Tag Archives: food safety culture

Frank Yiannas, FDA, food safety

Ten Years Later, a Reflection on FSMA’s Accomplishments

Frank Yiannas, FDA, food safety

It may be hard to believe that 10 years have passed since FSMA became law. The risk-based preventive approach to growing, manufacturing and processing, packing, storing and transporting food has transformed the industry and the nation’s food system. Today, on the anniversary of FSMA, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas takes a look at where it all began and walks us through progress, accomplishments and what the future holds.

  • Seven foundational rules established, and the proposed Food Traceability Rule (September 2020) positioned to harmonized traceability
  • Global partnerships (Canada, Mexico, Europe, and China) to strengthen safety of imported food
  • Investment in cooperative agreement programs to support compliance with FSMA rules at the state level
  • Looking forward: New Era of Smarter Food Safety, with blueprint released in July 2020 creates a 10-year roadmap for a more “digital, traceable and safer food system”
    • Incentivizing industry to adopt new technologies that facilitate full traceability
    • Emphasis on food safety culture on farms and in food facilities
    • Improving root cause analysis when preventive control measures fail

“Have we accomplished everything we wanted to help ensure that the food you serve your family is safe? The honest answer is that we’re still working on that. We are working diligently to ensure that remaining FSMA rules and related guidance documents are finalized and implemented,” said Yiannas in the FDA Voices blog. “But even when we have reached all of those milestones, we will always be working with industry on continuous improvement based on the latest science and the application of new technologies. Every day we will do our utmost to make our nation’s food as safe as it can be.”

Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech
From the Editor’s Desk

Top 10 from the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

By Maria Fontanazza
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Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech

2020 has taken a lot away from us, but it has also taught us the importance of being able to quickly adapt (can you say…“pivot”?) to rapidly changing, dire circumstances. For Food Safety Tech, that meant shifting our in-person annual Food Safety Consortium to a virtual event. I really look forward to the Consortium each year, because we are a virtual company, and this is the one time of year that most of the Food Safety Tech and Innovative Publishing Company team are together. When we made the decision to move the event online, we really wanted to be considerate of our attendees, who more than likely were quickly developing webinar and Zoom fatigue. So we created a series of 14 Episodes that spanned from September until last week. I am not going to single out one episode or speaker/session in particular, because I think that all of our speakers and sponsors brought a tremendous amount of education to the food safety community. Thank you.

With that, the following are my top 10 takeaways from the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series—and this simply scratches the surface. Feel free to leave a comment on what you learned from our speakers and the discussions this fall.

  1. COVID-19 has served as the springboard for digital transformation, more of which we have seen in the past nine months than in the last several years or even decade. Tech advances are increasing efficiencies, adding the ability to be more predictive, giving more visibility and traceability in the supply chain and offering increased accessibility. These include: IoT; Advanced analytics; Artificial intelligence (FDA has been piloting AI technology); Graph technology used in supply chain visibility; blockchain; mixed reality; and remote monitoring.
  2. There are new responsibilities that come with being a part of America’s critical infrastructure and protecting essential frontline workers.
    • Companies must have a strong relationship (or work to build one) with local health departments and authorities
    • Name a COVID Czar at your company: This is a designated person, located both within a production facility as well as at the corporate location, who manages the bulk of the requirements and precautions that companies should be undertaking to address the pandemic.
  3. Every company should have an emergency risk management plan that centers around good communication.
  4. The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder to us that the threat for viruses is always lurking beneath the surface. There is still work to be done on the food labs side regarding more rapid assays, leveling the playing field regarding conducting viral testing, and technology that enables labs to get safe, effective and consistent results.
  5. Lessons in sanitation: Investment in sanitation is critical, there are no shortcuts, and empower your sanitation employees, give them the tools they need to effectively do their jobs.
  6. The FDA’s FSMA Proposed Traceability rule is expected to be a “game changer”. It will lay the foundation for meaningful harmonization. FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas said the pandemic really put a spotlight on the fact that the U.S. food industry needs better tracking and tracing.
  7. Know your suppliers, know your suppliers, know your suppliers!
  8. Biofilms are ubiquitous, and the process of detecting and eliminating Listeria in your facility is a marathon with no finish line.
  9. Food Safety Culture is a profit center, not an overhead department.
  10. “If I’m not well, I can’t do well.” Making sure your needs are met personally and professionally plays an important role in being a better contributor to your company’s success.

