Tag Archives: food safety culture

Deirdre Schlunegger, STOP Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

The Food Safety Culture Conversation

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, STOP Foodborne Illness

I learn and remember visually and I was recently thinking about the food safety world and culture; how the fabric of the culture is woven together with people who care about people. After all, that is what it comes down to, people who cultivate, grow, harvest, produce, distribute, deliver, store, prepare, serve and eat safe food. When there is a breakdown of the weave, people become ill and some die, families are devastated, business fails and trust is broken. The system fails.

It really comes down to each weaver, regardless of the level of responsibility performing their duty, knowing that they are the link between health and illness, success and failure, life and death. So, the question is how do we make sure that each person who comes in contact with food products is thoroughly educated, truly understands the impact and has a breadth of awareness of the importance of food safety?

Many companies are admirably deeply invested in food safety training. Organizations share food safety tips about safe food practices, including Stop Foodborne Illness. Stop Foodborne Illness employees and volunteers bring the stories of foodborne illness to light each time we speak, are present at conferences, participate in food safety trainings, deliver video messages and send out newsletters. We work with those impacted and pair them with others who have experienced the same thing and offer them an outlet to share their stories.

What more can we do? 3000 people in the US die each year, 128,000 are hospitalized and 48 million become ill. The numbers are much too high. Let’s keep the food safety culture conversation going and improvement in training and practices and ideas flowing. Here is one such story to start the conversation.

Tressa, Chloe, and Luke

 

Stanley Rutledge, Stop Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

What’s the Point?

By Stanley Rutledge
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Stanley Rutledge, Stop Foodborne Illness

I’m surprised when I meet people who ask me, “What’s the point?”

What’s the point of…contacting people who’ve been impacted by foodborne illness? Sharing those peoples’ stories with industry?

Turns out, most of these people are speaking out of inexperience. For them, foodborne illness is a day or two spent home in bed, or the bathroom. They honestly aren’t aware that every year, for the families and friends of 3000 people*, foodborne illness is a destructive force much like the recent hurricane. It forces many people out of the lives they’re living into dire, and often extreme, situations where they’re required to rely on strangers and others for help. And before they reach a “new normal”—whatever that means—they face a myriad of physical, mental, financial, and social consequences. Unlike the hurricane, however, people who are victims of foodborne illness get no advance warning and are powerless to stop its effects, or even prepare for them.

At Stop Foodborne Illness we know the transforming power of story—of being able to recount an experience so powerful that it set you on a path different from where you started. For us, sharing those stories on an industry level is empowering for everyone involved. I’m always saying that everybody knows they need to wash their hands, but when that knowledge transitions from your head to your heart, then you have habits changing and behavior being modified.

Last month, a constituent from Wisconsin had the opportunity to share her story with about 120 employees of a fruit processing plant also located in Wisconsin. The following is an email we received afterwards that so clearly explains why we do what we do at Stop:

“You did an absolutely wonderful job. The impact on the group was exactly what I had hoped. Rest assured that you are making a difference by telling your story, and I know that was emotional and hard for you. Many people came up to me and said how different it makes them think of things now, having heard someone speak so close to home that almost died.

I can’t thank you enough.”

*The CDC estimates that every year in the United States, 3000 people die from foodborne disease, and that 128,000 people are hospitalized.

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

How Do We Incentivize Behavior Change?

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness

In March, I presented and participated in a session regarding produce safety at The Global Food Safety Conference in Houston. In April, I was the keynote speaker at the BRC conference in Orlando, Florida. I asked: What incentivizes the human spirit and how do we draw on people’s creativity and their ability to have empathy and to solve problems?  Which interventions are more or less likely to stimulate one’s ability to care about food safety as it relates to human beings? Knowledge alone seldom changes behavior. The imagination benefits from stimulation—for example, listening to personal stories. For change to happen, there must be an emotional connection to the idea of achievable outcomes.

This past year we spoke at a large food company. During a pre-call to discuss what the presentation might look like, one man said that nearly 20 years ago, he heard Nancy Donley speak about her son Alex, who died at the age of six from a foodborne illness. He said since that time, he has never looked at food safety the same way, and he takes every single infraction dealing with food safety as a possible consequence for someone’s life. A rational understanding of what a better outcome might look like will often involve a deeper understanding and a connection with an issue and with the individuals related to that issue. Change is difficult. We often don’t learn until we risk collapse or fail. In a moment of crisis, we are presented with a unique opportunity for change. This idea could stand to be finely calibrated, as there are moments that are too painful to activate learning as one struggles with a deep sense of hopelessness, and there are moments when change lies outside the realm of possibilities. An analytic perspective without access to emotional content is unlikely to provide the conditions for change, but a link between the head and the heart may initiate transformation.

