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Food Safety Tech

Enhancing Education, Chicago Section of IFT and Innovative Publishing Enter Event Agreement

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Tech

The Chicago Section of the Institute of Food Technologists (CSIFT) and Innovative Publishing, LLC, publisher of Food Safety Tech and organizer of the annual Food Safety Consortium, have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in support of each organization’s key industry events at the end of this year.

CSIFT will be holding its Annual Suppliers’ Night on Wednesday, November 1 at the Donald E. Stephens Center in Rosemont, IL. More than 500 organizations exhibit at the event, which is free to attend. “The Chicago Section IFT is the oldest and largest of the IFT sections. We are proud to host the largest regional suppliers night that draws over 3500 professionals to the Chicagoland area from around the country,” says Joy Dell’Aringa, business development manager at bioMérieux Food Pathogen and Quality Indicator Solutions. “This year, in addition to the Suppliers Night Expo, we are also hosting valuable scientific and professional development pre-show sessions.”

Food Safety Consortium, Stephen Ostroff
Attendees listen to Stephen Ostroff, M.D., deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at FDA, give the keynote presentation at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium.

CSIFT members will receive 10% off registration to the 2017 Food Safety Consortium, which will be held at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center in Schaumburg, IL from November 29–December 1. The conference begins with a plenary presentation by Stephen Ostroff, M.D., deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at FDA, followed by a town hall.

Pre-conference workshops begin on Tuesday, November 28 and run through the morning of Wednesday, November 29. Educational courses include the Certified in Comprehensive Food Safety Credential Exam Review Course, a FSVP workshop, a food defense workshop, a PCQI human food blended workshop (FSPCA curriculum) and SQF Information Day.

“The Food Safety Consortium was launched in the Chicago area for multiple reasons, and we consider Chicago our home,” says Rick Biros, conference director and president of Innovative Publishing. “The Chicago Section of the Institute of Food Technologists represents a large group of local food safety professionals and this partnership provides CSIFT members benefits to a focused food safety event. The ‘Consortium’ is a collaboration of multiple organizations, and we are honored to have the CSIFT as part of the team. This partnership commits the Food Safety Consortium to the Chicago area for the foreseeable future.”

“The CSIFT is pleased to partner with the Food Safety Consortium. This will bring value not just to our membership base, but to the food safety community as a whole,” says Dell’Aringa. “We hope this partnership leads to increased collaborations and engagement between our shared member base and the food science community.”

Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Telling the Story of Foodborne Illness

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness

If you are looking for someone who has been ill or has had family members who were ill or died from a foodborne illness to come and speak at your food safety training, give Stanley Rutledge or myself a call, or send us an email. Individuals want to tell their stories, they want to make a difference, and they want to have an impact.   The stories are powerful and their stories are “the why” behind food safety. People who have attended the trainings tell us they never forget the people they meet and the stories told—they think about them everyday in their work and especially when making decisions that impact food and public safety.

Tauxe, STOP Foodborne Illness
Deirdre Schlunegger of STOP Foodborne Illness presents the Advancing Science for Food Safety Award to Robert Tauxe, M.D., MPH, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

In the fall, I was on a phone call with a man from Smithfield Foods. We, along with a few others from the company, were planning an upcoming training and speaking engagement. He said that he would never forget listening to Nancy Donley talk about her son, Alex. Dr. Robert Tauxe told me a similar story about hearing Nancy in a public forum talk about her son. Rylee Gustafson, recently through STOP Foodborne Illness, spoke at The Partnership for Food Safety Education and told her story. Now a college student, she spoke about the long-term impacts of her illness—the diabetes, the damaged pancreas, the voice and vision problems, and the high blood pressure. The room was silent and so many people came up to her afterwards to thank her for sharing.

These stories illustrate that this is real: It does happen and when the person who was involved is standing before you reliving their story, you Will remember! Of course, we have fact sheets and a lot of other information on our website for your use, but there is nothing that is more direct, thought provoking and memorable than listening. If you want to read some of the stories, visit our website.  You can contact Stanley at srutledge@stopfoodborneillness.org or me at dschlunegger@stopfoodborneillness.org

Thanks for all that you do for food safety!