As part of a special offering, we are making four episodes of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series available on demand for free. Head to our Events & Webinars page to register to view the sessions on or after January 2021.

Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Partnerships in Promoting Prevention (of Foodborne Illness)

By Mitzi Baum
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Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness

At Stop Foodborne Illness, or STOP, we know about collaborative partnerships. For more than 26 years, affiliating with like-minded organizations to prevent foodborne disease is the mainstay of our success and continues to provide beneficial results today.

The mission to prevent illness and death due to contaminated food resonates with our allies and aligns with their goals to coordinate and expand efforts. At any given moment, STOP is working with a diverse spectrum of individuals and industries to move the needle on foodborne illness prevention. Today, STOP’s work is focused on constituent services and food safety policy with the overarching goal of public health. Below are examples of current collaborative projects that are uniquely effective.

Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness

The Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness (Alliance) is an initiative of STOP, leading food companies, and other organizations committed to the goal of preventing foodborne illness. For 25 years, Stop Foodborne Illness has communicated the compelling personal stories of people and families who have experienced serious foodborne illness or the death of loved ones. The goals of communicating these personal stories are to make clear why food safety must be a central value of the food system and to help motivate people in both the food industry and government to do their best every day to reduce hazards and prevent illness. Through the Alliance, STOP and leading food companies are collaborating to expand the reach and impact of personal stories to strengthen food safety cultures and prevent foodborne illness.

The Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness has a mission to:

  • Forge partnerships between STOP and leading food companies to build trust and support strong food safety cultures.
  • Collaboratively design and implement innovative, well-tailored programs that make compelling personal stories an integral motivational element of food safety culture and training programs.
  • Expand the reach and impact of personal stories through outreach to the small- and medium-size companies that are key contributors to modern supply chains.

Current Alliance members: Costco, Cargill, Conagra Brands, Coca-Cola, Yum! Brands, Nestle USA, LGMA, Empirical Foods, Maple Leaf Foods, Mars, Walmart, Wegmans, and Amazon.

Constituent/Advocate Engagement

Working with those who have been impacted by severe foodborne illness is base to our prevention work. We engage our constituent/advocates in many projects and continually seek additional opportunities.

  • STOP’s new website houses a navigational map for anyone who is in crisis, post-crisis or managing the long-term consequences of surviving severe foodborne disease. This structured, informational composition was created by constituent/advocates that are sharing their lived experiences. This incisive work provides incredible insight into the journey that may lie ahead and how to manage the potential labyrinth.
  • With our partner, Center for Science in the Public Interest, we have created a national platform for survivors of salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis to speak about their experiences surviving these diseases.
  • The Alliance has created multiple working partnerships with individual constituent/advocates.
  • STOP’s speaker’s bureau provides opportunities for our constituent/advocates to share their personal stories with large groups in person or virtually.
  • A recent college graduate who is a constituent/advocate is leading the creation of a new program for the organization.

Dave Theno Fellowship

Dave Theno Fellowship is a partnership with Michigan State University (MSU) that provides a recent public health, food science, animal science or political science graduate (undergraduate or graduate degree) the opportunity to conduct two distinct research projects, engage in STOP programming, participate on coalition calls and earn a certificate in food safety from MSU.

STOP is working with MSU to create a new course for its Online Food Safety Program that focuses on food safety failures and the impact of those system breakdowns on consumers.

Early Detection of Foodborne Illness Research

In conjunction with North Carolina State University, Michigan State University, Eastern Carolina University and University of Michigan, STOP is engaging in research to identify gaps in knowledge and application of the 2017 Infectious Disease Society of America Clinical Practice Guidelines of the Diagnosis and Management of Infectious Diarrhea (IDSA) for healthcare workers. Our early findings have identified that most healthcare workers do not know about nor follow the IDSA guidelines, which include reporting of cases of infectious diarrhea and identification of the pathogen for identification and prevention of potential widespread outbreaks.

