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    Building a Food Safety Culture, Part 5 – Communication

    Julia Stewart:

    Hello, welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob.” I’m Julia Stewart. PMA’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker is back with me to continue our discussion of the four basic attributes of a food safety culture.  So far we have covered the attributes of Responsibility and Knowledge.

     

    Bob, what role does Communication, the third attribute, play?

     

    Bob Whitaker:

    Julia, communication should be directed in two ways: internally, at your own employees and externally to suppliers, vendors, customers, and consumers. First let’s talk about internal communications. 

     

    We all set goals every year for hitting specific sales numbers, controlling operational costs, employee retention, or overall profitability. To truly integrate food safety into our corporate culture, we also need to set food safety goals for our companies, and develop tools to measure food safety performance as a company.  It is even more effective when these company food safety goals are communicated throughout the organization and individual employees “own” these goals as part of their personal performance plan.

     

    Employee communication is vital to make sure your workforce understands how important food safety is to the company. You need to ask yourself, can our employees speak with authority about our programs, and explain them adequately to others? Each employee should know how they fit into the food safety scheme. For example, the guy at the purchasing desk plays a vital role in your corporate food safety program. If you are short on a product, and your buyer sources from a buddy because he can get it fast and at a good price but has no knowledge of whether the grower even has a food safety program, then he has just compromised your program and put your company at risk. That purchasing employee needs to understand the goals of your corporate food safety program and why his or her role is so vital in that plan.  On the other hand, if your sales person can answer food safety questions for customers, that can only help bolster their confidence in your programs. In addition, involving all your employees in the program and setting goals can become a source of pride and help give your company an identity.

     

    External communications also need to be part of your food safety programs. Your suppliers need to be as passionate as you are about food safety – and you need to reward those that share your commitment to food safety with your business.

     

    Finally, also be sure your customers are aware of your commitment. You accomplish this by becoming a true partner with them on this issue. Create data sharing capabilities where customers can access food safety data like audits, product tests, risk assessments, HACCP data, and other related food safety information. Transparency builds confidence and this type of openness and dialogue creates “touch points” where employees on the sales desk, product development, marketing, production and food safety can reach out to your customers and reinforce your commitment to food safety in the course of daily business transactions. 

     

     Of course, the time to communicate is now, don’t wait until a crisis occurs. We need to aggressively seek out opportunities to speak about our programs and address supplier, customer and consumer concerns every day.

     

    Julia:

    Thank you, Bob. PMA’s consumer surveys show that the more information consumers have, the more confident they are about overall food safety. As a public relations professional with both marketing and crisis management expertise, I am completely sold on the importance of strong Internal and external communication, delivered sooner rather than later.

     

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

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