I met Will Daniels, formerly of Earthbound Farms after an emotional presentation he made at a conference. He spoke about a young boy who died from the spinach outbreak and he referred to his children of nearly the same age. He also presented the sequence of events that led to and followed the outbreak in a very factual and logical way. This link between his head and his heart delivered a presentation that was impactful, emotional, factual and sincere. A cold analysis of a problem is seldom sufficient, nor is the condition of people when they are stuck in an overwhelming emotional state. The challenge is to find middle ground and put together thinking and feeling in a context where a coherent narrative will be created. For individuals to change their behavior, we must influence not only their environment, but their hearts and their minds. What we do know about change and people’s readiness to change is that it has much to do with timing and ripeness. The crucial question is whether issues are close enough to the surface to break into the public discourse or to have an impact on a system. As a protective mechanism, people resist the pain of engagement and hold onto old assumptions, often adopting a deluded narrative. People may find that blaming others, scapegoating, externalizing the other party, denying the problem, jumping to conclusions, or launching a distracting issue might restore stability and feel less stressful than facing and taking responsibility for a complex challenge.

We often see change in companies and their policies after they have experienced an outbreak, not before. Over the years we have seen this with several companies whose confidence was high prior to an outbreak, as they had never had a problem before and felt as if they were immune. The challenge is to allow for conditions in that there is sufficient pressure to change but there is also a safety net in place. There is a real tension between the pressure to change and the conditions that allow for necessary creativity, flexibility and imagination to get us through a crisis.   Businesses that are transparent in their admittance to a problem often are better able to create change in a safe environment. In other words, “yes, we have a problem and what are we going to do to change course?” Crisis isn’t necessary but in reality, catastrophic events often precede modifications in policy and practice. Creating a head/heart connection during planning and training may deliver a sense of urgency to help individuals remember “the why” behind food safety.

Until we prepare for a future with a sense of urgency and commitment and fully integrate “the why behind food safety”, we will merely repeat errors of the past. It takes courage and true leadership to carry out a vision, a future that doesn’t deny or divorce itself from the past but uses it in such a way that opens the door to progress. We have improved our narratives and are better at risk analysis and detection, and I believe we will continue to improve.

Maria Fontanazza, Zephyr Wilson, Food Safety Consortium

Encourage Employees to Find Listeria

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Maria Fontanazza, Zephyr Wilson, Food Safety Consortium

Building the right food safety culture around environmental monitoring requires a realistic approach to your processes. “Culture starts with understanding your process,” Zephyr Wilson, product manager at Roka Bioscience told Food Safety Tech at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium. “You need to ask questions—a lot of questions.”

In the following video, Wilson talks about food safety culture in the context of environmental monitoring and how companies should approach environmental monitoring. “Understand all of your processes,” she said. “Take an honest look at your metrics and make sure you’re encouraging your employees to find the Listeria.”

She also reviews the steps a company should take when undergoing self-auditing, and encourages companies to work under the direction of an attorney to ensure that all results are confidential.

Frank Yiannas, Walmart, 2016 Food Safety Consortium

Moving Food Safety Culture Beyond Slogans

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Frank Yiannas, Walmart, 2016 Food Safety Consortium

“If you think about evolution and continuous improvement in food safety, it’s nothing new,” said Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium. In the following video, Yiannas introduces his perspective on how food safety culture has evolved and moved beyond a slogan or buzzword.

Stay tuned for more video clips from Yiannas’ presentation at the Food Safety Consortium.

FSC 2016

FSMA, Listeria, Fraud and Food Safety Culture Among Top Topics at Food Safety Consortium

By Maria Fontanazza
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FSC 2016

The 2016 Food Safety Consortium was a big success, from the preconference events that included the STOP Foodborne Illness fundraiser honoring heroes in food safety and the education workshops (SQF Information Day and preventive controls courses) to the record-breaking attendance we saw during the main program (with keynotes from FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Stephen Ostroff, M.D., Walmart’s Vice President of Food Safety Frank Yiannas, and FBI’s Special Agent Scott Mahloch).

As the event winded down, the leaders of each session track shared their insights on lessons learned during the Consortium.

Understanding biofilm and how it forms.  If you’re seeing peaks and valleys in the positives and negatives in your environmental swabbing program, you may have resident Listeria that has formed a biofilm, which requires a deep clean. Focus on biofilm, not just mitigation of the Listeria bacteria itself. – Gina Kramer, Savour Food Safety International. Read Gina’s column, Food Safety Think Tank, where she talks about the latest technology and innovations.

