to understand the basic premise behind food safety and how technology can enhance it.
In essence, food safety fundamentally revolves around individual human behavior. Human behavior in turn, is largely driven by culture. In order to successfully develop a food safety culture, an operation must possess impeccable leadership and incorporate the highest standards of food safety.
Most notably, the HACCP plan and individual processes created are a reflection of the human behavior that shapes and molds the culture of an organization. In large organizations, the challenges are often compounded by an increased number of locations and stakeholders (employees, suppliers, customers, etc.) Within these operations, food safety culture and human behavior can potentially become compromised due to the nature of the organization, or attitude and work ethic of the stakeholders.
Technology can assist in the development and maintenance of larger food safety cultures through the use of extensive and dynamic procedures. Human behavior can be shaped by the resources available in today’s food safety tool box. We can now overcome the arduous “pencil whipping” of safety checklists via handheld, wireless and cloud-based technologies. Such technologies are ubiquitous today in the form of apps downloaded from the internet, cell phones, reporting platforms and omnipresent communications.
History has shown that in challenged cultures, individuals often behave as though they are not a part of the whole, and operate as one, rather than as a team that is linked together under one vision and shared effort. However, during the processing, handling and storage of food, we need all stakeholders to act as a collective operation and function as one. The growing adoption of technology is the fundamental turning point that can help drive human behavior and food safety culture in a positive direction.
The introduction of FSMA has brought both challenges and opportunities to the food safety industry—the requirement to document and record actions of a larger food safety plan is one of them. Conceptually speaking, you are only as good as your records say you are. In this context, we are faced with both the challenge of maintaining a positive and efficient food safety culture, in addition to the burden of increased regulatory compliance.
However, FSMA and the innovative technological era have guided the industry to a crossroads of sorts. I suggest embracing the FSMA mentality and implementing food safety technology into your operations. This will not only protect and preserve your organization, but perhaps more importantly, it will define your food safety culture, and implement a positive change into your brand.
Complying with FSMA regulations or GFSI schemes isn’t always straightforward, but that also may not be the biggest challenge facing companies today. According to Marc Simony of the TraceGains Network, the large issue is change management and the culture shift that is happening within companies. In a quick video shot during the 2016 Food Safety Consortium, Simony explains.
Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness
What is the Food Safety Culture Club and what does it mean? Long before it was trending, STOP Foodborne Illness was talking about and cultivating food safety culture. We intimately know and share the compelling reasons, along with the “Why” behind food safety. Statistics without stories are not compelling. By hearing the stories and seeing the faces of those who have been ill or who have lost loved ones, the reason for a food safety culture is remembered—and these memories may translate into everyday food safety practices. Everyone has a role in food safety but for some, the only role was to become ill. Think about cantaloupe, peanut butter, ice cream, pre-washed greens, candy apples and more.
Why should you care? We are all consumers; we all have children, parents, friends and loved ones who we do not want to become ill from a preventable illness. No one wants for individuals to contract a foodborne illness.
So here we are, on a journey towards creating strong food safety culture in the lives of business leaders, the food industry, employees handling food, and in our schools and homes. I recently attended several conferences that had themes and program titles related to “A Food Safety Culture”. We know it is critical for leaders to embrace the culture, model safe and best practices, and we know it is important to share the reasons why.
In this column, I will talk about summer food safety, back to school food safety, the importance of hand washing, and many other Food Safety Culture Club topics.
You are a significant contributor in keeping food safe; you make a difference.
STOP Foodborne Illness is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne illness by advocating for sound public policy, building public awareness, and assisting those impacted by foodborne illness. Contact STOP Foodborne Illness if you are interested in having one of the staff members or board members speak at your training.
A culture of food safety is built on a set of shared assumptions, behaviors and values that organizations and their employees embrace to produce and provide safe food. Employees must know the risks and hazards associated with their specific products, and know why managing these hazards and risks in a proactive and effective manner is important. In an organization with a strong food safety culture, individuals and peers behave in a way that represents these shared assumptions and value systems, and point out where leaders, peers, inspectors, visitors and others may fail to protect the safety of both the consumers and their organizations.
A number of factors influence these organizations, such as changing consumer demographics, emerging manufacturing hazards, and the regulatory environment. The United Nations predicts that the number of people over 60 years will double by 2035, the number of diabetes patients will increase by 35% (International Diabetes Federation), and the number of individuals living with dementia will increase by 69% (Alzheimer’s Disease International). This poses an increased urgency for food manufacturers, as these population cohorts are more susceptible to foodborne infections or may have challenges with food preparation instructions.
Much has been published on food safety culture, and we owe it to the front-runners to use their work to go deep into practical, everyday challenges and to continuously strengthen organizational and food safety culture.1 An element common to most of these publications is a reference to the importance of behaviors.2-8
There is a renewed recognition of the importance of individual behaviors specific to food safety and personal self-discipline in food processing and manufacturing organizations. Employees throughout the organization must be aware of their role and the expected food safety behaviors, and held accountable for practicing these behaviors. Embedding food safety culture in an organization can be very challenging given the need to carefully define appropriate behaviors, the difficulty in changing learned behaviors, and the complexity of objectively evaluating the level of food safety culture in a company. This article is an attempt to define useful food safety behaviors and to describe a behavior-based method that you can use to measure the maturity of your organization’s food safety culture.
Defining measurable behaviors
Behaviors is the element that, when combined with results, creates performance.9 Behaviors, if used to measure and strengthen food safety culture, must be defined carefully in a consistent, specific, and observable manner. Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen, authors of multiple publications on the Reasoned Action Approach, teach us how these three factors can be used to predict and explain human behavior, attitude, perceived norms and perceived control.10 They also teach us that behaviors can be defined consistently by including four elements (Figure 1).