8 Food Industry Trends Fueled by FSMA

By Lori Carlson
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FSMA is fostering a surge in technology solutions, analytical tools and training products marketed to the food industry in the name of achieving FSMA compliance. And while many of these products were available pre-FSMA (especially in other industries like the life sciences), FSMA’s momentum has fueled the adaptation of solutions to meet the specific needs of the food industry for achieving and maintaining regulatory compliance. This article is a summary of emerging trends in food safety management by producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers through the application of technology, educational tools, monitoring and detection systems, and other support mechanisms.

Want to learn more about FSMA trends and compliance? Attend the 2016 Food Safety Consortium in Schaumburg, IL | December 7–8 | LEARN MOREWhether by the spark of FSMA or because it makes practical sense (and most likely, a bit of both), businesses are integrating their food safety programs with enterprise initiatives and systems for managing compliance and risk to achieve increased visibility and harmonization across the organization.  The most popular trends fueled by FSMA largely reflect technology solutions to achieve this integration.

Subsequently, solutions that support risk assessment, supply chain management, real-time monitoring, corrective action, self-assessment, traceability, and training management are most attractive and lucrative from an ROI perspective. And while it may be hard to find a one-size-fits-all technology solution depending upon the needs of the organization, technology service providers are quickly raising the bar to meet these growing needs as organizations strive to reduce risk and increase compliance. Other top trends at the periphery of technology solutions include the mobilization of food safety personnel and increased availability of on-demand training and detection tools to bring the FSMA movement full circle.

1. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) technology solutions quickly gained a following in the food industry in recent years to achieve an automated food safety and quality management system (FSQMS) solution.

The substantial management components and recordkeeping requirements of the FSMA rules has accelerated the food industry’s need for automated solutions to document program management, queue workflows and distribute notifications for corrective and preventive action (CAPA). Understanding this need, many SaaS providers evolved with FSMA to provide functionality that dovetails with new regulatory requirements.

2. Increased availability of risk and vulnerability assessment tools is of significant importance in meeting many requirements of FSMA’s rules.

The regulatory language of all FSMA rules is steeped in risk analysis to support the prevention of food safety hazards and threats. This creates a demand for user-friendly tools and training courses to help food businesses analyze and update their management systems within the context of these new requirements. Risk and vulnerability assessment tools currently available to the food industry are diverse in functionality and vary in scope and cost.

For example, FDA’s free online tool, FDA-iRISK 2.0, assesses chemical and microbiological hazards in foods through process models, which quantify risk across scenarios and predict the effectiveness of control strategies.  Commercially available food hazard assessment tools based on HACCP/ HARPC principles include Safefood 360° and EtQ, which provide risk assessment modules as a part of their SaaS platform.

Universities, trade associations, and commercial risk management and consulting firms came together to produce two very different food fraud vulnerability tools to support the industry. SSAFE by the University of Wageningen RIKILT, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is a free online tool and mobile app, which guides users through a decision tree and assessment questionnaire to determine fraud opportunities, motivators and gaps in existing controls. EMAlert by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Battelle is a subscription-based online tool to assess vulnerability from economically motivated adulterants (EMA’s). Individuals conducting vulnerability assessments are recommended to periodically access food risk databases such as the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention’s (USP) food fraud database to stay informed of historical and emerging threats to the supply chain.

And in support of FSMA’s Food Defense rule, the FDA developed a free food defense software tool, Food Defense Plan Builder (FDPB), to help food businesses identify vulnerability to intentional adulterants and terrorist attacks on the food supply chain.

3. SaaS platforms, app-friendly assessment tools and FSMA recordkeeping requirements are creating a natural pathway for the increased use of mobile devices and electronic recordkeeping and verification.

From supply chain management to effective traceability to regulatory compliance, efficient document management and on-demand data retrieval is a must have of the modern FSQMS. Food businesses recognize the inherent obstacles of paper-based systems and increasingly trend towards rugged mobile devices and electronic recordkeeping to make better use of personnel resources, technology solutions and data. FSMA is helping leverage this trend two-fold through increased requirements for documentation and verification of food safety management activities and by not requiring electronic records to additionally meet the provisions of 21 CFR part 11 (electronic recordkeeping).

4. An increased demand for more effective, frequent and accessible training must be met across an organization to maintain an adequately trained workforce responsible for implementing FSMA.

