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Laura Morrison
Food Safety Culture Club

The Intersection of Food Safety Culture, People Strategy and Technology

By Laura Morrison
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Laura Morrison

It takes a village to keep our employees, guests, and communities safe. Creating an organizational culture centered around food safety begins with creating a system of shared values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors at the top level. It also requires commitment from top leadership.

Food safety culture involves creating an environment where food safety is a top priority and all team members—from leadership to front and back of the house employees—are committed to ensuring that the food provided to guests is safe.

Optimizing your food safety culture through the intersection of technology, human resources and people strategy is critical to gaining a competitive advantage. When developing or re-imagining a food safety culture, it’s important to create a people strategy for your organization that is focused on recruiting and developing individuals with drive and passion who already have or have the willingness to gain knowledge, skills and experience of food safety practices. Additionally, providing ongoing training and education to ensure that employees are aware of the latest food safety practices and regulations should be an integral part of workforce development.

Developing a strong food safety culture requires a multi-prong approach that includes:

  1. People strategy. This is the way a business or organization manages its workforce. In the food industry, this can include hiring, training employees, and developing employee engagement and compensation programs. A well-though-out people strategy can help organizations attract, recruit, and retain top talent, build a strong company culture, and improve overall business performance.
  2. Technology helps to support the people strategy by streamlining processes, reducing manual labor, and improving employee engagement. Food businesses using tools such as automated scheduling, workforce management tools, digital training, and development tools to upskill employees can improve efficiency, reduce labor costs, and provide their team members with the knowledge and resources needed to excel in their individual roles. Leveraging technology to support food safety and the overall people strategy can improve efficiency, reduce costs and enhance the experience of customers by delivering high-quality service and products.
  3. An organization’s human resources strategy plays a critical role in developing and maintaining the food safety culture. Owners, operators and HR professionals should work closely together to develop policies and procedures to promote food safety that include training programs, performance metrics, accountability procedures and incentive systems to reward safe practices.
  4. Maintaining a food safety culture built around accountability and open and clear channels of communication and encouragement, allows employees to report food safety concerns without fear of retaliation. In this environment employees feel more comfortable both raising concerns and trusting that their concerns will be taken seriously and addressed promptly.

Businesses that prioritize food safety culture, people strategy, human resources and technology can create a competitive advantage in the food industry.

Additional Resources: 

Hetler, A. (2022). The future of the food industry: Food tech explained. https://www.techtarget.com/whatis/feature/The-future-of-the-food-industry-Food-tech-explained

Febes, C. (2020). A Well-Rounded Restaurant Staffing Strategy Includes New Technology. Forbes

Mulligan, S. (2018). HR 2025:  7 Critical Strategies to Prepare for the Future of HR Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)

Jorge Hernandez, All Baroudi, 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo

Food Safety Professionals: Earn Respect and Be True to Yourself

By Maria Fontanazza
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Jorge Hernandez, All Baroudi, 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo

Food safety professionals are underappreciated. This statement was met with a round of applause last week at the seventh annual Food Safety Consortium. It was made by Bob Pudlock, president of Gulf Stream Search, who has heard the remark from folks working in this demanding field many times, as his firm works to place them in food safety and quality positions within the industry. Pudlock shared his advice on how you, the food safety professional, can better market yourself and earn the respect of peers and higher-ups, as well as how those who are doing the hiring should approach the process.

Read Bob Pudlock’s insights on recruiting in the food safety and quality field in his column series, Architect the Perfect Food Safety TeamCompany cultures change, the popularity of products (and their safety) ebbs and flows, company leadership fluctuates and a company may even move its corporate headquarters. Amidst all of these changes, the only things that a professional can control are his or her reputation, professional acumen, and enhancing one’s education, said Pudlock. “Focus your energy on improving parts of you. Invest in your brand,” he said. “You never know how you’re being perceived and who’s out there in the crowd.” He added that it’s important to take a moment to do some deep digging and ask questions that can help draw out greater meaning:

  • What do you want to be when you “grow up”?
    • Where are you in your career today?
    • What do you aspire to?
    • What are the obstacles? What’s keeping you from getting there?
Bob Pudlock, 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo
Bob Pudlock, president of Gulf Stream Search

“Get yourself in a position where you’re personally responsible for getting yourself in the right lane,” said Pudlock, emphasizing the importance of accountability. He also advises that professionals take a moment each day to work through organizational issues via journaling. Writing serves as a cathartic exercise and can help as one is going through the problem-solving process. “Work through your overwhelm with journaling,” he said.