To support this research, STOP is completing a systematic literature review with the intent to publish.

Recall Modernization Working Group

STOP has been convening a group of experts comprised of individuals from academia, Alliance members, external industry partners, food industry associations, public health organizations, and industry consultants to deep dive into food recalls to define the current landscape, discuss systemic changes necessary for expedient and efficient execution of recalls for both industry and consumers and develop recommendations on how to accomplish those changes.

Everyone is susceptible to foodborne illness; thus, we need a varied, coordinated approach. Each of these partnerships helps our colleagues meet their goals while promoting prevention of foodborne illness by straddling both industry and consumer focused work. Executing our mission takes many forms and that requires diversity in partnerships, a shared vision and tangible, sustainable results.

Adam Serfas, R.S. Quality
FST Soapbox

Tips for Creating an Inclusive Color-Coding Plan for Food Manufacturing Facilities

By Adam Serfas
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Adam Serfas, R.S. Quality

Color-coding as a quality assurance and safety measure has been on the rise since the passage of FSMA in 2011. Now, 10 years later, color-coding is being used in a wide range of industries from food manufacturers and processors to pharmaceutical developers and even brewers. As the popularity of the practice of color-coding has increased, so too has the market for color-coded tools. Nowadays, those in the industry can find virtually every high-quality cleaning tool under the sun, and a hygienic tools storage option for that tool in the color needed. The improved quality and availability of these products is wonderful, but nice tools alone cannot ensure a successful color-coding plan. Color-coding compliance is only possible when there is team-wide buy-in. That means meeting the team where they are—making the plan important to every single employee who steps onto a production floor. To do that, it needs to be introduced in an inclusive manner. The following are some tips for creating and implementing an inclusive color-coding plan.

Draw Up the Plan With Folks Beyond Management

Before you ever lock in a color-coding plan—whether you plan to color-code by zone, by allergen or by shifts—you first need to consult a wide range of team members. One common mistake is developing a color-coding plan with only quality assurance experts and those in management. This presents a problem for a couple of reasons.

One, you’re missing out on the perspective of those who will most often be asked to execute the plan. Say you choose the color purple as one of the colors in your color-coding plan, and you purchase all of the tools you think you will need in that color. You roll out the plan only to find out there’s an essential tool you need, and it doesn’t come in that color. You now have a problem on your hands, and a costly one at that, as you’re going to need to start over with a new color and new tools.

Beyond needing that on-the-ground perspective, you miss out on a key opportunity to gain buy-in early on from those who will be directly involved in carrying out the plan. Do yourself a favor and invite shift leaders to the table. Explain to them what you would like to do with a color-coding plan and listen to any advice they might have on executing a plan everyone is going to want to see succeed. Generally speaking, it pays to go with a big-tent approach to planning, so spend some time thinking about which parties should be represented in the planning process to capture all of the varying viewpoints of those at your facility.

Ensure the Plan Is Color-Blind Friendly

As selecting colors is one of the most important things you do in drafting a color-coding plan,pay special attention to the colors themselves. Color-blindness affects 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women—certainly not a negligible amount, and something you want to take into consideration.

Once you figure out all of the tools you need, determine which colors can accommodate those needs. From that list, try to avoid the most commonly confused color pairings in your plan. Red and green, green and brown, green and blue, blue and gray, blue and purple, green and grey, and green and black are the most commonly confused. If possible, avoid using those color combinations. Instead, opt for high-contrast options such as orange and purple, purple and yellow, or blue and yellow to name a few.

Some people will also look to shades to help achieve a higher contrast. For example, lime green and a maroon red is much better for a color-blind person than your standard royal red and shamrock green. These days more tools are available in varied shades but, again, you need to ensure that you’re able to get every tool you need now—and in the foreseeable future—in the color you pick.

Should you need to use colors that are not high-contrast, do your best to keep those tools separate. If you are color-coding by zone, use the most commonly confused color combinations on the opposite ends of the facility, where they are less likely to swap places. You can also help by using tool storage boards such as shadow boards or wall racks that are color-coded to match the tools. That way, tools always go back to the same place after each use.

