Recipe to Retail: Food safety culture is a no-brainer
By Birgit BlainFood Safety
No food business leader wants to wake up to the nightmare of a product recall. The toll of lost sales, business disruption, legal costs, administrative expenses, penalties, and damaged reputation can be astronomical. Another stressful situation is when a business is not prepared for audits.
Food brands with a strong food safety culture are in a better position to prevent and overcome potentially expensive food safety and quality related disruptions, according to Paul Valder, a food safety and quality veteran and CEO of Culture Assurance Consulting (CAC). He leads a team of specialists who support food processors by performing risk assessments, developing food safety certification systems, and providing proprietary software.
Food safety culture
It is a mindset that starts at the top of an organization, with senior leadership driving it to permeate every department. Food safety and quality becomes a company-wide commitment, no longer relegated exclusively to QA or food safety teams. Every employee understands their role and is committed to ensuring food safety and quality, regardless of their title. The phrase, “if you see something, say something,” comes to mind. The result is a proactive approach to mitigate food safety and quality risks.
Although food safety culture may not prevent issues from arising, it can reduce the scale and enable businesses to resolve issues more quickly, which yields numerous benefits, such as:
- reduced product recalls, quality issues and consumer complaints;
- reduced severity of issues when potential problems are flagged by employees before they escalate;
- minimized financial impact from lost sales, investigations, disposal costs, packaging re-works, legal fees, customer fees and penalties and repairing reputational damage;
- reduced food and packaging waste;
- higher audit success rates with fewer non-conformances;
- maintains positive company and brand reputations and minimizes damage;
- retains customers through improved service levels;
- higher employee retention because they are engaged and have a sense of company pride;
- builds and protects customer and consumer loyalty and trust in your brand; and
- differentiates your brand.
With consumers increasingly concerned about the ingredients and safety of their food, there is an opportunity to publicize the steps your company takes to ensure your products are safe.
Management must provide constant reinforcement and the required resources to facilitate an enduring food safety culture. Incorporating it in the recruiting process, measuring performance, incentivizing employees, and providing ongoing training is essential. Integrating food safety culture with strong company and brand values, and diligently adhering to those values, will strengthen your organization. Other critical components include a food safety and quality management system, supported by a robust software solution. Valder recommends implementation of a flexible, modular software system that enables customization of food safety and quality programs to suit business processes, and is capable of integrating with existing ERP systems to streamline, digitize and automate real-time reporting processes.
Change inevitably sparks pushback. Cultivating a food safety culture is no different. Excuses run the gamut from “don’t have the time and it’s QA’s job” to “it’s disruptive and too expensive”.
Management may not comprehend the risks of inaction. Valder recommends developing a risk mitigation strategy to expose risk events, measure the impact on the business and prioritize required corrective actions.
Overcome financial hurdles
In today’s climate, food processors are stretched for time, resources, and finances more than ever before. To bridge the funding gap, Valder suggests taking advantage of government funding programs.
In short, investing in building a food safety culture is a no-brainer to protect your business, your brand, and your bottom line.
As a CPG food consultant, Birgit Blain helps clients think strategically to build a sustainable brand. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands and President’s Choice. Contact her at email@example.com or learn more at www.bbandassoc.com.
An edited version of this column was initially published in the June/July 2023 issue of Food in Canada.
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