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Adopting a quality culture

15 July 2019

Catherine Watkinson looks at the opportunities for food businesses to implement a quality culture, which is now an important part of version 8 of the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety. 

Over the past five years food safety and quality culture have become established requirements in the food industry. Businesses have identified a need to create a positive quality culture throughout their organisation in order to produce a quality, consistent product or service.

According to the Collins English Dictionary ‘The culture of a particular organisation or group consists of the habits of the people in it, and the way they generally behave.’ It focuses on the process, the product and the premises – evenly and equally. The BRC’s Global Standard Food Safety Issue 8 British Interpretation Guideline echoes this too, stating that ‘A proactive, positive culture within a company can make all the difference in the effectiveness of the food safety and quality plan and its consistent implementation throughout the site’.

The standard now requires that ‘the site’s senior management shall define and maintain a clear plan for the development and continuing improvement of food safety and quality culture’.

It is clear that a quality culture is fundamental in the on-going management of product safety. Generating a quality culture within an organisation not only creates a healthy work environment but leads to satisfied customers too.

Companies need to create a culture in which employees ‘live and breathe’ quality in all they do. Making food safety should be part of their normal routine and not just thought about at audit time. A quality culture is about behavioural change, so it is vital to ensure that training isn’t just a ‘tick box exercise’ but the lessons learned are implemented on a daily basis.  This does not happen overnight.

Getting it wrong
Having training, procedures and policies in place alone will not ensure behavioural change.  Companies spend millions of pounds and working hours on their process, achieving accreditations and training but still there are major incidents, factories under investigation and numerous enforcement visits. 

In 2016, a UK company was fined £105,000 for three breaches of the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 for offences relating to an infestation of mice and unclean kitchens.  This was one of the first cases dealt with in the Crown Court under the Health & Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences Definitive Guideline effective from 1st February 2016.

The key point to note from this case is that although the company in question had sound policies and procedures in place at the required level expected for a food business, it had failed to ensure that those policies were properly implemented, and the premises maintained.   

Not only was there a considerable fine imposed but subsequent media coverage of this prosecution meant that the business’ reputation was also damaged.

The issue was that no consideration had been given to whether procedures would proactively protect the business, were effective or were endorsed by the employees.  

Programmes, policies and processes need to be monitored for continuous improvement and embedded within the organisation, from the senior management team downwards.

The right tools
Providing the right tools for the cleaning requirements of a site, with trained personnel who are confident and knowledgeable about the task will ensure that people are doing the right thing every time, every day whether they are supervised or not. 

Employees can make or break any safety culture but more importantly senior management commitment to the development and maintenance of a food safety culture is key.  Engagement from top level down and a desire from everyone to improve can be a difficult and an eye-opening experience, but if the business wants to develop, then management must listen, observe, interact and face the challenges.

One aspect of delivering a good product safety culture is to ensure that employees are part of the decision-making process regarding equipment choices, cleaning methods and the best way to deliver a clean environment. Listening to employees leads to a cleaner factory and creates that positive environment to deliver the right culture every time. 

Catherine Watkinson is global technical hygiene specialist at Hillbrush.

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