To keep up with this demand—as well as the training demand imparted by GFSI schemes and fact that a company’s FSQMS is only as good as those who develop and operate it—food businesses are turning to online and blended learning courses to increase training frequency and effectiveness. In Campden BRI’s 2016 Global Food Safety Training Survey, 70% of food processors and manufacturers responded that they received training deficiencies during audits as the result of a lack of refresher training and/or lack of employee understanding.

In an effort to help close this gap and meet new implementation requirements of FSMA, food safety training providers are increasing offerings of eLearning courses, which provide targeted content in shorter duration to meet users’ needs in an interactive (and often multilingual) format. Shorter and more frequent targeted training is proven to increase knowledge retention and job performance. E-Learning training solutions can be found through dedicated training service providers as well as universities, trade associations, regulatory agencies, scheme owners, certification bodies, and other compliance organizations.

Depending upon the training provider, online training may be distributed through a learning management system (LMS) to provide additional training tools, assess training effectiveness and manage the training activities and competencies of all participants.

5. Targeted monitoring and verification activities such as product testing, environmental monitoring or water quality testing are helping to increase the demand for pathogen testing and push the frontier of improved rapid pathogen detection methods.

In a recent Food Safety Tech article, Strategic Consulting, Inc. noted more than a 13% annual increase in pathogen testing by contract food laboratories as determined by a recent industry study conducted by the group. The study additionally identified turn-around-time as the second most important factor for suppliers when choosing a contract lab. Increased access to rapid pathogen testing—and in particular, detection without time-dependent cultural enrichment—are primary needs of food businesses as regulators and customers push for enhanced monitoring and verification via testing mechanisms.

Currently, there are numerous rapid methods based on DNA, immunological or biosensor techniques. These methods can detect foodborne pathogens in relatively short amounts of time ranging from a few minutes to a few hours. But they often require pre-processing strategies to reduce matrix interference or concentrate pathogens to meet the level of detection (LOD) of the assay.1 These strategies increase the overall time of the assay and are largely the next hurdle for improved rapid detection.

6.  Food businesses are experiencing a wave of self-assessment followed by CAPA as organizations work to analyze and update their food safety systems and protocols within the context of applicable FSMA rules.

This trend has the potential to be the most beneficial to the supply chain and consumers as it provides a distinct opportunity for food businesses to reconsider previously overlooked hazards and vulnerabilities and upgrade food safety controls along with the management system. Seeing the FSQMS with fresh eyes—outside of the framework of a familiar standard—can lead to significant improvements in food safety management, product safety and quality, and even operational efficiency.

7.  For many food businesses, heightened regulation has spurned the need for dedicated staff to support compliance efforts.

Many food businesses are subject to multiple rules—some of which require a dedicated individual such as the Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) to assume responsibility for the implementation of various provisions. And food businesses are not exempt from the acute need for qualified individuals with a food safety skill set. Across the industry, from service providers to retailers and everyone in between or at the fringe, executives understand that it takes tireless leadership and knowledgeable staff to produce safe food.

8. More than any other trend, communication on FSMA, food safety and related topics is easily the most prevalent exhibiting exponential activity over the past five years.

Whether in support or contention with the proposed (now final) rules, FSMA promulgates constant dialogue about food safety, what it means and how it should be implemented. The constant flurry of communication provides both benefits and deterrents to understanding the new regulations and identifying effective solutions for compliance. This dichotomy creates a significant need for authoritative and easy-to-understand information from consolidated sources within the industry such as trade associations, risk management organizations and food safety schemes. The divide has also helped fuel the need for information hubs like the Global Food Safety Resource (GFSR) that aggregate critical regulatory information, food safety solutions and best practices to reach a global community.

