Food safety culture and Fonzie

I thought food safety culture was sorta cool when I came up with it, independently, in 2006 at IAFP, with Amy the French professor’s inspiration, but soon realized it was just another catch-phrase.

Sorry Frank and Chris.

Culture may mean not repeating the past.

So I chuckled with the onset of age and dementia when Issue 8 of the BRC Food Safety Global Standard, which came into force 1st February 2019, introduced a new clause requiring all companies to:

“Define and maintain a clear plan for the development and continuing improvement of a food safety and quality culture.” This plan must include defined activities for all areas impacting product safety with an action plan on how this is undertaken and measured, and a timeline for implementation. This plan also needs to be reviewed to ensure effectiveness.

A food safety culture is the “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect the mindset and behaviour towards food safety in, across and throughout an organisation.”

“Culture is an instrumental factor in nurturing an organisation’s food safety compliance and is regulated by senior management, most of whom recognise its importance, but often overestimate the level of employee commitment and underestimate the resources needed to maintain it. In reality it cannot be a one-off initiative but requires ongoing commitment to foster a sustained proactive food safety culture.”

Sure, the top-types need to set the tone, but culture is when everyone on the front-line knows microbial food safety.

I always advocated a bottom up kinda approach: the whole concept of food safety culture is empowering the weak links in the food safety system, from farm to fork. Top down will fail, besides, food safety culture jumped the shark years ago.

NSF have developed the food safety culture model which is a web-based application that allows you to undertake a food safety culture survey across your business. It provides comprehensive information to measure your food safety cultural maturity risk level on a risk-rated scale from 1-5.
Uh, OK.

Food safety types need to be more creative with the message and the medium.

Bad food safety reporting II: inconsistent and uncertain edition

NSF International issued the results of a survey involving 1,000 Americans that found consumers were inconsistent and uncertain about some food safety practices in the home.

That’s because food safety advice is inconsistent and uncertain. That’s normal. Food safety isn’t simple.

But this particular press release is inconsistent and uncertain within the press release.

The press release trumpeting the results states:

• Most Rewash Pre-Packaged Foods: Over half (60%) of consumers surveyed always re-wash pre-packaged fruits and vegetables (such as ready-to-eat salads), but it’s not necessary. Prepackage produce that is labeled as prewashed in a sealed container does not need to be rewashed.

The same press release subsequently states:

* Rewash Pre-packaged Foods: Consumers should always rewash pre-packaged produce that is in an open package or does not specifically state it is prewashed. Rewashing all pre-packaged produce is an additional precaution consumers can take to reduce the likelihood of consuming food contaminated with harmful bacteria.

Scientists have said the re-washing process is more likely to cross-contaminate the pre-washed greens with whatever crap was previously in a sink. The paper is in Food Protection Trends and available here.

The NSF study about inconsistent and incertain practices also contains a couple of other nosestretchers.

* Consumers Can Get Lazy When it Comes to Safe Hand Washing Practices: While 90% of consumers wash their hands after handling raw meat or poultry, a fifth (20%) of consumers aren’t using warm water and soap – which is considered the most effective combination when it comes to reducing exposure to bacteria that causes foodborne illness. Warm water may be helpful in removing grease and grime, it’s unnecessary for removing dangerous microorganisms. And 10 seconds is microbiologically sufficient.

“For example, consumers are taking great caution in the initial food preparation stages, as 78% of respondents knew the right way to defrost meat and poultry safely (such as defrosting in a refrigerator), but only 20% of them bother to use a meat thermometer to ensure food is properly cooked.”

Self-reported surveys of food safety practices are meaningless. Nowhere near 20 per cent of Americans use thermometers; it’s less than 1 per cent.

A food safety audit does not ensure safe food

I’m not a fan of third-party food safety audits. Sure, there’s lots of good people out there, especially the ones who can coach and assist, but straight audits of food producing facilities – beginning on the farm and through to the fork – can be fraught with inadequacies.

And too often, it’s about the paycheck, not the food safety (and that comes from years of working with farmers and others and watching various auditors show up and not knowing too much).

Crain’s Detroit Business
has a story about the expanding empire of NSF International’s testing and certification services, which expects sales to increase 29 percent, to $155 million this year.

NSF CEO Kevan Lawlor says that as companies develop more global supply chains, there’s an increased risk of health and safety issues.

Which could also be an argument for developing an internal capacity to assess suppliers and internal operations.

Chapman has written that,

“Farmers and processors need to demonstrate to consumers they are aware of microbial risks and are taking serious steps to reduce that risk, day-in, day-out, even in the absence of an outbreak. Regulatory or even third party-audits are largely meaningless. Audits are snapshots, and auditors look for easily viewed visual mistakes and do little to look at what a farmer or staff member does. Just like restaurant inspections audits are not a good indicator of likelihood of an outbreak. Farmers need food safety resources 24/7 to help guide their production practices, and they need those best practices continually reinforced; an annual audit is hopelessly insufficient, especially since outbreaks keep happening from processors that are audited. Inspection scores for farms, like those for restaurants are subject to inspector inconsistencies and are not predictive of the likelihood of an outbreak (Cruz et al., 2001; Jones et al., 2004).”

Or as I’ve written and stressed for years,

“certified/verified/HACCPified/inspected/audited don’t means that much unless there is a culture of food safety present farm-to-fork, 24/7.”

How many NSF-audited farms or facilities have subsequently been involved in outbreaks of foodborne illness? How many farms or facilities audited by other third-party operators have been involved in outbreaks of foodborne illness?