My fears have come true, auditors asking to see evidence of a food safety culture. It is on the checklist. The problem is not that it is on the checklist but rather HOW we will audit it and assess it.
“Do you have a food safety culture?”
“What is the right answer to this question? What evidence would you like me to provide you with to show we have a food safety culture, like I would show you if we have a complaints procedure and records of complaints?
According to Griffith et al, organizational work culture is to do with groups of people (not individuals alone) within a business, how they interact, what an organization is about and how they behave.
The GFSI TWG defines food safety cultures as, “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behaviour toward food safety in, across and throughout an organization.” Again Griffith defines extends the definition of organisational culture as the aggregation of the prevailing, relatively constants, learned, shared attitudes, values and beliefs contributing to the hygiene behaviours within a particular food handling environment (Griffith)
My favorite as defined by Frank Yiannas - “Food safety culture is how an organisation or group do food safety”.
So perhaps we should ask the auditor, how do we as a company do food safety? What evidence have you seen today that indicates how our organisation values food safety and how we behave.
We do not go to a supplier to get a food safety culture – we already have on and you can see it. There are clues in abundance based on what we are already doing. You just have to know what to ask and where to look.
Food safety culture is measured in a number of ways by different authors. According to the Food safety authority in the UK, you feed safety culture can range from a calculative non-complier all the way though to a leader as defined by their scale below. It would be interesting to know what you opinion would be of your company using this scale?
According to Food Standards NZ Australia, a strong food safety culture has committed management, strong leadership, everyone contributes, everyone’s accountable and we are knowing and acting and continually improving as an organisation. Some of these things sound like the requirements of FSSC 22000 version 5 with the new leadership requirements of ISO 22000:2018
Griffith measure culture as follows:
A company can have a positive culture, but this may not be a strong one, it may only be shared by a few people and not all the influencers. Similarly, a negative culture can be pervasive.
So, I have to ask the question, if we have implemented FSSC 22000, version 5 correctly with effective leadership, roles and responsibilities, appropriate training for all levels and food safety is a daily event, is this enough evidence for the auditor? Who do we audit for the food safety culture? The Quality manager is not responsible for the development of the food safety culture. According to Griffith, food safety culture starts and ends with top management. Do we know which questions to ask? Does the auditor know what a positive food safety culture looks like? How will we raise a nonconformance for food safety culture? A nonconformance should only raised if there is evidence that support the nonfulfillment of a requirement. So what evidence are we looking for?
There is no argument about the need for a strong positive food safety culture. It is your food safety culture that will determine if your staff follow the policies when no one is looking or auditing. It is your food safety culture that will determine if you survive an unannounced audit or not. It is your food safety culture that determines whether you remove positive micro results from your file or similar deception for audits. It is your food safety culture that ensures you only dispatch safe products and don’t take a chance for the sake of profitability. We need a strong food safety culture, don’t we? Let us not miss the significance of this development by reducing it to a set of audit criteria.