Reference

  1. Wang, Y. and Salazar, J.K. Culture-Independent Rapid Detection Methods for Bacterial Pathogens and Toxins in Food Matrices. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 2016; 15(1): 183-205.
Imports

Industry Needs More Help Understanding Import Safety Under FSMA

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Imports

Need help understanding FSMA? Attend the 2016 Food Safety Consortium, December 7–8 in Schaumburg, IL | LEARN MORE In a 22-page report released last week, FDA outlined its findings from three public meetings held in June about the implementation of the FSMA import safety programs. The report, “Focus on Strategic Implementation of Prevention-Oriented Import Safety Programs”, reviews the questions asked to participants about challenges and understanding in complying with the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP), Accredited Third-Party Certification, and the Voluntary Qualified Importer Programs (VQIP) under FSMA. The agency analyzed data from 350 participants, and made the following conclusions:

Industry wants help in understanding what is required under the FSMA provisions, including clearer, concise information from the FDA

  • Industry may achieve faster compliance with FSVP if members are shown how it differs from existing food safety practices and compliance schemes
  • Organizing FSVP compliance information by commodity and sector may help in faster comprehension of rule
  • Small importers and food producers are at higher risk of failing to comply with FSVP
  • Generating case studies and other foreign supplier education mediums may aid in faster compliance with FSVP requirements
  • Importers will likely consider cost, return on investment and effort necessary to participant when deciding whether to sign up for VQIP, which will provide expedited clearance to qualified participants
  • Industry would benefit from FDA sharing information in a faster, clearer and more concise manner
  • FDA can use its existing facility registration database and existing relationships with industry to continue outreach efforts and elevate FSMA and FSVP compliance awareness

Lack of Resources, Negative Attitudes Barriers in Training

By Maria Fontanazza
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Part I of the Q&A: New Workers Means New StrategiesFood safety culture has been a part of several industry initiatives over the past year, from employee training in preparation of FSMA implementation to GFSI’s technical working group. In part three of a Q&A series with Food Safety Tech, Laura Nelson, vice president of business development at Alchemy Systems, shares some thoughts about current industry efforts surrounding employee education and food safety culture.

Food Safety Tech: How does employee education tie into instilling a food safety culture within a company?

Part II of the Q&A: Go Beyond the Classroom to Improve Training PerformanceLaura Nelson: In the global food safety training survey we conduct with Campden [BRI] and other industry leaders—for the fourth year in row, food safety professionals confirmed that the number one goal for food safety training is to improve their food safety culture. Effective employee training is foundational to a robust food safety culture.  And yet we have feedback on why we as an industry are challenged to achieve this goal—lack of resources is identified as the biggest challenge for almost half of the total survey respondents. Additional challenges identified include negative employee attitudes, lack of effective communication, the multicultural workforce, high turnover, and just complete lack of awareness of culture. The good news is that more awareness and best practices are emerging to help organizations improve their food safety culture. As a member of the GFSI Food Safety Culture Technical Working Group, we are actively working on guidance to help meet the identified needs of the industry. The focus on the importance of food safety culture to an organization is growing. We know that FDA investigators are going through food safety culture training to better recognize companies that have an effective food safety culture and those that may not have an effective one. GFSI is shining a light with its working group. BRC is introducing their voluntary “Culture Excellence:  Food Safety Culture Module” to help companies assess their food safety culture.  Research is ongoing with the development of new food safety culture assessments and best practices. All of these efforts are in agreement that effective employee training is a key factor in developing and maintaining a robust food safety culture.

Maria Fontanazza and Laura Nelson discuss food safety culture and employee empowerment at IAFP 2015.
Maria Fontanazza and Laura Nelson discuss food safety culture and employee empowerment at IAFP 2015. WATCH THE VIDEO

Given that employee training is so important to a healthy food safety culture, we need to resource this effort accordingly. We asked survey respondents to tell us how many hours of food safety training they’re conducting for employees. The responses ranged from less than four hours (a little more than 20%) to more than 35 hours annually. In that wide continuum, there’s a large disparity between the focus on food safety for those employees receiving less than four hours of food safety training versus those employees receiving over 35 hours of food safety training. Our business is complex and recruiting and training new employees on our critical operational programs is challenging. Those companies who are still utilizing their legacy classroom-only food safety training program will continue to struggle to mature their food safety culture. Innovative companies are finding new ways to overcome time and resource limitations. We asked: How are you keeping food safety top of mind? The innovative companies who are using digital signage, newsletters, email communications, posters, team meetings, huddle talks, etc., those who are trying to immerse their employees into their food safety culture using all the different touch points are having more success in making food safety top of mind.

Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Motivating the Culture Shift

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness

At the 2016 Food Safety Consortium, STOP Foodborne Illness will have a fundraiser to honor heroes in food safety. |December  6, 2016, 7–9 pm | LEARN MOREIn 2012 STOP Foodborne Illness established a relationship, which evolved into a partnership, with the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (LGMA) organization. On my first visit to LGMA, I met key staff members and observed a mock audit. We had good initial conversations. Scott Horsfall, CEO of LGMA, and I continued to talk and a second visit ensued, this time with individuals who had been ill with E-Coli from Leafy Greens. Everyone was a bit nervous, but it was a productive and even healing experience. We visited farms and processing plants, heard from farmers and shared a lovely meal outdoors with the farmers. On the last day, we sat in a room with tables configured in a large square and each person took turns introducing themselves, talking about why they were at the table, what roles they had in the leafy green business, and the visitors shared personal heart wrenching stories of illness and death from foodborne illness.  There was not a dry eye in the room during and after this encounter. Every farmer vowed to do everything possible to prevent pathogens from making their way into the market place. This was a profound experience for everyone involved.

The following year, Scott proposed that STOP Foodborne Illness and LGMA jointly create a video for training purposes. That project came to life in the summer of 2014. It is a video and a project that LGMA and STOP Foodborne Illness professionals are deeply proud of and love to share with others (the video comes in several versions and is available in Spanish). Scott and I continue to speak about the partnership and look for additional ways to collaborate.

Food safety is about collaboration and finding solutions and preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens. This week I spoke with a mother whose daughter died a year ago from foodborne illness (not from produce). I told her that I so badly wish that we could have prevented her beautiful daughter’s death and vowed to continue this important work. We are not there yet: Each of us must be completely committed to getting to a place where we don’t hear these stories.  And we will get there by keeping the “why” at the forefront and continuing to develop critical strategies that reduce and work to eliminate the problem. Thank you to all who are dedicated to creating and sustaining a safe food supply and a special thanks to LGMA. You can see the LGMA video, “Video: The Why Behind Food Safety”, on our homepage.

Michelle Jones, Shake Shack
Retail Food Safety Forum

Simple Food Safety Training Combats Turnover

By Michelle Jones
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Michelle Jones, Shake Shack

Retail food establishments face many challenges, and employee retention is one of the major concerns. Employee retention affects scheduling, hiring, and the overall effectiveness of training.  Food safety training usually suffers when turnover occurs.

The safety of customers is dependent on an employee’s knowledge and execution of the food safety standards that are in place.

The biggest challenge in training in the retail/hospitality industry is the risk that the employee may leave within the first year (or less) of employment. According to Restaurant.org, the average turnover rate for the restaurant/hospitality sector was 66.3% in 2014.1 This turnover rate creates a challenge for maintaining a solid food safety culture.

Restaurants can take proactive steps to create and maintain a food safety culture that is always visible to new and current employees by adopting various techniques.

Signage Is Your Friend

Signage throughout your restaurant is a great way to continuously relay a food safety message without confining employees to a computer or module-based system.  This signage should be simple, sometimes playful and right to the point. An employee or manager takes roughly 30 seconds, on average, to read a message, so the shorter the better.

Visual signage is always a great tool to use in the back of house to relay food safety standards (e.g., proper cooking temperatures, order of storing food in coolers, etc.).  Signage (photos specifically) may also assist employees who may not communicate in English proficiently.  A picture is worth a thousand words, so utilize photos, cartoons or captions in order to relay the message.

Target the Leader

A quality assurance/food safety team should focus its training on the leaders of a region and/or district. Managers have more incentive to stay with companies longer; therefore, food safety training will be retained for a longer period. They may also visit their locations more frequently than the food safety professional, which gives them additional contact with the restaurant-level staff.

To assist these managers in their communication and verification of standards, compose a customized checklist for them to complete during a restaurant visit. The checklist should fulfill the following:

  1. Highlight the top opportunities they seek out (hand washing, sanitizer concentration, etc.)
  2. Provide the proper corrective action to eliminate the opportunities
  3. Considers their time.  A manager does not have the ability to complete a five-page checklist. Keep it simple—just the facts!

If these managers are well versed on food safety and sanitation and procedures, they will be able to hold their restaurants to a higher level of compliance.  So provide them with all of the tools they need to communicate to their employees.

