Implementing a food safety culture in your business


Tuesday, 13 October, 2015



Implementing a food safety culture in your business

A food safety faux pax can kill hundreds more than a workplace accident so why is food safety not as ingrained as OHS in businesses? Ben Bowering, the director of rulethirteen, has been working with food businesses and auditing and certification for over 30 years. Here is his take on implementing a food safety culture and food safety leadership.

Why did you choose the topic of food safety leadership and culture?

I’ve been either auditing, consulting or around the food industry for up to 30 years now but I’ve also had some other roles which relate to OHS and environmental management. I noticed that certain elements of an OHS culture are ingrained into business — but the same thing is not always true for food safety.

When you arrive at a construction site that you haven’t been to before there is going to be an induction period where somebody is going to run you through things like where the exits are, evacuation points, things you need to know in the unlikely event of an emergency. This is because there is huge personal risk — people can die on a worksite.

But the contrast is that if something goes wrong in a food safety setting, you could kill hundreds or even thousands of people — so why isn’t food safety culture as ingrained as OHS? There needs to be the same visible culture that you get with people safety.

How far are we from this point?

We are making some inroads but it is still very inconsistent. We are probably 10 years away from an established culture. We are 5 years away from most places where you could see this starting to permeate.

What is in the way of food culture being established?

Let’s have a look at how we got there for OHS culture — directors and boards were made responsible for people’s safety. They needed to be proactive and have systems in place to provide a safe place at work.

There are some of these kind of provisions in food safety, but it is only when there is an extremely bad case like Garibaldi, where 150 people were sick, 23 were seriously ill and one little girl died, that people take note and the ramifications are still there 20 years later. Imagine if something of a similar scale happened on a worksite due to OHS failures.

It’s not just the job of the quality manager in a food facility but the managing director, board and leadership in an organisation.

What should an organisation look like when implementing food safety?

For many years there has been a focus on HACCP plans which are a risk assessment and identification of controls chart. We focused on the HACCP Plan as the thing to drive food safety in a factory.

That would be like saying that in a workplace a risk assessment of personnel risks is the thing that controls personnel safety, but that’s just the first part.

There needs to be a focus on going beyond a HACCP Plan. The Plan is just the start.

Goals for the future of food safety?

When I first started, we were first looking at the change toward a regulated environment, with fairly minimal regulation in things like you must have a handwashing basin etc. Then in late ’90s they put in food legislation and that was quite a change for the market. People like me went through this whole change and I think we did pretty good but not it’s time to prepare the next generation (next 15 years) we need to move that into the next wave of food safety which I think is food safety leadership.

Find out more about implementing a food safety culture

Ben will present a session about implementing a food safety culture at the 22nd Australian HACCP Conference, to be held in Sydney on the 18th of November 2015. Now in its 22nd year, the Australian HACCP Conference is a must-attend event for every food safety professional. A number of food safety professionals will be speaking on topics like:

  • Protecting our customers – Ruth McDonald, General Manager, Product and Quality, Woolworths
  • Implementing a food safety culture – Food Safety Leadership - Ben Bowering, rulethirteen
  • Global seafood sustainability – David Garforth, Global Trust (Ireland)
  • Allergen management in the real world – Robin Sherlock, Allergen Bureau
  • What’s at stake? Hep A, Yersinia and other nasties – Richard Bennett, Technical Manager, PMA ANZ
  • QA harmonisation, the AFGC Project – Dr Geoffrey Annison, AFGC
  • The changing technical landscape of retail supply – James Whittaker, Head of Responsible Sourcing and Quality, Coles
  • When food safety is just not enough – Bill McBride, FoodLink

Image credit: ©freshidea/Dollar Photo Club

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