On Earning Respect

On the final day of the Food Safety Consortium, Pudlock led a panel of industry stakeholders who shared their insights on how to remain motivated and earn the respect of peers and superiors in the industry.

Pudlock: As a food safety professional, what has contributed to your ability earn respect from the peers who you’ve worked with over the years?

Jorge Hernandez, Al Baroudi, 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo
(left to right) Jorge Hernandez, vice president, quality assurance at The Wendy’s Company and Al Baroudi, Ph.D., vice president of quality assurance and food safety at The Cheesecake Factory at the 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo

Jorge Hernandez, vice president, quality assurance at The Wendy’s Company

“What I’ve learned throughout my career is the fact that you have to understand why you are doing this. You have to reach inside and figure out for yourself, and then build your brand around that. It has to be honest; it has to be true to you. Why are you doing this? Is it to get a paycheck? Is it to get away from the kids? There are multiple reasons. There will be times in this field that you have to make the tough decisions. As you build your career, try to figure out why you really want to do this.”

April Bishop, senior director of food safety at TreeHouse Foods/Bay Valley Foods

“The ‘why’ is for those around me: We [speak] a lot of scientific jargon, and we know what we’re talking about. But the folks on the other side—in sanitation [for example], doing the most miserable job at the worst hours and in the worst condition, [for them] I need to translate all the way to the top on why we need so much time to clean the plants. Simplify the scientific jargon down to the facts that people can understand. Sell them on the ‘why’ of what they’re doing.

April Bishop, Marcus Burgess, 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo
(left to right) April Bishop, senior director of food safety at TreeHouse Foods/Bay Valley Foods and Marcus Burgess, senior food safety and quality systems specialist at The Cheesecake Factory

Marcus Burgess, senior food safety and quality systems specialist at The Cheesecake Factory

“A lot of it is communication and being able to relate at all levels from [in the field] to the top. It’s the 30-second conversation with the server or the dishwasher about why food safety is important. Being able to connect with the front line employees goes a long way. Approach the job with professionalism and sincerity. Have integrity and know the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s easy to see the pot of gold. Be selfless and know that ultimately our obligations is to customers.”

Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota
FST Soapbox

The Changing Face of Leadership in the Food and Beverage Industry

By Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D.
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Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota

Our food system is facing daunting challenges. We must adapt our food systems to sustainably feed almost 10 billion people by 2050 in a world with shifting climate and environmental pressures. In addition, we need to reduce the rising number of undernourished people (an estimated 821 million people in recent years) and confront the significant issue of more than 30% of food production being lost or wasted. Tackling these challenges will require collaboration across all aspects of the food system to assure that production processes, policies and regulations, food safety practices, and affordability align to assure we live in a food secure future. However, most of the current generation of leaders in the food industry has not approached leadership from the systems-thinking approach that will be required to succeed.

Thus, focusing on developing the right skills in the rising next generation of leaders in the food and beverage industry in order to solve these problems will be critical. We need people who can think broadly and are empowered to navigate the complexities of the global food system. Professionals in the food industry need to think beyond the specialties and silos where they currently work. Approaching food problems in an open-minded and cross-disciplinary way will achieve better results for business growth, population well-being, food production and planet sustainability.

In my decades of working in the food industry, I was acutely aware of the challenges that we would face in the future. Now, as part of the Integrated Food Systems Leadership program at the University of Minnesota, we are addressing these issues by helping to train the future leaders that will transform the food system. The following topics are just a few of the areas that we see as essential to develop the food leaders of tomorrow.

Next-Gen Leaders with a Holistic Approach

One of the key steps for new leaders in food and beverage industry is to adapt to food systems thinking. Most professionals were hired for their knowledge in a specific area. Now, to become next-gen leaders, they will need to think about the whole food production system and how all decisions made in this system, from sourcing and production to supply chain and retail sale, affect people and the environment.

Where we source our food and how we produce it is truly global and interconnected. The ingredient and material supply chains are vast and complex. We can no longer afford not to take into consideration where and how these items are being sourced and supplied. Additionally, we can no longer afford not to be responsible for the products produced and how they are affecting the health and well-being of consumers as well as the planet.

The next generation of leaders, no matter what part of the food system they are working in, will need to understand these relationships and think about how all these little pieces from production to marketing and sales work together. When one change is made to the system, whether the idea is from R&D or the marketing department or is caused by a new regulation, this will produce ripple effects across the food system.