Informed Employees Are Powerful Employees

Creating newsletters or publications serve as a great tool to keep employees informed of food safety policies. These articles can highlight trends in your company and new products available for use (i.e., chemicals, thermometers, etc.).

By law, every restaurant must have an area where employee information is listed (minimum wage, disability rights, etc.).  This board is the perfect place to post your publication.

In conclusion, keeping employees trained on proper food safety standards is the best way to ensure your customers are safe and your brand is protected. Implementing various forms of communication of these standards will create a strong foundation for an excellent food safety culture to exist.

Reference

  1. National Restaurant Association. Hospitality employee turnover rose in 2014.  March 11, 2015.
Dollar

FDA Makes FSMA Education and Training Available

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Dollar

As part of FDA’s FSMA training vision, the agency has announced two funding opportunities aimed at providing outreach, education and training on the FSMA preventive controls rules.

The Native American Tribes Outreach, Education and Training cooperative agreement will provide up to $750,000 annually for three years. “FDA anticipates that federally recognized tribes will need food safety education and training that addresses the regulatory requirements of the applicable FSMA rules and also encompasses specific cultural practices associated with produce farming and food manufacturing/processing within tribes relevant to their status as sovereign nations,” according to an FDA release.

The Local Food Producer Outreach, Education, and Training agreement will award local food producers $1.5 million this fiscal year with the potential for two more years if federal funds are available. It aims to assist small and mid-size producers/processors with particular practices related to their scale of production and management practices. The agreement will focus on those involved in local food systems while considering “account diversified, sustainable, organic and identity-preserved agricultural production and processing.”

Empower Employees to Make Decisions

By Maria Fontanazza
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At this year’s IAFP 2015 conference, there was a lot of buzz surrounding food safety culture and employee behavior. Laura Nelson, vice president of business development at Alchemy, shares her insights on the importance of empowering employees. This is achieved through providing training that gives them the confidence to make immediate decisions on the facility floor.

“We have to own the fact that employees are the key. They are exposed to the product and they’re really the ones touching our food every day,” says Nelson. “And yet, we don’t do a really good job at training and measuring that effectiveness in their execution of the behaviors that we train them on, on the plant floor.”

In the following video, Nelson talks about what industry is doing right in food safety culture, and the areas in which improvement is needed moving forward.

The Accountability Factor in Food Safety Culture

By Maria Fontanazza
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To build an organizational culture that embraces true food safety preventive controls, give employees the autonomy to make critical decisions.

Strengthening food safety culture within a company goes beyond the quality function in raising the banner for food safety: Engagement across an organization, from human resources to maintenance to operations are essential. In a recent Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Laura Nelson, vice president of business development and professional services at Alchemy Systems, discusses how companies can train employees working on the plant floor to help them attain a level of empowerment to take an active, preventative role in food safety, as well as how to engage executive leadership in sharing and evaluating metrics.

Food Safety Tech: How does the accountability of employees play into FSMA implementation?

Laura Nelson: FSMA is going to be additive to what [companies] are doing now in some ways. When you look at FSMA, I think about formalized programs for some companies that may not have a full-blown environmental program that is managed as a preventive control. There’s a lot of training [involved], not only in executing the environmental program, but also in how you maintain your environment to prevent those microbial niches. You start to drill back from the actual protocol of environmental monitoring, and what you do when you receive a positive listeria. How can we start educating employees to be able to recognize the niche? [For example,] is it a cramped pushcart, or damage to [something] holding product where it can’t be properly cleaned? You start educating employees at the level that they can play a more preventative role [in recognizing] they need to take equipment out of commission or send it to maintenance because it can’t be cleaned. This is when we start to see a real change in the culture of a plant. People move beyond these SOPs and requirements to a much more facilitative and educational role to drive the support of some of the FSMA requirements.

The other thing I see is record keeping: There’s a big criticality in maintaining records. People maintain a lot of data now, and there’s a lot of ancillary information included. We just haven’t had the scrutiny on record keeping. The auditors will look through it and find the information they need, but it will be a different [level of] scrutiny when FDA inspectors start to look at the data out there. I think that provides a big opportunity for industry to look at how they maintain records, what they use, and how to capture it. Again, it rolls down to employees—educating them on what is a proper record.