Employ Multilingual Trainings and Signage

Generally speaking, the food industry is particularly diverse, and many facilities employ staff whose first language is not English. Work with your HR team and managers to identify which languages are primarily spoken among your staff and ensure you can offer trainings on the color-coding plan in all of those languages. Frequently, facilities have employees who are multilingual and can therefore translate during a training session. If not, it may be wise to hire a translator. This presents a nominal fee, whereas an employee failing to follow a color-coding plan could have disastrous consequences.

It is also important to ensure that any signage you have explaining the color-coding plan is available in the primary languages of the employees.

Make Use of Different Teaching Methods

Just as in the classroom, employees come to work with different learning styles. It’s up to the employer to meet those different needs with varying teaching styles and materials that speak to the importance of the color-coding plan. For the auditory learners, an all-hands meeting where a leader explains the importance of color-coding is going to be great. For the visual learners, handouts and permanent signage throughout your facility will be appreciated.

Meanwhile, tactile learners might want to run through a practice of grabbing tools, seeing where they will be used and returning them to their designated storage spot to see the plan in action. While asking employees to go through these different teachings might draw some eye-rolls for those who feel they grasped the concept the first time, the exercise might help make the color-coding plan click for someone who struggled to understand what they were being asked to do. Additionally, repetition helps all learners, so revisit these trainings to refresh veteran staff and bring newer folks up to speed.

Invite Feedback

Finally, invite employees to share feedback with you along the way. An inclusive culture is one that allows everyone to have a voice. Make it clear that team members are welcome to share any feedback they have on the color-coding plan, the trainings and tools along the way. Once again, in the interest of accommodating everyone, it’s a good idea to offer multiple avenues for feedback reporting. You might like to invite employees to share feedback directly with managers and also offer an anonymous suggestion box that gets checked regularly. Every facility and every staff has unique needs, so listening to the suggestions that come your way can help shed light on important considerations.

Food Safety Consortium

2020 FSC Episode 12 Preview: Food Safety Culture

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

Episode 12 of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series features a discussion on how food safety professionals can bridge the gap between the C-Suite and Food Safety. The presentation is given by food safety attorney Shawn Stevens of Food Industry Counsel, LLC, and followed by a TechTalk from Michael Alderson of STOP Alliance.

As part of a special offering, Episode 12 been made available for viewing on demand for free. Register to view the on-demand recording.

Checklist

2020 FSC Episode 6 Wrap: Lessons in Sanitation

By Maria Fontanazza
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Checklist

COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the importance of proper handwashing and overall hygiene. In addition to focusing on worker and operational safety, it has also pushed food manufacturers and processors to pay more attention to the location of high-touch areas and how they should be cleaned, sanitized, disinfected and sterilized. During last week’s Food Safety Consortium episode on sanitation, there was discussion about the need to have the right sanitation plan and properly trained people in place. “When it comes to food safety, who are the most important people in the plant? It’s the sanitation crew and employees. They are on the frontlines, ” said Shawn Stevens, founder of Food Industry Counsel, LLC. “If they don’t do their job or are not given the tools to do their jobs, that’s where the failures occur. We need to empower them. We have to invest in sanitation and not be complacent.”

Investing in a sanitation plan is where it all begins, said Elise Forward, president of Forward Food Solutions. Within the plan, companies need to include items such as PPE and sanitation equipment, along with what resources will be needed and what chemicals will be required. “What would it look like in our manufacturing facilities if we had a plan for the pandemic?” asked Forward. “There was so much scrambling: ‘How do we do this and what do we do’. We need to plan for these events.” Forward, along with David Shelep, microbiologist and consultant for Paramount Sciences and Bill Leverich, president of Microbiologics, Inc., offered a strong overview of the right components of a sanitation plan and the common products and technologies used in the process (quaternary ammoniums, sodium hypochlorite, ethyl alcohol, peracetic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and chlorine dioxide). They also provided insight on some of the products and technologies that are being explored in the face of COVID-19—UV-C and hypochlorous acid, which has applications in cleaning biofilms, hand sanitizing, fogging, and surface application (i.e., electrostatic spraying, mopping).