True Leadership vs. Management in the Food System

Often times, the idea of leadership is thought of as just managing people—observing a team and making sure each person is doing their job. This is management and not a true definition of leadership. To be a leader means you have a vision and can paint a clear picture of what you see to others. Leaders build relationships with people who help turn a vision into reality. Leaders aren’t afraid to change the status quo and take risks if those risks will help the long-term plan. Leaders help their team achieve more than any individual on the team thought possible.

Leaders have many qualities. First, they have ideas that should be heard. However, in order for those ideas to see the light of day, professionals must know how to communicate so their opinions and thoughts are considered. Knowing how to package a vision and communicate it more effectively are critical to leadership development.

Second, leaders desire to have a meaningful impact in the world. To be able to effect change, seeing the bigger picture and understanding the interdependencies throughout the food system is paramount. As part of this, they want and need to help other people be heard to move the vision and plan forward. They will need the skills to foster collaboration and innovation within their teams and across disciplines to help everyone succeed in making the changes needed in the food system.

Third, although leaders want to grow their companies, they also want to grow personally. When a vision is created and steps taken to pave the way for that vision to come to fruition, a journey begins. Leaders know that any journey embarked upon is a life-changing experience, and they welcome that new stage.

Finally, it is important to note that leaders can be found in more places than the corner office. Leaders are not just CEOs, but come in varying roles and titles. Developing people’s leadership potential, style and goals for whatever capacity they work in is a critical part of leadership building. Leaders exist within every team, department and work group across a business. Finding them, to grow and foster their potential, is the challenge.

Fostering Professional Development in the Field

Food and beverage companies can do a great deal to address these pressing issues today by instilling a culture of learning in the organization. I have found, more often than not, people who enter this industry are passionate about it. However, when individuals enter a company, especially early in their career, they sometimes face a crisis of faith moment and question that their lifelong training has not prepared them for what they truly want to do.

Many times those in the industry feel like they have ideas or skills that aren’t being leveraged. They may feel like they aren’t being heard or that they’ve been pigeon-holed into one segment of or role in the business. These professionals could be the collateral damage of silo mentality and lack of a culture of learning and growth, especially when they are high-value and have specialized knowledge. Corporations have perfected efficiency by keeping certain departments, and individuals within them, separated in order to optimize their segment’s function. But slotting the business, and individuals, into distinct categories can hinder the ability of these organizations to see and understand the big picture.

By breaking down this silo mentality and promoting systems thinking, businesses can help their talented and dedicated people grow their career, become a better leader, and enable a move across the lattice structure within an organization. Many times these individuals feel a little lost in the mix and frustrated as a cog in the machine and are looking for growth opportunities. This doesn’t necessarily mean they want to move vertically within the organization, but rather learn and grow laterally or diagonally within an organization to both enhance their career and provide a broader benefit to the entire business.

When companies equip professionals with critical-thinking skills, they are developing their professionals who want to make a meaningful impact within their organizations as well as in the entire food system. This is true empowerment to improve the future of food and make companies viable and competitive for the future.

If a company doesn’t have this training ability internally, organizations can support programs that are helping to build these leaders. Programs like the new Integrated Food Systems Leadership are designed to help future leaders bridge the current skills gap in the food system. These future leaders will have the tools to drive the change critical for many companies to succeed while we feed the future.

Bob Pudlock, Gulf Stream Search
FST Soapbox

Architect the Perfect Food Safety Team: Capture Your Ideal Candidate and Set Them Up for Success

By Bob Pudlock
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Bob Pudlock, Gulf Stream Search

If there is one ingredient that contributes the most to a successful food safety team and culture, it’s the senior-most food safety officer taking full responsibility for the recruitment and on-boarding of each of its team members.

“But isn’t that HR’s job?”

“Isn’t that the talent acquisition team’s job?”

“Isn’t that what our internal recruiter is supposed to take care of?”

As an executive recruiter who is asked to transform food safety teams through new hires, I can say with 100% conviction that the answer is NO.

It’s your job as a food safety leader to make sure every step of the recruitment and on-boarding process, from the first connection with the potential candidate all the way through their first review, is performed flawlessly.

The following are some key benchmarks of a well-executed recruitment process.