This is the first conference I’ve been to you where food fraud is being more widely acknowledged as a serious, important concern that is distinctly separate from food safety. One of the more significant takeaways is the number of tools that are now available for people to mitigate their risk to food fraud in the supply chain. – Steve Sklare, USP

Warren Hojnacki, SGS
Warren Hojnacki, SGS

A while back food safety was a nice-to-have but not a need-to-have. It’s certainly an absolute need-to-have now. There are three groups of individuals out there: The third that has picked up the baton and is proactive, the other third that are in the middle of it right now, and the other third have their heads in the sand. I come across a sizable portion that is in the bottom third, and it’s slightly scary… It’s the documentation that a lot of companies are having the biggest challenge in dealing with—the death by paper. The resources out there are immense. It’s a necessity to have right now in order to be effective and compliant.  – Warren Hojnacki, SGS

FSMA regulations require us to be risk based, scientifically based and systematic in our approach to our concerns and issues. – Barb Hunt, Savour Food Safety International

There’s potential for greater data and actions: i.e., the microbiome study or particulate contamination analysis, PLM, IR spectroscopy, SEM EDS, [and] raman spectroscopy…Lab customers may need to depend more greatly on contract labs as FSMA develops and in return, labs need to work more closely with the customers to get dependable, defensive data results. – Eric Putnam, Wixon, Inc.

Trish Wester, PA Wester Consulting
Trish Wester, PA Wester Consulting

We need to do a better job of messaging upstream to our corporate senior officials so we get the money and resources we need—there’s still a gap there. We need to find ways to communicate to them.  – Trish Wester, PA Wester Consulting

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

Time to Reflect and Honor Food Safety Heroes

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness
Robert Tauxe, CDC
CDC’s Robert Tauxe will be honored by STOP Foodborne Illness at a fundraiser during the 2016 Food Safety Consortium.

STOP Foodborne Illness is honored again this year to be given the opportunity by Food Safety Tech to hold a fundraising event at the Food Safety Consortium on Tuesday, December 6 at 7 p.m. in Schaumburg, Illinois (Chicago area). We are honoring 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 with the Advancing Science for Food Safety Award; Scott Horsfall, representing The California Leafy Green Marketing Association with the Food Safety Training Award; and Jeff Almer, whose mother died from foodborne illness for the Food Safety Hero award. We will have a silent auction, music and food. This is a time to pause and thank those who have positively influenced our food safety system and we hope you will join us.

STOP Foodborne Illness is a national nonprofit public health organization dedicated to the prevention of illness and death from foodborne pathogens.

  • Advocating for sound public policy
  • Building public awareness
  • Assisting those impacted by foodborne illness
Scott Horsfall Dan Sutton Jeff Almer
Scott Horsfall Dan Sutton Jeff Almer

Last year’s Food Safety Heroes were Nancy Donley, former spokesperson for Safe Tables Our Priority and STOP Foodborne Illness and Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart.

FDA’s Michael Taylor Joins in Honoring Food Safety Heroes

 

Deirdre Schlunegger, STOP Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Ten Years and Counting: Advocating Change

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, STOP Foodborne Illness

According to the CDC, people from 26 states were reported to have E. coli O157:H7 from fresh spinach: This month marks 10 years since this outbreak wreaked havoc on the lives of 205 confirmed persons, three of whom lost their lives. Something in the system, and the process, definitely needed to be fixed. A sea change was in order.

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 MOREAmong those whose lives were irrevocably changed was Rylee Gustafson, a young woman whom STOP Foodborne Illness considers not only a friend and constituent, but also a powerful advocate for change. She was 9 years old when she volunteered to choose what her family was going to eat that day. She chose spinach, and what should have been an insignificant event—dinner with her family—became a monumental force in her life. Rylee was knocked down, but she got back up and has been telling her story, changing people’s lives, and enlightening government and industry decision-makers ever since. Subsequently, Rylee has influenced the life of every American.

Thanks to the hard work of advocates like Rylee, the question of how to create a food safety culture has been making its way into the consciousness of America. In October, STOP Foodborne Illness will be hosting a webinar addressing the very question of creating and sustaining a food safety culture. “Food safety culture” has become a buzz word in the industry. but what steps can be taken to strategically ensure that it not only happens, but that it thrives?

Together with Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Walmart, Mike Taylor, senior fellow at Freedman Consulting, and Steve Schluneger, principal of Intrinsic Leadership, I will present and answer these questions and more during this webinar.

Thanks to the generosity and technical prowess of Food Safety Tech, and our esteemed guests, this event is sure to be a powerful and enlightening discussion.

The webinar is titled, Food Safety Culture: We Know Why, Let’s Talk About How. It takes place from 1-2 pm CST on October 11, 2016. The cost of registration before October 4 is $129. Register here.

Please join us!

Elise Forward, Forward Food Solutions
FST Soapbox

Embracing the New Direction

By Elise Forward
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Elise Forward, Forward Food Solutions

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.

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.