“Cleaning and sanitizing is setting up your production team(s) for success.” – Elise Forward, Forward Food Solutions

View the list of EPA-registered COVID-19 disinfectants.

Beyond sanitation methods, companies need to invest in employee training and be committed to their safety. This means giving employees sick days and not incentivizing them to come to work when they are sick.

Rob Mommsen, senior director, global quality assurance and food safety for Sabra Dipping Company, shared a candid perspective on how Sabra developed an effective and validated Listeria environmental monitoring program (LEMP) following an FDA inspection that led to a swab-a-thon, findings of resident Listeria in the plant, and a huge product recall as a result of the Listeria contamination in the plant (Mommsen stated that Listeria was never found in product samples). “We had to severely alter the way we cleaned our plant,” he said. And the company did, with a number of changes that included taking the plant apart and cleaning it; removing all high pressure water nozzles; changing areas in the plant from low care to high care; keeping movable equipment to certain areas in the plant; changing employee and equipment traffic patterns; and retraining staff on GMPs. The company also changed its microbiological strategy, conducting daily swabbing in certain zones, increasing testing on samples, and implementing a weekly environmental meeting that was attended by senior and department managers. “Fast forward” to 2019: FDA conducted an unannounced audit and noted that Sabra’s environmental monitoring program was one of the best they’ve seen and that the company’s culture was clearly driven by food safety, according to Mommsen.

Fast forward again to 2020 and the pandemic: With work-from-home orders in place and other frontline workers staying home for various reasons, the company saw a change GMP adherence, employee training and the frequency of environmental monitoring, said Mommsen. So Sabra had some work to do once again to re-right the ship, and Mommsen presented it as a lessons learned for folks in the food industry: In addition to employee safety, food safety must be the number one priority, and having the support of senior management is critical; the turnaround time for environmental swabs is also critical and an effective LEMP should consist of both conventional testing as well as rapid detection technology; and an environmental monitoring program requires persistence—it is not self sustaining and there are no shortcuts.

The watch the presentations discussed in this article, register for the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, and view the session on demand.

Jill Henry, Essity
FST Soapbox

The New Hygiene Standard: Building Trust Through Employee Safety

By Jill Henry
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Jill Henry, Essity

The pandemic has heightened the need for a new hygiene standard at food manufacturing sites. On August 19, OSHA and FDA released a health and hygiene checklist for food manufacturers to increase employee safety and help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at sites. This checklist reinforces the importance of elevating hygiene standards, but it can be difficult to know where to start—especially for food manufacturers aiming to maintain productivity while maximizing hygiene compliance and safety.

For food manufacturers seeking to navigate OSHA and FDA’s new guide, it’s important to remember that no matter the environment, the basics of hygiene remain true. You can kick-start your updated hygiene plan by implementing simple hygiene best practices and establishing comprehensive and clear protocols to achieve compliance on the road ahead. Remember, employee health and productivity begins with a safety-first mindset. Start by establishing a strong foundation with these tips that will help you maintain your food manufacturing site’s hygiene checklist amid COVID-19 and beyond.

Achieve Hand Hygiene Compliance

Hands are the most exposed part of the body to pathogens. Therefore, hand hygiene is considered one of the most important and effective measures to avoid the transmission of harmful pathogens, viruses and diseases. Given this, consistent and proper handwashing is a fundamental aspect of any hygiene plan, especially in food manufacturing sites where employees frequently touch common surfaces (e.g., door handles, technical equipment, etc.) . People often (and unknowingly) touch their eyes, nose and mouth after touching contaminated surfaces, which contributes to potential transmission.

Hand hygiene is proven to be a primary line of defense in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens, but only when conducted properly. To maintain hand hygiene compliance, the CDC advises that employees thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water, under warm or cold water for at least 20 seconds, before properly drying their hands with a paper towel. All too often, people forget the importance of hand drying in the handwashing process, but it’s very significant as hand drying can help remove any remaining germs from the skin. In addition, germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands, which makes hand drying critical after a thorough handwashing.

