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    Building a Food Safety Culture, Part 3 – Responsibility

    Julia Stewart:

    Hello, and welcome to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob.” I’m Julia Stewart, PMA’s PR Director. Our Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker has previously explained the rationale for engraining a food safety culture into your daily business operations, and now we are outlining the four basic attributes of a food safety culture.    


    Bob, tell us more about the first attribute, Responsibility…


    Bob Whitaker:

    Julia, when it comes to food safety, taking responsibility for it starts at the top.  The president or CEO must make food safety a priority for the company, and then enforce that priority every day using his or her senior managers. When the boss believes in the importance of food safety, the employees soon make it their priority as well.  It is important that senior management doesn’t just assign responsibility for food safety to their quality assurance group, with everyone else in the company remaining blissfully ignorant of food safety practices.  Food safety is every employee’s responsibility, top to bottom. All employees need to be accountable for the roles they play in producing safe food.  To do this, the president or CEO must see to it that each employees’ role in operating the company’s food safety program is effectively communicated.


    Taking responsibility for food safety not only means the CEO makes it a priority and leads the charge, it means making tough decisions. It means not cutting back on food safety even in difficult times like we have today with a downturn in the economy and every business looking to trim costs. It means when you are short on product and have orders to fill, you can’t reach out to an unapproved supplier with an unknown food safety program just to make the order.  Likewise, if one of your fields becomes compromised prior to harvest, no matter how badly you need the product, you can’t use it.  If a coveted customer wants you to shave the price a bit more, it can’t come from the food safety budget. Food safety leadership means sometimes you have to say “no”.  These are tough decisions, especially in the produce industry where margins are already narrow and opportunities often arise when product supply shortages due to weather or other factors can tempt even the most devout advocates for food safety to “cut a corner” to take advantage of a “hot” market.  It is here when leadership counts the most and the tough decision has to be made to take responsibility and protect the safety of your products and those that will purchase and consume it.     


    Some buyers and suppliers recognize the value of developing company-wide food safety programs and have done so, while others have programs that are really just about taking audits and are not always consistent in application. And even after all we’ve been through as an industry over the last few years, there are a small number of operators refusing to change to meet today’s food safety requirements.   


    If you listen to the major companies who have had significant, national food safety crises in the last 20 years and survived them, they all talk about how they have since made food safety an integral part of their everyday business culture. You may remember the Jack in the Box E. coli crisis in 1993 where four people died and several were hospitalized.  After suffering through some dark years, the company emerged in no small part because they embraced food safety, made it part of their business culture and then communicated what they were doing internally to their employees, externally to the suppliers and finally to their customers. 



    Thank you, Bob, for explaining the role and importance of Responsibility in building a company food safety culture.  We look forward to your explanations of the other attributes in future posts.


    Thanks very much to our listeners, please join us again next time!

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