We honored Nancy Donley, former STOP spokesperson with the Legacy Tribute award. Since the death of her son Alex, in 1993, Nancy has selflessly advocated for stronger food safety policies and practices. Our other esteemed guest was Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Walmart, a man known for passionately escalating the notion of a “food safety culture.” Frank received STOP’s Industry Advocate Hero award.
Another highly regarded guest, FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor, shared his reflections on the magnitude of the evening. Please take a moment to read Taylor’s eloquent and thoughtful words regarding this milestone celebration.
Are we winning the battle against foodborne diseases? How are we going to get better at this? How do you change employee behavior within food organizations to ultimately make food safer? Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, posed these questions to a captive audience last week at the Food Safety Consortium. “Human behavior can be contagious,” said Yiannas. “Food safety can be caught not only taught.”
While industry has increased its efforts in training, inspections, and microbiological testing, little progress has been made in lowering the rates of foodborne diseases over the past decade. As the global food system continues to change and grow at a rapid rate, a shift in the mindset of food safety managers—from process-focused to behavior-focused—needs to occur to facilitate a food safety culture that will in turn create a safer food supply, said Yiannas. He reviewed four tools that companies can use to implement a behavior-based food safety management system.
Consistency and commitment. “Humans don’t want to be wishy-washy,” said Yiannas. People strive to behave in a manner that is consistent with something that they’ve either said or documented publicly. Watch the video
Apply the tool: When conducting training, go beyond simply having employees sign an attendance roster. Instead, ask each employee to commit, in writing, that he or she will apply the principles learned in the class into daily responsibilities.
Homophily. “Birds of a feather influence food safety for better,” said Yiannas. People with similar characteristics believe and influence each other.
Apply the tool: When communicating an important message, use a front-line employee rather than a corporate “talking head”.
Make food safety the social norm. “People do what other people do,” said Yiannas. In today’s society, we are flooded with information, and as a result defer to social norms as a short cut when making decisions.
Apply the tool: When trying to enforce a behavior, show the behavior more than once and show it being done by more than one employee.
Learning from the right way or the wrong way. Learning by being taught the wrong way can be an effective teaching tool, because it allows employees to learn from their mistakes. Learning from the “wrong way” also prevents complacency, which perhaps is one of the biggest dangers to food safety. “Complacency is driven out of overconfidence, and oftentimes poor risk assessment, and certainly poor metrics,” said Yiannas.
Apply the tool: Create training modules that examine the missteps other food companies have made and illustrate how employees can learn from these mistakes.
Frank Yiannas also received the 2015 Industry Advocate Hero award from STOP Foodborne Illness during the consortiumThe question of metrics in food safety culture often arises, as there is no defined way to measure employee behavior. Yiannas encouraged the audience to conduct a food safety culture survey within their organizations and ask the scary questions. “You need to have the courage to hear the truth,” he said.
How will FDA enforce the new FSMA rules? It’s a question that has been circulating throughout industry over the past few months, and it will be answered at this year’s annual Food Safety Consortium conference next month. Michael Taylor, JD, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at FDA will deliver the opening plenary presentation on November 18, which will be followed by an “Ask the FDA” interactive town hall meeting. During the afternoon,
Roberta Wagner, deputy director of regulatory affairs at CFSAN will discuss FSMA implementation and FDA’s strategies for gaining and maintaining industry compliance with the new rules. The agency will also be participating in several conference sessions dedicated to the FSMA rules that will be finalized by November, including:
Foreign Supplier Verification
Preventive Controls in Human Foods
Preventive Controls in Animal Foods
Voluntary Qualified Importer Program
During the event, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will also be answering questions related to regulatory compliance and food safety issues at a Small Plant Help Desk.
Beyond FSMA-related topics, the Food Safety Consortium conference will feature several concurrent food safety and quality assurance tracks, workshops and training programs in compliance, food manufacturing and operations, supply chain management, food labs, and foodservice and retail. Food Safety Culture is an especially hot topic right now, and the conference will address the practical ways to actually measure behavior and start taking action. Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart will deliver a keynote presentation, “Food Safety = Behavior” on Wednesday, November 18.
Thanks to Walmart, I recently had the good fortune to attend a course titled “Creating a Food Safety Culture” at Michigan State University. Presented by Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Walmart, the course was an invigorating gathering of food safety professionals and included striking conversations about culture, food safety, and behavior-based modalities. Frank even mentioned this blog in class, saying, “I am in” in reference to the Food Safety Culture Club. We found time for some fun in the evenings, which included a night out with “Sparty” the MSU mascot and a dinner at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum on Campus. What a great time!
After introductions, Frank started the two-day class with a definition of culture. He presented it as defined by the Social & Behavioral Foundations of Public Health: “Culture is shared patterns of thought and behavior that characterize a social group, which are learned through socialization processes and persist through time.”
This launched a delivery and discussion of attributes of a food safety culture, diving deeper into each attribute. We learned about the Science of Influence and discussed a proposed divergence between the terms “accountability” and “responsibility”. Frank framed the presentation by contrasting Traditional verses Behavior-Based Food Safety Management. We thought about how the world, the food supply and food safety is changing. In the view of STOP Foodborne Illness, one thing remains the same: Food Safety only exists because humans can and have become ill from eating, which instigates a string of consequences, none of which are positive. And only humans can make a difference—OK, well, with the help of technology.
Frank shared the slide from the STOP Foodborne Illness website that portrays the faces of those who have perished, those with life-long consequences, and the survivors of foodborne illness. From the perspective of STOP Foodborne Illness, the most important food safety attribute is human life, and it must lead, be at the forefront, and be integrated into each and every attribute, goal and measurement so that the consequence is not serious illness or the loss of life.
Frank shared the quote from the 2003 Investigation Board of the Space Shuttle Columbia (the incident when the shuttle Columbia broke up upon returning to Earth, killing seven astronauts on board. The board cited cultural traits and organizational barriers that prevented effective communication and thus affected safety). “In our view, the NASA organizational culture had as much to do with this accident as the foam.” This certainly is relevant in food safety environments, and there is much to be learned.
This is just a snippet of the course—there is so much more to share, and just not enough room here. Hats off to Frank, to my colleagues, to Michigan State University, and to Walmart. I came home with many thoughts, ideas and planned actions to share with the staff, board and constituents of STOP Foodborne Illness. Let’s keep the conversation going and grow membership in the club!
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