Food Integrity and Food Safety Culture

Food Integrity is a hot topic in the industry just now. But what does it mean and how does another hot topic, Food Safety Culture, fit in? This article aims to clarify these terms and outlines how you can start to implement Food Integrity in your business and the challenges you may face.

The dictionary definition of integrity is ‘The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to moral and ethical principles and values.’ Adapting a Health & Safety culture definition to food could give us this as a definition of Food Safety Culture ‘The safety culture of an organisation is the product of an individual and a group of values, attitudes, competencies and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of an organisation’s Food Safety Programme’.  Whilst there are no current official definitions of Food Integrity, it takes existing management practices further to develop policies, procedures and plans to further manage risks in the food supply chain. As well as food safety risk mitigation plans, integrity includes other aspects of the supply chain such as ethical considerations, food sustainability, food security and the protection of human rights of workers.

Therefore, Food Integrity takes a much more holistic approach to managing the risks in the supply chain, and the bringing together of not only the existing tools but other important aspects of supply chain management. The key is not just treating these as a collection of different policies and procedures to mitigate different risks but viewing them as one single overarching approach.

On a similar theme, and closely related to integrity, BRC Global Standard for Food Issue8 has a new requirement in ‘Section 1.1.2 – Senior Management Commitment’ which is ‘The site’s senior management shall define and maintain a clear plan for the development and continuing improvement of a food safety and quality culture.’ Essentially, the culture which prevails in the business is fundamental in the ongoing management of product safety. Therefore, this new clause requires the business to introduce and implement a plan for the development and continuing improvement of a food safety culture.

A proactive, positive food safety culture within a business can make all the difference in the effectiveness of integrity,safety, authenticity, vulnerability, defence and its consistent implementation throughout the business therefore improve the integrity of the organisation. The development of the food safety culture must be led by senior management and ‘resonate’ throughout the organisation so that all aspects of the business are informed and involved. The business should engage all employees and suppliers and develop mutual trust throughout the supply chain with a shared importance of risk that drives behavioural change. This commitment should be overlaid with robust food safety and defence management systems at each touch point in the supply chain.

Development of Food Integrity and a Food Safety Culture for the business starts at the top and requires true commitment from senior management, but how do you go about achieving this?  The business should develop and implement a clear plan or programme for developing and improving its integrity. Such a plan would be based on the nature of the organisation and is dependent on its size and the supply chain complexity.

Development of a culture so that integrity prevails throughout the organisation can be challenging. It relies not just on measurables and specifics, but also an ethos and values felt by people at all levels of the business and the associated supply chain. However, the size and complexity of the business and the length of supply chain, however long or short, should not be a barrier to the successful development of a food safety culture.

Some of the common challenges to the development of a food safety culture are as follows:

  • Optimistic Bias – ‘We have never had an issue therefore it will not happen to me, so no need to invest in such a strategy’
  • The illusion of control – Talking the talk but not walking the walk. ‘I know what I am doing and already have systems in place’
  • Cognitive dissonance – ‘I am doing wrong but there are good reasons why’ Flexible morals
  • Attitudinal ambivalence – ‘There are more important business matters’
  • Commercial pressure – ‘The cost to develop such policies are prohibitive and our customers will not pay’
  • Lack of leadership and imbedded other priorities
  • Reactive management and stagnant behaviours
  • Lack of employee engagement; employees educated but not trained
  • Underdeveloped and under resourced Food Safety and Quality management system

In summary, to achieve Food Integrity in the supply chain and develop a Food Safety Culture requires long-term senior management commitments and requires a companywide approach from business to develop pro-active and positive strategies throughout the organisation to develop a culture in the organisation so integrity prevails at all levels of the organisation and throughout the supply chain.

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RQA – Food Integrity and Food Safety Culture

 

RQA Group has been providing food defence training and consulting services for over 10 years and has a range of services to assist you in implementing a robust food safety culture.    Take a look at our consultancy services,  and food safety training which is available for all levels of responsibility throughout the organisation. Please get in touch with our team at enquiries@rqa-group.com or give us a call on +44 (0)118 9357242 to discuss your specific needs.