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    Building a Food Safety Culture, Part 4 – Knowledge

    Julia Stewart:

    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob.” PMA’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker and I have been talking about the importance of a companywide food safety culture. Most recently we’ve been discussing the four basic attributes of such a culture.  In the last post we covered the first attribute of Responsibility. Today, Bob will share more detail on the second attribute, which is Knowledge. 


    Bob, just what do you mean in talking about Knowledge as it relates to food safety?


    Bob Whitaker:

    Julia, the second attribute of a food safety culture is knowledge – and sometimes this is the scariest part of food safety for companies to deal with. We get intimidated because to “do” food safety well, we have to get into science.  There is some truth to that.  After all, it is always best if the person managing your food safety efforts knows some microbiology, is familiar with agricultural practices, and understands basic biological and chemical concepts. But if you don’t currently have that capability in-house, there are a number of resources available to for you gain the knowledge you need to develop a fully integrated food safety program.


    The first step is to “know what you don’t know”. Reach out for help. Trade associations, commodity groups, universities, consultants and even regulators are great sources of information as you look to build or upgrade your food safety efforts. There are a number of tools already available to help improve the food safety competence of operations, you won’t need to reinvent the wheel. It is important to understand how these tools can be used most effectively in our specific operations. It is also important to note, that you likely have a number of internal “experts” in your company that can help you build your food safety program.  Food safety is centered on risk assessment and risk management.  In order to perform risk assessment properly, you need to use the knowledge and experience of your supervisors and managers who work in your operations every day.  They know how things are done and can outline is amazing detail every step of your operation.  By incorporating their expertise and using a team approach to performing risk assessment and developing best practices to manage those risks, your company’s food safety plan suddenly becomes their plan; they have ownership in your food safety efforts and you have made them advocates and partners in your company’s food safety performance. 


    Don’t forget the importance of emerging technologies and new research findings in food safety.  There is a great deal of research on produce food safety currently underway. Your job is to develop ways to access this information, and embrace resulting innovations that can help improve your particular food safety programs. You can get important updates from your trade associations like PMA, from universities, the internet, trusted vendors, or the Center for Produce Safety at the University of California at Davis.  PMA was instrumental in establishing the center to help meet the global produce industry’s food safety research needs, and I chair the center’s technical committee.


    Training is another important aspect of knowledge in any food safety program. I have found employees generally want to do the right thing; they just need to be trained properly.  Employees learn best when the training is made personal. Don’t just train, also explain – make sure employees understand the importance of the action you want them to perform. That will have more impact and serve as a constant reminder of why what they’re doing matters. Remember, your company is only as food safe as your weakest link. You want that minimum-wage employee working on the third shift when you’re home in bed to be as well trained as possible. 



    Thank you, Bob, for reminding us of the importance of Knowledge in building a food safety culture.  We look forward to talking about the remaining attributes in future posts.


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

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