FST: Is facilitating employee awareness and training a challenge faced by more smaller companies versus larger organizations?

Nelson: I think large and small companies face the same challenge, and that is to elevate the knowledge of their employees (they are the eyes and ears) to help them maintain your food safety programs. It goes beyond an SOP on how to clean a piece of equipment or wash their hands. It’s more of understanding the “whys” behind it so they can be line-of-sight. They’re [on the floor] 24/7; they’re the ones who see equipment getting damaged, or drips and leaks. For them to understand and recognize what kind of risk that introduces into a plant [enables them] to raise their hand to prompt some corrective action.

There are food companies out there that are looking to achieve that level of autonomy of giving employees the ability to stop a line because there’s a food safety issue. These are hourly workers that have the autonomy to do that. That’s a huge thing. If you’re able to do that, you’ve far surpassed the basic compliance of any kind of training or education. You’re really looking at an organizational culture that has embraced true food safety preventative controls program.

FST: Food Safety Culture makes the connection between employee behavior and accountability, and establishing metrics. What are your thoughts on Food Safety Culture moving forward?

Nelson: It’s very hard to monitor behaviors. It’s easier to do classroom training and check that box. [It’s the] “how-to”: How do you do that? How do you mature your food safety culture to a point where you get to that autonomy point? We know that you need to go beyond letting employees read SOPs and sign-in [sheets], and say they understand it and move on. You have to move beyond classroom training where you’re giving employees what they need to know and telling them the requirements. You have to connect those behaviors, and then monitor and observe those behaviors, and validate that you’re executing on them. Then it’s applied onto the plant floor.

Embrace the culture of helping each other. Once you’ve achieved this: if your employees are executing when you’re not looking, that’s culture. It’s integrated and something that people embrace.

We did some research on the topic and developed an iPad coaching tool that allows people to systematically gather the data, to capture and automate it. We found that supervisors appreciated it because they had something that was clear and gives them dialogue on what to say in the event that something was missed.

FST: Where should companies focus when training and educating employees to reach a stage of empowerment?

Nelson: The training needs to be at the [appropriate] education level; it needs to be in the language they that understand. [For example,] companies may be able to do a lot more with pictures to accommodate non-English speaking folks in their plant.

Employees need to be challenged and quizzed to make sure they understand the information. The training itself needs to be tied to metrics:  What are you trying to achieve as a plant and therefore [need] to train people on? This should be tied into factors such as customer complaints, quality issues, and what has a direct impact on what employees are doing or not doing, as this [leads to] much more accountability. That’s where the role of the frontline supervisor is critical. That position is absolutely key to the success of driving food safety program compliance. We have to recognize that our frontline supervisors need the skills to motivate employees and communicate effectively with them, including discussing the challenges in conflict resolution.

Elevating food safety so employees as are aware. Awareness programs have a documented advance to people trying to drive specific requirements. We’ve seen a lot of people develop awareness programs around food safety and provide the focus in the plant on key elements that people struggle with. That way, they’re able to have multiple touch points (posters, digital signage, huddle guides). This is absolutely key as we move forward: not just training, but ongoing awareness.

FST: How can companies further educate management to understand the value of food safety culture and reach a point of alignment?

Nelson: There is and can be a pretty big disconnect between executive leadership and what is going on related to food safety. When you talk about the collaboration of the team and those within the plant, you have to include your executive management team. They should understand the different activities and efforts that go into driving a food safety program in a plant. When talking about metrics and evaluating effectiveness, that data should be shared with the executive team on a routine basis so that everyone is clear on what is happening in the plant as well as the results. If the results aren’t where we want them to be, and we’re not in a continuous improvement mode, then what is it going to take to get there? That dialogue should be had.

If you don’t continue to educate your executive team on what issues you’re seeing, then you start creating a divide within the organization. That’s part of what stems from people struggling with a lack of resources and time; this disproportionate disconnect is between other activities within a plant. Communication needs to be routine; people need to be held accountable for metrics so that you’re actually tracking to them. And if you need [more] resources, it’s the perfect way to start building a case for getting additional sales, technology, programs or procedures.

Food Safety Tech’s Food Safety Culture Series

Embed Food Safety Culture. There’s No On/Off Switch

Food Safety Culture: Measure What You Treasure