If food quality and safety standards are to be embedded in a company’s culture, a shift in focus is needed, says McCormick & Co director of Global Quality Systems and Food Safety, Jill Hoffman.
Hoffman presented the keynote address at this week’s APAC Food Safety Conference in Sydney.
Hoffman called for a shift in terminology from food safety to food integrity because of the breadth of work done by food safety and quality professionals. She said: “We spend a lot of time protecting our goods around those physical, chemical and biological hazards but I think when we talk about emerging risks – there is a lot more on our plate.
“We are no longer just protecting from those risks, but all the other risks that have come into our supply chain. There are now sustainability and social responsibility demands around our products and issues like adulteration. So we’re doing a lot these days to protect our products and uphold our brand, so food integrity is more appropriate than food safety."
Five trends that have come with how the world is today add added complexity to food integrity are:
- Globalisation of our food supply system;
- Greater complexity of our supply chain in terms of where our food is coming from;
- There are rising purity concerns, so making sure that the food we’re purchasing and selling to people is authentic;
- We have increased regulator activity which has also upped the ante; and
- And sustainability issues and making sure we are producing food that is good for our planet.
Traditionally, the field was looked at as four areas, food fraud, food defense, food quality and food safety but Hoffman said those changing global realities mean the sector has to start thinking differently. We have to manage all these demands and programs, she said.
At McCormick, six principles around food have been established, with Hoffman pointing out they go beyond food safety and quality:
The food we produce is safe and legal
The food we produce is authentic
The food we produce is nutritious
The systems we use to produce our food are sustainable
Our food is produced to the highest ethical standards
We respect the environment and those who work in our food industry.
Traditionally, food safety has focused on the plant and facilities, she said. “We talk a lot about the plant, a lot of the focus is on the facilities, what we’re doing in the facilities, how our people are handling the food in the facilities, how we’re driving food safety culture with the people in the facility.
“A lot of the time, that conversation forgets about programs that go on outside that facility and the food safety culture we build with those other functions that do have a place in the food safety and supply chain.”
Recognise the process professional rather than the ‘crisis junkie’
Building a food integrity culture means embedding the right behaviours, making sure there are programs and processes to sustain those behaviours, and that it becomes embedded and the social norm in the company’s processes and functions.
Hoffman talked about how food safety professionals can be “crisis junkies”. “We are always the firefighters, always dealing with emergencies and issues. And some of us thrive on that. It’s an instant high and gives a hero mentality, but there are some not good aspects to that.”
It is the things that are not glamorous that help embed food safety and quality behaviours, she said.
“Take that firefighting mode and move it over to embedding food safety and quality behaviours. And the only way we’re going to do that is by doing the work. The work is the unsexy stuff. It’s the root cause analysis, it’s the putting inprocesses, verifying, educating, enabling, continuing to follow-up, awareness. It’s the follow-up after the crisis. And we really need to spend more time there.
“We don’t glamorise the work, we glamorise the firefighting. We’re not giving people awards for a root cause analysis – we’re giving awards to people because they did a great job during a crisis management situation. Maybe we don’t reward the firefighting so much and instead recognise the work we do to embed food safety behaviours we’ll see change.”