Looking for food safety leaders
The challenges of providing safe and wholesome food profitably are endless. Your employees are the single most valuable asset in overcoming these challenges. With food safety being at or near the top of the list of challenges, recognizing and cultivating employees in quality assurance (QA), quality control (QC) and sanitation is now more important than ever before.
Certainly, everyone in the firm needs to be part of the food safety and quality teams. Nice as it is to say this, just how everyone gets engaged in delivering food safety and quality varies greatly, as do their contributions to the same. However, most will agree that the QA, QC and sanitation departments shoulder the greatest responsibility for food safety. Hiring, recognizing and cultivating personnel within these departments is vitally important to a company’s food safety programs. Unfortunately, some firms still don’t seem to appreciate this.
I still find QA, QC and sanitation personnel being promoted into management positions simply because they have been around longer than others in the department vs merit related to the job. Other signs that show a lack of appreciation for these teams include high turnover, hiring of unqualified people, no formal training programs, poor wages, inadequate equipment and facilities, and interpreting initiative as a challenge to line management. Although these kinds of things happen more frequently in smaller companies, I still see vestiges of these practices in larger firms. Knowing what’s at stake in a recall and subsequent litigation, this shouldn’t be happening today in any size of company.
A new paradigm
There have been a few articles published recently about the characteristics food safety leaders should possess and demonstrate. All emphasize an advanced education, strong analytical skills including statistics, and the ability to network outside of the firm in areas of food safety and quality. I agree that these qualifications are good to have, but I believe that there is a lot more to being or becoming an outstanding food safety leader.
A number of attributes come to mind, such as: problem solving skills, persistence, team leadership, accountability, functional knowledge, communication skills, teaching effectiveness, consideration, respected across functions, intellectual curiosity, patience, reliability, passion for quality, willingness to go the extra mile, being self-effacing, flexible, ability to empathize, and an understanding of major aspects of overall corporate performance, team turnover, team development, performance to budget, customer complaint handling, recall management, crisis management, supplier management, audit performance, inventory days on hold and regulatory compliance management. I could go on but limited space won’t permit me. In the space I have left, I’ll outline a basic food safety leader’s score card using some of the above attributes.
Food Safety Leader’s Score Card
Personal performance – The following personal performance attributes are not ranked in any particular order. My personal recommendations are: demonstrated functional knowledge across all team activities, communication skills, team turnover, functional corporate and team leadership skills, teaching effectiveness, accountability, management reporting, performance to budget, intellectual curiosity, team building, regulatory knowledge and crisis management.
Team performance – Ultimately, a food safety leader’s performance is reflected in his or her team’s performance. The following team attributes are not ranked in any order. My recommendations include: audit performance, regulatory compliance, recall management, supplier management, days on hold, production quality reporting, cross-functional team participation/performance/leadership, deviation reporting and resolution, off-specification products score card and down-time due to direct functional mishaps.
Formal education – Readers may be surprised that my food safety score card didn’t include the food safety team leader’s formal education per se. Performance and education, formal and otherwise, should have a strong, positive correlation with each other, which is to say that the more education and experience one has, the better one’s performance should be.
The role of the food safety leader, be they in QA, QC or sanitation, is to develop and manage programs that are essential to providing safe and wholesome foods in a manner that also ensures the sustainability of the company. It is every CEO’s responsibility to hire, develop and promote excellence in these functional teams.