Case: CCP operator on a baked chicken line. I work in a chicken processing company and am responsible for monitoring the internal cook temperature of chicken breasts after the product has gone through the oven. One of the important behaviors for my role could be defined as “Measure temperature of chicken after oven at predetermined time intervals”. This behavior is consistent, as it includes all four elements of the behavior definition (Table 1). The content of the behavior is defined in a way that makes it relevant for me, the CCP operator, and I am clear on the assumptions made by others on the processing line about my behavior. The behavior is observable and most people would be able to enter the processing area, observe the behavior and assess if it is performed as needed, YES or NO.
Leaving out any of the four elements of a behavior definition or becoming too general in your statements leads to poorly defined behaviors that are difficult to use as an assessment of behaviors, and ultimately as a measure of the sites for food safety culture (Table 1).
Consistent, relevant, and observable
Measure and record temperature of three chicken pieces every hour at end of oven
Measure and record temperature
End of oven
Three chicken pieces
Missing definition elements
Measure temperature at pre-determined intervals
Pre-determined time intervals
The product is cooked and checked every hour
The product is cooked and check to see if it meets standard
Table 1: Scenarios of defining behaviors
Behaviors are observable events and for this to be true, a behavior must be defined objectively in a language clear to everyone involved. It can be helpful to target a grade-six readability level, as it forces everybody writing the behavior to avoid words that are not understood in plain language.
Using behaviors to measure food safety culture
Assuming that behaviors are defined in a consistent, specific, and observable format, how do we decide the critical few behaviors that get measured? A suggested method is the use of the food safety maturity model (Table 2). The model outlines five capability areas that a processor or manufacturing company can use to measure its current state and to set priorities and direction. One capability area is Perceived Value that describes how an organization might see the value of food safety. The maturity level ranges from a low level of maturity of “Checking the box because regulators make us” to a high level of maturity for “food safety is an enabler for ongoing business growth and improvement”. Consistent, specific, and observable behaviors can be defined for each of these stages of maturity. By assessing the performance of these behaviors we can aggregate these assessment scores into a site or organization measure of the maturity of the site or organizational food safety culture. It is important to note that the maturity score does not measure “good or bad” culture. The measure is one of progression along the food safety maturity model scale, and can therefore be used to highlight areas of strength and help prioritize areas of improvement for the individual organization.
Table 2: Food Safety Maturity Model. The Food Safety Maturity Model was developed by Lone Jespersen in collaboration with Dr. John Butts, Raul Fajardo, Martha Gonzalez, Holly Mockus, Sara Mortimore, Dr. Payton Pruett, John Weisgerber, Dr. Mansel Griffiths, Dr. Tanya Maclaurin, Dr. Ben Chapman, Dr. Carol Wallace, and Deirdre Conway.
For more details on the food safety maturity model, visit www.cultivatefoodsafety.com.
Call to Action
The organization’s culture will influence how individuals throughout the group think about safety, their attitudes towards safety, their willingness to openly discuss safety concerns and share differing opinions with peers and supervisors, and, in general, the emphasis that they place on safety. However, to successfully create, strengthen, or sustain a food safety culture within an organization, the leaders must truly own it and promote it throughout the organization.8
The call-to-action for food industry leaders and regulators is to embrace a standardized measure of food safety culture to allow for comparison and sharing within an organization and between companies. “Food safety is everybody’s responsibility” was the theme of the recent GFSI Global Food Safety Conference in Kuala Lumpur, but to act on this with food safety culture as the ultimate outcome, we must adopt standardized measure. The GFSI benchmarking technical working group is an ideal forum to continue this dialogue.
During the upcoming GMA Science Forum April 12-15, 2015 join the conversation at a practical and detailed level. The preconference Food Safety Culture workshop takes place April 12, with facilitators from leading organizations; the Food Safety Culture Signature Session on April 13 will discuss what our industry requires to enable this level of standardization and collaboration. For more information and to sign-up, visit http://www.gmaonline.org/forms/meeting/Microsite/scienceforum15.
Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Ball, B., Wilcock, A., & Aung, M. (2009). Factors influencing workers to follow food safety management systems in meat plants in Ontario, Canada. International Journal of Environmental Health Research, 19(3), 201-218. doi:10.1080/09603120802527646.
Hanacek, A. (2010). SCIENCE + CULTURE = SAFETY. National Provisioner, 224(4), 20-22,24,26,28-31.
Hinsz, V. B., Nickell, G. S., & Park, E. S. (2007). The role of work habits in the motivation of food safety behaviors. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 13(2), 105-114. doi:10.1037/1076-898X.13.2.105.
Nickell, G. S., & Hinsz, V. B. (2011). Having a conscientious personality helps an organizational climate of food safety predict food safety behavior. Food Supplies and Food Safety,189-198.
Jespersen, L., & Huffman, R. (2014). Building food safety into the company culture: A look at maple leaf foods. Perspectives in Public Health, (May 8, 2014) doi:DOI: 10.1177/1757913914532620.
Seward, S. (2012). Assessing the food safety culture of a manufacturing facility. Food Technology, 66(1), 44.
Yiannas, F. (2009). In Frank Yiannas. (Ed.), Food safety culture creating a behavior-based food safety management system. New York: Springer, c2009.
Braksick, L. W. (2007). Unlock behavior, unleash profits (Second ed.) McGraw-Hill.
Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (2009). Predicting and changing behavior: The reasoned action approach. London, GBR: Psychology Press.
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