Anyone who is in the business of handling food gets inspected, whether it’s the local board of health, federal investigators, or third party auditors. All too often in the industry, we get caught up in just making it past the next audit. But if we're doing things right day-in and day-out, we should have nothing to worry about. Food safety should be engrained in the culture of the company. What does that mean exactly? Well, it means employees collectively know the right thing to do without being told. Not because they think they might get in trouble, but because they understand the risks involved with serving unsafe food.
The culture should be something that extends from upper management to production, support staff and to suppliers we do business with. As notable food safety attorney Bill Marler writes, “all companies along the food supply chain need to go beyond managing the business: To be successful, food companies are now in the business of managing risk. This means garnering a good understanding of why food safety is important to your business, what risks there are to the business, how you can mitigate or eliminate those risks, and how in doing so the food safety program will provide a return on your investment.”
When I worked in the food industry, the goal wasn’t to just train people and check off the box for the auditor. The ultimate was to get food safety so engrained in people that they would hold each other accountable for something such as violating a good manufacturing practice. The goal was to make it so it wasn’t just the QA staff or the manager correcting people, but getting employees to correct each other. That’s powerful stuff. If a food safety culture is created and people automatically do the right thing, passing the audit or next inspection will be an easy task.
In addition to training and positive reinforcement, employees need to be given the proper tools to do their job. It should be made as easy as possible to be able to monitor, detect and prevent food safety incidents. This could be something as simple as providing enough thermometers to the staff. Or, it could mean utilizing current technology that allows you to continuously collect important data. Yes, this means we need to spend money. But it’s not just a monetary investment; you can’t calculate the net present value on someone’s life.
It’s simple, yet we still see violations every day for things as simple as temperature abuse. And there really is no excuse for it. With the technology we have available to us, there is no reason why we can’t spend the resources to leverage such technology in an effort to make food safer and protect consumers from unnecessary illness. Collecting data electronically also makes it organized and readily available for any inspector who wants to see it. We really have to live it in order to be successful. And having a strong food safety culture coupled with the best technology available will not only make passing the next audit a breeze, it will make “living” food safety easier for the long term.