  • The candidate and food safety leadership team have clear expectations of how the new hire will impact the business.
  • The candidate’s compensation expectations are aligned with the company’s capabilities, both in the short-term as well as in the future.
  • Each member of the food safety team is on the same page during the interview process. There’s a level of coordination and everyone has a role and responsibility that leaves a favorable impression on the candidate that “this is a strong food safety team and one I want to be a part of.”
  • The hiring team, because it’s been so thorough in its due diligence, has no underlying concerns about their decision.
  • The new hire knows when their first review will be, who it will be with, and what benchmarks they’ll be assessed against.
  • Offer, acceptance and start date are presented, accepted and committed to in less than three days.

What happens when YOU don’t take ownership of the candidate and new hire experience?

Bob Pudlock will be moderating the panel discussion, “Food Safety Leadership: Earning Respect”, at the 2019 Food Safety Consortium | October 1–3 | Schaumburg, ILWhen asked to describe why they left a role after less than six months, the most often heard reply is that the food safety leadership and/or recruiter promised something during the interview process and once on board, everything changed.

Another complaint that arises is that elements of relocation packages, sign-on bonuses, on-boarding and training are either not executed or not coordinated with what was promised during the interview process.

In the food safety space, an oft-held complaint is that the confidence and conviction of food safety leadership during the interview process disappears when the new hire arrives; the new hire experiences a lack of respect shown to food safety personnel, and their leadership team retreats in the background and doesn’t provide cover for the on-the-ground team.

It’s unfortunate but true—a misstep in the recruiting and on-boarding process in an otherwise flawlessly executed hiring process can have drastic consequences on a new hire’s experience.

Imagine a meal at a five-star restaurant with family and friends that goes off flawlessly, only to find out the next morning that half your guests are in the emergency room with food poisoning.

It’s no different when a new hire’s on-boarding experience destroys the goodwill that was created during the hiring process.

In talent acquisition, a flawlessly executed hiring process, followed by an on-boarding experience that aligns with what the new hire was promised during the interview process is the key to future employee referrals—no area of a food or beverage company needs more strong employee referrals than food safety.

It’s also a big part of why food safety staff can act with confidence in calling out protocol violations or unsafe practices that play out in facilities or with suppliers. When trust and goodwill with senior food safety leadership is in place, the food safety team can do their job knowing their boss has their back.

Bob Pudlock, Gulf Stream Search
FST Soapbox

Architect the Perfect Food Safety Team: Does Your Next Food Safety or Quality Team Member Even Exist?

By Bob Pudlock
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Bob Pudlock, Gulf Stream Search

As a food safety leader, you’re accountable for keeping the company in line with regulations and ensuring consumer trust, yet you’re constantly asked to “do more with less”.

In an environment with such a thin margin for error, it’s imperative to have a seamless, friction free, fast but effective recruitment process.

As a food safety leader, you want to move the needle towards more proactive measures to optimize systems, develop more robust risk management systems and above all else get everyone in the company singing the same song when it comes to a food safety “culture”.

Bob Pudlock will be moderating the panel discussion, “Food Safety Leadership: Earning Respect”, at the 2019 Food Safety Consortium | October 1–3 | Schaumburg, ILOur three-part series on architecting the perfect food safety team will show you the components of a hiring and recruitment methodology that you can champion to your internal recruitment team, a third-party recruiter you trust, or you yourself.

Our first of three articles will focus on the IDENTIFICATION step, where, based on your job description, your compensation plan and your skill set requirements, you’ll be able to quantify the size of your candidate pool locally, regionally and nationally fast. This is really important.

Most companies don’t do this.

Internal recruitment teams aren’t optimized to do a deep dive on each job profile, whether it’s a Food Safety Specialist or a VP of Food Safety. The gap is exacerbated in food safety and quality due to the significant uptick in expertise required to execute on all the requirements that today’s food safety climate requires. Many roles that historically required only “attention to detail” and “Microsoft Excel skills” now require a microbiology or chemistry degree as well as subject matter expertise with quality management and ERP systems.

Unfortunately, your internal talent acquisition team will find it next to impossible to tell you how many SQF-certified QA managers with experience in a manufacturing setting with a Bachelors degree that reside within 30 miles of each plant in your network, much less be in a position to effectively contact and recruit them quickly.

You have to know where your future team members are today—either through internal means (your talent acquisition team) or externally(a recruitment firm)….and you can’t wait until you’ve had an unexpected resignation.

It’s like burying a fire extinguisher in your closet and not remembering where it is–if everyone in the house doesn’t know where it is, it hasn’t been tested, and it’s not located in the optimal place, it will serve no purpose when it’s an emergency.

At a recruitment firm approaching the food safety talent ecosystem and executing a search is done in much the same manner as how you develop your company’s HACCP plan.