Utilize Signage as Visual Cues

While many are familiar with the importance of hand hygiene, it can be difficult to put into practice when employees are busy on the job and forging ahead on production lines. Keep hand hygiene top of mind by utilizing visual cues, such as signage, to remind employees about when, where and how to wash their hands properly. Signage serves as visual reminders to achieve proper hand hygiene compliance and is an important part of establishing a site’s hygiene standard and foundation.

Opt for signage that includes a direct call to action for employees. Using the word “you” can also increase efficacy by calling directly upon the person reading the sign to participate in hand hygiene compliance. Additionally, signage should be updated frequently to keep employees engaged and hand hygiene top of mind. New and fresh reminders on the importance of handwashing will help keep employees attentive, but if you don’t have the time or resources to continually update on-site signage, leverage free tools available online to help you get started.

Establish Surface Cleaning Protocols without Sacrificing Productivity

COVID-19 can spread from surface-to-person contact. This can happen when an employee carrying the virus touches technical equipment on a production line that is not properly wiped down before the next employee’s shift. With this in mind, it’s critical to establish effective surface cleaning protocols that mitigate instances of cross-contamination and don’t create downtime in production or processing.

To create an efficient surface hygiene plan, assess high-touch areas, and develop a list based on where you observe high-touch surfaces to ensure these areas are properly sanitized ahead of shift changes. Provide employees with the surface cleaning checklist that enables them to effectively sanitize surfaces prior to departing their shift. The checklist should include key areas that must be disinfected, as well as tips to properly disinfect surfaces.

When disinfecting surfaces, use an approved disinfectant and a disposable cloth, which ensures the surface is being wiped down with a non-contaminated wiper each time. If using an alcohol-based product, use one with a minimum of 70% alcohol (i.e., Ethanol or Isopropyl alcohol), and always follow the manufacturer’s application guidelines.

Optimize Sanitization Stations and Dispenser Placement
Think strategically and practically about dispenser placement in food manufacturing sites because where sanitizer dispensers are placed makes a difference in whether they are used by employees. Similar to establishing surface cleaning protocols, start by observing where high-traffic areas are on site, and consider critical entry and exit points that would benefit from a dispenser. Dispensers should also be placed in clear view, so they are easily accessible for employees. Consider pairing signage with dispensers as a helpful reminder to utilize these stations and provide instruction on best practices to sanitize effectively.

Optimizing dispenser placement doesn’t stop with implementation. Once dispensers are in place, continue to monitor where dispensers are most frequently used, and assess other areas prime for dispensers. Remember: Employee hygiene and safety is a priority, and optimally placing dispensers and hygiene solutions where they are needed to encourage use is key to creating a safer environment. Place dispensers in areas such as common spaces, near production lines, in locker rooms, and at entrances and exits in order to encourage regular surface cleaning and hand washing. Flexible mounting solutions and portable solutions can facilitate access in harsher environments. The availability of hygiene products encourages their use, so be sure to keep dispensers fully stocked.

Promote Awareness among Employees and Instill Confidence

It’s more important than ever to build employee trust and confidence. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Communicate frequently with employees and distribute guidelines around COVID-19 so that they understand the measures being introduced and how you will continually monitor your environment. Consider implementing COVID-19-specific training and education sessions that empower employees to ask questions about hygiene and safety measures on site, and provide essential instruction on COVID-19 and what to do if a case is confirmed among employees. These sessions can also be used to provide further education and emphasis on how individuals can maintain hygiene compliance for the greater good of the manufacturing site and their colleagues.

In the current environment, it’s clear that food manufacturers must secure a new hygiene standard to maintain employee health and safety and continue to deliver essential products. But with ongoing shifts, changes and uncertainty, it can be challenging to juggle operations and hygiene compliance—while instilling trust and confidence among employees. Whether a site is continuing, resuming or re-evaluating operations amid the current pandemic, it is critical to maintain a strong foundation for hygiene, so that employees are safe and essential production moves ahead.