Your HACCP plan addresses:

  1. What threats and hazards are we trying to avoid?
  2. What are we trying to achieve with our plan?
  3. What does a fully executed plan entail? Safe food and…..

Similarly, we start a search with a role’s “intent” fully defined.

The “intent” of the role rarely exists in a job description—this is fleshed out when having a conversation with a client. It starts with a series of questions such as:

  1. What is the first area of focus this person will tackle?
  2. What problem(s) will they be tasked with solving?
  3. What will this person’s area of focus look like after a year(best case)?

It’s an oft-overlooked step because most of our hiring managers are so busy they end up using the same cut-and-paste job description that’s been used for the last 10 years.

An example our clients have used for searches we’ve completed for them include:

  1. “In 12 months, the new hire will have fulfilled our company’s initiative to attain SQF Certification Level III for Plant X.”
  2. “Within 12 months, the new hire will have participated in the installation and led internal training of plant personnel; each plant team member will have been trained and passed internal testing requirements of the new system.”
  3. “The new hire will lead improvement initiatives that dramatically improve our KPI indicators around hazardous materials and foreign objects within 6 months of hire.”

With the end result in mind, you now have a clearer picture of what you’re looking for in your new hire rather than a stale, generic job description which, oh by the way, every other company is looking for.

With a clear picture of who you’re looking for and the end results you’re looking for, the next crucial step in the IDENTIFY stage is determining to what degree that candidate exists and is available in the market.

If you create a “wish list” in a vacuum without determining how many people actually have those criteria, it’s equivalent to developing a HACCP plan without validating it.

How do you validate a HACCP plan? You test it. You challenge the thresholds. That takes time, sure, but at the end of the testing, you know where the Critical Control Points are( room for improvement), you know better what absolutely needs to be changed (Corrective Action).

How you validate your HACCP plan is similar to how we provide our clients with data that reflects the feasibility their expectations – from there, we chip around the edges of the requirements until we have a large enough candidate pool from which we can effectively execute a recruitment strategy.

For example, we’re often asked to help clients with a search that has the following particulars:

  1. Plant QA Manager with three years of management experience
  2. QA Manager with management experience in a food, beverage, ingredient or flavor manufacturing/processing environment
  3. Bachelor degree in Chemistry and/or Biology
  4. Local candidates only

Each of the four-above criteria is a “limiter” of some sort—as you work through the list and add a requirement or a “must have”, the candidate pool decreases.

In the example above, the limiter that impacts the candidate pool the most will be the last one: “Local candidates only.”

That limiter might be forced on food safety or the quality department because of budget restrictions or it may be your choice altogether. Regardless, you’ve set the parameter and now it needs to be tested. Weeks and months can be lost if the search is executed without first knowing how many candidates actually have these skills locally.

You know how it feels when Marketing calls you in to test a new innovation for a product launch, three months into the gig? How within minutes of showing up at the trial you realize that production and quality will be compromised? How you wish they would have involved you from the start so you could have saved them, the company and your team all the headaches, time and money by offering an alternative? If only they would have asked you sooner?!?!

It’s the same with a search for a candidate with a particular set of skills and/or experience that doesn’t actually exist.

So, what’s the answer?

Well, the optimal strategy is to know every single food safety / quality candidate in the local market and/or nationally (especially if your category has more stringent needs like Dairy, Brewing, etc.) and to nurture them on an ongoing basis. You’ve done the work up front to assess and determine the caliber of the local candidate pool – since you’re already in rapport with the target candidate base, the turn-around time when you’re in a pinch is significantly shorter.

When a client asks us for the requirement we outlined above, we deliver an audit of that expectation within 48 hours, letting them know if that person actually exists and how many of them.

No time is lost. We have countless examples in the last year of alerting our client that two, yes two QA director candidates have the “must have” skills locally they are requesting, and neither is interested. We get clients to that point of discovery within hours, with tangible real-live data(not opinions), where they can then reassess their requirements and expand their candidate pool.

It’s a healthy conversation when it’s done early and up front— it results in less spinning of wheels and more productive dialogue around working within capabilities and restraints.

So do that—get your talent acquisition partner and talk to them specifically about your wish list, and have them come back to you with tangible numbers that validate whether or not what you’re asking for is reasonable.

Once you’ve done that and have a large enough pool of candidates to whom you can market the opportunity, you’ll be operating from a position of strength when it comes time to ASSESS the candidates who are brought forward. We’ll dive into more about the ASSESS step in Part two of our three-part series.