Checklist

2020 FSC Episode 3 Wrap: Does Your Company Have a COVID Czar?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Checklist

Navigating the murky waters that COVID-19 presents has been no easy task for food companies. Being part of America’s critical infrastructure has meant that adapting to the pandemic has been unavoidable, and the industry has directly taken on the challenges to ensure the nation has a reliable food supply. But what about the frontline workers, their safety and how this ties into operational continuity as a whole? During last week’s episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, an expert panel discussed the practices that food companies have put in place during the pandemic and offered advice on managing the entire scope of COVID-19 challenges including screening employees and preventing infection transmission, safeguarding workers and the facility, administrative and engineering controls, education and training, and risk management.

“No doubt that it is a concert of controls and interventions that have allowed our industry to effectively combat this over the past several months,” said Sanjay Gummalla, senior vice president of scientific affairs at the American Frozen Foods Institute. “By and large, the industry has taken charge of this situation in a way that could not have been predicted.” Gummalla was joined by Trish Wester, founder of the Association for Food Safety Auditing Professionals and Melanie Neumann, executive vice president and general counsel for Matrix Sciences International.

First up, the COVID Czar—what is it and does your company have one? According to Neumann, this is a designated person, located both within a production facility as well as at the corporate location, who manages the bulk of the requirements and precautions that companies should be undertaking to address the pandemic. “We’re not trained in people safety—we’re trained in food safety,” said Neumann. “And it’s a lot to ask, especially on top of having to manage food safety.”

Some of the takeaways during the discussion include:

  • Administrative controls that must be managed: Appropriate cleaning, disinfection and sanitation; PPE; employee hygiene; shift management; and surveillance mechanisms
  • PPE: “It’s really clear now that face masks and coverings are critical in managing source control—it prevents the spread and protects other employees,” said Gummalla. “All employees wearing masks present the highest level of protection.” When the attendees were polled about whether face coverings are mandatory where they work, 91% answered ‘yes’.
  • Engineering controls within facility: Physical distancing measures such as plexiglass barriers, six-foot distance markings, traffic movement, limited employees, and hand sanitizer stations. “Engineering controls in a facility involve isolation from the virus,” said Gummalla. “In this case, controlling [and] reducing the exposure to the virus without relying on specific worker behavior. This is where facilities have implemented a great amount of thoughtful intervention, probably at a high capital cost as well.” Companies should also consider airflow management, which can involving bringing in an outside professional with expertise in negative and positive air pressure, advised Wester.
  • Verification activities and enterprise risk management: Neumann emphasized the importance of documentation as well as advising companies to apply a maturity model (similar to a food safety culture maturity model) to a COVID control program. The goal is to ensure that employees are following certain behaviors when no one is watching. “We want to be able to go from ‘told’ to ‘habit’,” she said.
  • Education and training: Using posters, infographics, brochures and videos, all of which are multilingual, to help emphasize that responsibility lies with every employee. “It is important to recognize the transmission is predominately is person to person,” said Gummalla. Do you have a daily huddle? Neumann suggests having a regular dialogue with employees about COVID.
  • The future, 2021 and beyond: Does your company have a contingency, preparedness or recovery plan? “The next six months are going to be critical; in many parts of the world, the worse is not over yet,” said Gummalla. “There will be a lot more innovation in our industry, and communication will be at the heart of all of this.”

As part of a special offering, Episode 3 has been made available for viewing on demand for free. Register to view the on-demand recording.

Kari Hensien, RizePoint
FST Soapbox

How to Enhance Your Food Safety Culture, Now More Important than Ever

By Kari Hensien
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Kari Hensien, RizePoint

I don’t have to tell you that COVID-19 is a crisis, and the consequences have been immediate and difficult. But as I speak to clients and look beyond the immediacy of the problems the food industry is facing, I am seeing positive insights that can help us now and in the future.

Food safety culture hasn’t always been clearly defined, nor has it been a “must” in many food safety systems. But the reality is that food safety culture—and the buy-in that needs to happen in your entire organization—is a direct and important element for staying up to date with new rules and being consistent and compliant at every location.

Join Kari Hensien for a complementary webinar, “4 Solvable Challenges for Enhancing Your Food Safety Culture 2020” | October 28 | Register NowWhat Does Food Safety Culture Mean Now?

The definition I have liked most is “food safety culture is what you’re doing when no one is watching.” But with the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is always watching, so the definition must expand.
Customers are carefully watching every employee at every location to gain a feeling of safety and trust at restaurants and eateries. And if employees aren’t up to speed or don’t have buy-in to your food safety culture, or even food safety in general, a single incident can turn away customers for good.

As an example, I recently visited a favorite taco joint. After the cashier rang me up, he put hand sanitizer on his gloves and proceeded to put handfuls of chips into my takeaway bag with those same “sanitized” gloves. I will not be going back.

So, food safety culture is still about what you do when no one is watching and when everyone is watching, making participation from every member of your organization critical.

What Can You Do Now to Enhance Food Safety Culture?

Practices that enhance food safety culture should initiate a shift in perspective before you implement more tangible activities. These shifts will be more challenging because they require your entire organization to be on board.

Perspective Shifts for Food Safety Culture

One or more paradigm shifts may be necessary to make enhancing your food safety culture successful. Sometimes initiatives like food safety culture can feel more like another addition to your to-do list rather than an asset that ultimately makes the job of a quality manager easier. So, consider these suggested shifts as you move forward.

  1. Food safety culture is part of your food safety system and your corporate social responsibility plans. With any crisis, not just the current pandemic, the values and expectations you instill in your employees can give you an immovable base, even if the surface is in constant fluctuation. And whether you’re dealing with an outbreak or a pandemic, showing you put customers and location employees first demonstrates good corporate citizenship.
  2. Location employees can be your biggest asset or your biggest liability. Employees perform better when they know the purpose behind what they’re doing rather than following rules that may seem arbitrary if they don’t have a clear understanding of why.
  3.  Punitive systems encourage hiding problems; supportive systems encourage collaboration and trust. If employees feel safe reporting issues or problems at their location, the more likely they’ll catch small issues before they become huge liabilities.
  4. Food safety culture can be a huge asset. In other words, instead of looking at food safety culture as another chore in your already crowded list, see it as an asset that improves food safety and creates better work environments, which inherently decreases risk and protects your brand.

In-Practice Shifts for Food Safety Culture

The paradigm shifts suggested above help build a support perspective for a strong food safety culture. The following shifts I suggest can help you implement tangible actions that benefit every level of your organization.

  1. Take great care of location employees. These employees are in direct contact with customers the most, and they are truly your first line of defense. Which means they can be an incredible asset or the weakest link.
  2. Consider audit and checklist software over laminated or paper checklists. The right software or app can instantly push new policies or standards to every location and employee at the same time, so everyone is always on the same page. Choose software or other tools that 1) makes it easy for all employees to get the information they need; 2) helps them quickly build behaviors that serve your quality and safety programs; and 3) empowers them to confidently share issues that need to be corrected so you get a true view of the health of any location.
  3. Consider quality management system software. With a platform (there are many that include audit and checklist tools), you can collect data points more quickly and from more sources to create a single source of truth and deepen insights. Software can directly support food safety culture, helping you:
    • Find new insights and continually improve your processes
    • Systematically rollout new policies and procedures
    • Drive adoption of new policies and “build muscle memory” so employees build good habits
    • Validate that your policies and practices are followed in every location
    • Identify locations or policies that need increased focus while you reward areas of successful performance.
  4. Look at your organization from a 30,000-foot perspective. This is not so easy to do if you are using manual processes such as paper, file cabinets or even spreadsheets. With those tools, you can see data points, but it takes a lot of work to build a big-picture view. Again, this is where software is invaluable. Many quality management system software options include built-in analytics and reporting, which means much of the work is done for you, saving you valuable time.

I hope your main takeaway from this article is that surviving a crisis requires a strong food safety culture. It helps unify employees across your organization, so everyone knows what’s expected of them and how their work affects the big picture. I see strong evidence that enhancing your food safety culture is more than the “next thing on your to-do list.” It’s a tool that you can put to work to decrease risk, increase compliance, and find small issues before they become huge problems.